FGM/C Shifting Sands

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Head to Head on Male Circumcision

Published 14 May 2018 Associated Categories Interviews
Male circumcision -arguments

As Iceland drops the proposed ban on male circumcision, Rabbi Goldschmidt, president of the Conference of European Rabbis, presciently told the press ‘This battle is over, but not the war.”

Campaigners would like all non-medical male circumcisions made illegal in the way that female genital cuttings are, in the interest of promoting children’s genital autonomy. They also want decisions in regard to male circumcision deferred until the child is old enough to consent to it.

In light of the controversy, this excellent Podcast is of particular interest. Stephen Knight, host of The#GSPodcast, held a Head-to-Head discussion on male circumcision on 17 March 2018.

Defending the right of parents to circumcise their children was Sociologist and Author Frank Furedi. Against was Dr Antony Lempert, chair of the Secular Medical Forum.

By way of opening the discussion, Knight alluded to a recent spiked-online article by Furedi which suggested the anti-circumcision campaigns amounted to a moral crusade, conducted in the language of rights. He had assessed the current campaign as the latest version of a more than 2,000-year-long crusade against the right of Jewish people to circumcise their sons.

In the wide-ranging and exemplary, civil discussion that followed, they discussed number of aspects and challenged each other in regard to:

  • what parental authority means and whether there are limitations to it
  • the difference between male circumcision and ‘FGM/C’ and how they are viewed in law
  • the widening definition of child abuse and what constitutes harm
  • privileging religious freedom and whether there should be limits to this
  • bodily autonomy and consent
  • children’s best interest, children’s rights and who interprets what they need
  • playing God and who decides how Jews and Muslims should practice their religion
  • if and when the state should intervene
  • alternatives to genital cutting
  • the need for a new anti-circumcision law when the 1861 Offences Against The Person Act exists
  • health benefits of male circumcision
  • how much circumcision is blamed for difficulties that adult males encounter in life
  • whether this is a political, religious, social or medical issue
  • what believers in circumcision think? What about the rights of these minorities?
  • why circumcision has become such an issue now

Recommended reading on this issue:

By Frank Furedi: On Tolerance: A Defence of Moral Independence

By Antony Lempert at The National Secular Society

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About the Author -

Bríd is a retired health professional. She started her career as a nurse and midwife in Africa where she worked for almost four years. She encountered FGM/C in Ethiopia. She then moved to London where she worked in the National Health Service as a midwife, community nurse, health visitor, reproductive and sexual health nurse and manager over a period of 30 years. She did not encounter FGM/C during that time despite working with immigrant communities who are reported to practice it still. She is puzzled by the current reported prevalence of the practice, the official response and associated activism. And is worried that they might cause more harm than good.


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