German court rules circumcision is 'bodily harm'

Scalpel Male circumcision is part of both Jewish and Muslim religious rituals

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A court in Germany has ruled that circumcising young boys for religious reasons amounts to bodily harm.

In a decision that has caused outrage among Jewish and Muslim groups, the court said that a child's right to physical integrity trumps religious and parental rights.

The case involved a doctor who carried out a circumcision on a four year-old that led to medical complications.

Thousands of Muslim and Jewish boys are circumcised in Germany every year.

Although male circumcision - unlike female circumcision - is not illegal in Germany, the court's judgement said the "fundamental right of the child to bodily integrity outweighed the fundamental rights of the parents".

Circumcision, it decided, contravenes "interests of the child to decide later in life on his religious beliefs".

'Protect religious freedom'

The doctor involved in the case was acquitted and the ruling is not binding, but correspondents say it sets a precedent that would be taken into account by other German courts.

The president of Germany's Central Council of Jews, Dieter Graumann, called it "an unprecedented and dramatic intervention in the right of religious communities to self-determination".

He urged the country's parliament to clarify the legal situation "to protect religious freedom against attacks".

Male circumcision is part of the ancient religious rituals of both the Jewish and Muslim faiths, as well as the traditions of some tribal groups.

In some countries, such as the United States, it is also not uncommon for parents to request that young boys are circumcised for health reasons.

The BBC's Stephen Evans in Germany says it is unclear what the next legal step will be, but this issue is a moral and political minefield.


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  • Comment number 154.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 153.

    Every parent who brings up a child educates and moulds them in a way they believe is best, and makes irreversible decisions on their behalf in the process. This is just one more of those, the only reason I can see for the virulent opposition expressed on this forum for a practise which has proven scientific health benefits, is to use it as fuel for their pre-existing prejudice against religion.

  • rate this

    Comment number 152.

    Whether circumcision helps prevent HIV is not relevant to this discussion as there is nothing stopping a person making an informed decision to get circumcised when they are older and becoming sexually active.

  • rate this

    Comment number 151.

    133: Polygamy perpetuates 2 serious problems: limits opportunity for self-determination of girls (also boys who might prefer not to have even 1 wife, yet made to feel inferior if they fail to meet the community "standard"); problem of 1 Dad --> 20-50 Sons who then also have 20-50 etc. Population imbalance is a threat. China limiting its parents to 1 while others allowed 80? Unfair Illogical Wrong.

  • rate this

    Comment number 150.

    134.Igloo White

    "No surprise Germany is at the forefront of banning a Jewish tradition ..."

    Your thinly veiled suggestion of anti-semitism in that statement is shameful. The Germans today have no connection to the Nazis of WW2. This is an issue that affects muslims and christians too.

    Germany banned it because it is genital mutilation - nothing more and nothing less...

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    Comment number 149.

    I would resent my parents if I wasn't circumcised. Nothing to do with religion. Its just gross >.>
    Oh the day where its okay to kill your child before birth, but you can't make a decision to improve its quality of life.

  • rate this

    Comment number 148.

    This ruling is a bold step in the right direction !!! Many men who have been circumcised at birth or in early childhood grow up to resent their not having had a choice . Gareth at #22 is quite right .

  • rate this

    Comment number 147.

    Can't legislate everything, 134, but we should be able to fine parents who openly smoke around children -- for example. I am for mandatory parental education for all pregnant. Yes, state has a concern in child's health esp when state (taxpayers) pay for care. Child is a citizen. I don't know if you have recently seen a foreskin but my grandson's, at 2, is a whole lot of tissue! That's no "snip"!

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    Comment number 146.

    131 ConnorMacLeod
    Can we agree then that when circumcision is banned so will ear-piercing?
    Where do you stand on removing a skin blemish or straightening teeth? What about those sticking out ears? Do you have a position on Ritalin and ADHD? Stupid haircuts for kids? Young kids wearing 'sexy' clothes?
    Why is circumcision, in practice, worse than these? All of them deny choice?

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    Comment number 145.

    When a penis is circumcised the nerves in the head of the penis will basically die, it then becomes much less sensitive & pleasurable to use. I haven't seen any comments yet regarding the fact this is often practiced in an attempt to reduce masturbation, the same as children used to be told that masturbation would make them go blind. Is this a good excuse to cut off part of a childs body ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 144.

    @Aziz Merchant
    "It has been scientifically established by many world scientists that actually circumcision is healthy as it helps in preventing HIV and Aids."

    Condoms are far more effective and don't involve permanent surgical procedures.

    If circumcision is performed to reduce HIV transmission, why does it need to be done to babies as opposed to older children before they are sexually active?

  • rate this

    Comment number 143.

    Brit (bris) Milah on my willy or...
    Catholic brainwashing on my will

    Similar result, permanent damage.

  • rate this

    Comment number 142.

    120.Mike Solomons

    "It is not right for a Court to decide one way on the dubious grounds cited."

    It is totally correct for the court to decide such things - that's what courts are for - I can't think of anyone better to decide. The courts hear the pros and cons of an argument before reaching a balanced decision that then becomes law.

  • rate this

    Comment number 141.

    No matter what your feelings on the subject are, consider who makes the laws and why.
    Next up parents will go to jail because their offspring is overweight. Overfeeding children causes them bodily harm.

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    Comment number 140.

    106: For the record, I oppose ear-piercing of minors (or any other kid-tat/piercing). At least adults make informed decision. Same goes for altering ears, noses or any non-essential interventions involving pain/risk. Obviously babies with cleft lip/palate need to be treated. Orthodontics preserve dental health; removal of some birthmarks helps Mental H. Spare kids Cosmetic Obsessions. Love Them!

  • rate this

    Comment number 139.

    125 GeoSquared
    I fear you missed my reductio ad absurdum point. If you ban circumcision on the basis of many of the arguments put forward here, then you are being arbitrary about where you stop. It exists on a spectrum of things that people do to kids and I merely ask 'why this and not this'.
    I wouldn't ban McDs just because some people abuse it and the State doesn't neccessarily know best.

  • rate this

    Comment number 138.

    I believe people should not be baptised until they can choose for themselves (I am Christian, btw). Nevertheless, the difference between infant circumcision and baptism, is that an adult can decide he doesn't believe in God, in which case the baptism meant nothing; but that same adult cannot grow back a piece of the body which has been cut off.

  • rate this

    Comment number 137.

    Female circumcision is considered barbaric and is illegal as it is considered to be bodily mutilation. Why is it not the same for the removal of a part of a male body ?

    In the US there are whole groups of men campagning on this issue because they were mutilated as babies and want the practice to stop.

  • rate this

    Comment number 136.

    Why in the world you would want a disgusting meat pillow over your junk is beyond me. It has nothing to do with religion, just remove it at birth so you don't remember it and never have to live with it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 135.

    The questions here are
    1. Is male circumcision medically advisable or not?
    2. Should a court decide whether it is just bodily harm or whether it is beneficial in the long run?
    In Germany there have been attempts at a law forcing people diagnosed with cancer to undergo chemical and radiation treatment.
    There is a law against taking the ashes of a deceased home after cremation.


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