So far, the form of abuse I’ve discussed the most has been spanking. I do so because the issue of spanking is much discussed and is very clear-cut. Another similar issue is that of male circumcision. While most Western people agree that female circumcision is repulsive, the opinions about male circumcision are mixed, and there is much hurling of scientific “facts” from both sides, as if science is the way to resolve this issue (unlike female genital mutilation, where the only credible pro argument is cultural relativism).
I have discussed this reduction of childist issues to scientific studies when I discussed spanking. Well-intentioned anti-spanking advocates use the results of studies to try to justify their position. Spanking advocates believe these studies simply don’t matter. In the case of male circumcision, both sides profess to follow where the science leads.
However, I think it’s important that, as in the case of spanking, anti-circumcision advocates do not fall into this trap. The issue of male circumcision in newborns is not a scientific issue, it is an ethical issue. And we would realize this very rapidly if we were discussing something not related to children. If we were talking about cutting off foreskins of male adults while they were asleep, we would be outraged. If we were talking about any form of assault against adults, people wouldn’t be arguing whether the assault continued to have negative consequences for the victim years after the fact. And yet, when we talk about assaulting little children, we just can’t see the obvious falsify of these arguments.
There is only one general principle that is relevant to the issue of male circumcision (and female genital mutilation as well):
Children are human beings. Human beings should not be assaulted by other human beings.
This is the only relevant fact. Supposed medical benefits are not relevant. “Choice” nonsense is not relevant. How good of a parent you are is not relevant. Whether the father is circumcised or not is not relevant. The only factor which determines whether assault, whether it’s circumcision or any other form of assault, is desirable or not is this: should human beings be assaulted, and in what conditions? Should human beings be assaulted when they are harming others? Sure, within limits. Should human beings be assaulted spontaneously when they are sleeping? No.
Let’s be clear about this medical rationale, because it confuses a lot of people. It is claimed that some marginal medical benefits justify assaulting newborns. This argument is complete and absolute nonsense: if it was true, then we’d also be justified in circumcising adults without their consent. But no circumcision advocate preaches this. Instead, they preach the nonsense of “choice,” that famous magic word. “Choice” for who? Not for the child. Then what use is it?
No, we have a good idea of what interventions are permissible to make on someone else without their consent, and the list of such interventions does not include circumcisions. For instance, the NHS (British health care system) states that the following are reasons to perform a medical intervention without consent:
It may not be necessary to obtain consent if a person:
* requires emergency treatment to save their life, but they’re incapacitated (for example, they’re unconscious) – the reasons why treatment was necessary should be fully explained once they’ve recovered
* immediately requires an additional emergency procedure during an operation – there has to be a clear medical reason why it would be unsafe to wait to obtain consent, and it can’t be simply for convenience
* with a severe mental health condition – such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or dementia – lacks the capacity to consent to the treatment of their mental health (under the Mental Health Act 1983) – in these cases, treatment for unrelated physical conditions still requires consent, which the patient may be able to provide, despite their mental illness
* requires hospital treatment for a severe mental health condition, but self-harmed or attempted suicide while competent and is refusing treatment (under the Mental Health Act 1983) – the person’s nearest relative or an approved social worker must make an application for the person to be forcibly kept in hospital, and two doctors must assess the person’s condition
* is a risk to public health (due to rabies, cholera or tuberculosis (TB)
* is severely ill and living in unhygienic conditions (under the National Assistance Act 1948) – a person who is severely ill or infirm and is living in unsanitary conditions can be taken to a place of care without their consent
None of these conditions are fulfilled by circumcising male newborns. Male circumcisions do not save anyone’s life, they do not occur during an operation, they are not the result of severe mental health conditions (apart from the mental health conditions of pro-circumcision advocates), they are not connected to self-harm or suicide attempts, public health, or living in unhygienic conditions.
All whinging or hand-wringing about a higher rate of urinary tract infections or penile cancer falls on its face when confronted with the basic and obvious ethical question. This is uncomfortable for circumcision advocates, and they try to evade the issue as much as they can. For instance, here’s part of one pro-male-circumcision group’s FAQ response to one such argument (“intactivist” is their pet term for people who stand up for the rights of children):
The scientific reason is entirely objective (factual), whereas the moral objection is purely subjective (an opinion). The problem with the intactivists’ stance is that they seek to impose their opinion on others, in the process inflating the magnitude of their moral objections to a level akin to that seen in debates about abortion or euthanasia. Circumcision really isn’t that big an issue….
