Australians Argue for Ban on Circumcision

MEDICAL POST (Toronto), Volume 36, Number. 18, By CHRIS PRITCHARD
Doctors could be put at risk of later legal action

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA---Routine circumcision on baby boys should be banned in the same way female genital mutilation is outlawed, a group of Australian lawyers and children's rights activists argued recently.

The group wants an end to the country's medicare coverage of the cost of the procedure. It warned doctors performing routine circumcisions they could in time face huge claims for physical and psychological damage.

In an article in the Journal of Law and Medicine, Dr. Gregory Boyle, a professor at Queensland's Bond University, and three lawyers contend male circumcision is an `assault causing grievous bodily harm.'

The article argues `laws against female genital mutilation, which do not simultaneously prohibit male genital mutilation, contravene principles of equal protection enshrined in human rights law.'

Despite the fact no national medical association endorses the practice, medicare statistics show 20,000 boys were circumcised in Australia in 1997/98, the latest year for which figures are available. This represents 10% to 15% of newborn males.

The article claims circumcision removes 50% of penile skin, makes achieving orgasm difficult and is dangerous. Recent legal precedents cast doubt over whether parents can provide legal consent for the practice, the article says.

And doctors who carry out the procedure are risking litigation.

One Australian man last year won almost $350,000 in damages because of physical and sexual harm caused by a neonatal circumcision.

Australian Medical Association president Dr. David Brand said contemporary medical opinion does not support routine circumcision of baby boys. It would, he added, be wrong to ban the practice because in some cases there is a medical need for it.

Some boys suffer urinary and skin infections because their foreskin is too tight and surgery is needed, he said.

The immediate past-president of the executive council of Australian Jewry, Dianne Shteinman, reacted to the article by saying circumcision is a vital element in the practice of the Jewish religion and her community would fight any attempts to ban it.

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