Circumcision should neither be made compulsory nor illegal. The decision whether or not to circumcise a baby boy is, quite properly, a decision to be taken by the family in the context of their individual circumstances…
Advice given by professionals involved in counselling parents should be wholly factual, free from value judgements…
Campaigners against circumcision should respect the right of others to hold an opinion that differs from their own and should refrain from vilifying those who carry out, research or publish the benefits of the procedure.
All said and done, the moral issue is purely a matter of opinion. It is something that does not lend itself to objective analysis.
You can read the rest of it on their page, but these are the salient points. Their response is basically: “I have objective facts on my side, and all you have is subjective opinion, so you should stop imposing your opinions on me while I should be free to impose my facts on you.” But as I’ve already said, the issue of whether we should assault people should not be based on “scientific facts” or the “choice” of co-conspirators, but rather on ethics. Unlike morality, ethics are not a “matter of opinion.” The points I’ve presented in this entry are not opinions but arguments: whatever you think about them, they are statements about reality (unlike opinions, which are statements about one’s beliefs or feelings) and they are independently verifiable (unlike opinions, which are personal).
Ethics lends itself to objective analysis. When we look at any proposed policy on ethical evaluations, such as “male circumcision is a decision to be taken by the family,” we need to ask ourselves some questions:
1. Is any expected coercion resulting from it rationally justified?
2. Is it based on valid ethical principles?
3. Does it respect human rights?
4. Is the tally of who is reasonably expected to benefit/be harmed fair and equitable?
In the case of male circumcision, the answer to all these question is a resounding no. So it is no surprise that circumcision advocates do not want to argue from a standpoint of ethics. They know they are in the wrong and therefore must ignore it at all costs. They want to portray themselves as “objective” (as opposed to their irrational opponents, the “intactivists,” who are “subjective”), as having “respect” (although clearly not respect for the children), and as being “free from value judgements.” Well, no one is free from value judgments, because to know necessarily requires one to value knowledge and the correct methods to acquire it and use it. Honesty is a value. Compassion is a value. Justice is a value. Anyone who refuses to acknowledge such values is not worth listening to.
Is male circumcision not a big issue? Then why are circumcision advocates even bothering to argue for it? Abortion and euthanasia are only big issues because of religious opposition. From an ethical standpoint, euthanasia is a relatively straightforward issues, abortion less so. In both cases, we argue ethics precisely because abortion and euthanasia are moral and ethical issues, not scientific issues. Male circumcision is an ethical issue, therefore it can only be discussed in ethical terms.
It would be just as silly to argue that abortion puts women at greater risk of cervical cancer, or that euthanizing a family member makes one more likely to be depressed. These issues are dwarfed by the central question of whether abortion and euthanasia are right or wrong. If abortion and euthanasia should be allowed, then the medical risk is part of the personal decision to do them or not. If they are wrong, then talking about medical benefits or risks is irrelevant.
Citing more medical benefits will not change the fact that male circumcisions in newborns do not fulfill any of the existing criteria for medical interventions without consent. If male circumcision advocates want to argue that the standards for medical interventions without consent are incomplete, then they need to argue on that basis (something I have yet to see any of them actually do). There are no other grounds on which one could argue for legalized male circumcision.
The root of the fallacy in their line of reasoning is childism, the belief that children are inferior and must be controlled for their own good. It is the only reason why they fail to recognize that babies are human beings and should not be subject to assault any more than adults should be. Of course, many of these people may be good parents (although I sincerely hope none of these perverts have children, that’s an unrealistic hope), but prejudice does not always entail being mean. Plenty of racists are good people and considerate to people of color. Plenty of sexists treat women “right,” according to their own idea of what’s right. That doesn’t make them any less bigoted.
Most childists are not even aware of being childists, simply because the issue is not publicly discussed. And yet it still exists. Anyone who does not hold to childist would immediately realize that assaulting children (whether in spanking or circumcision) is wrong because assaulting people who are not harming others is wrong. The fact that they are children obscures this basic fact from our awareness, because we are all conditioned to view children as inferior, less than human.
By the way, since the idiots have a cute term for their opponents, “intactivists,” why don’t we have a term for them? What about Foreskin Davidians, from the story where David collected hundreds of foreskins from his enemies? It shows well their obsessive and perverted nature. And it is just as ridiculous. Or what about Babychoppers? Tell me what you think in the comments.