The Child Was Circumcised
This summer, some Berliners wore shirts that proudly proclaimed Wir Sind Beschnitten (We are circumcised). The question of ritual circumcision, which had been a persistent subject of debate in 19th- and 20th-century Germany, was back, though few of the activists, litigants, jurists, politicians, and pundits seemed to know much of its history.
The current controversy over the ancient practice began in Cologne in 2010, when Muslim parents in that city brought their 4-year old, who was bleeding two days after his circumcision, into the hospital. Hospital officials notified the local police, and charges were brought against the physician who had performed the procedure. Recognizing that the parents had given their consent, the lower district court cleared the doctor of any wrongdoing. Nonetheless, the court expressed deep discomfort with the rite, criticizing both the absence of a medical justification for removing the youngster's foreskin and the physical harm the operation allegedly caused. Although the boy had recovered, the prosecutor appealed and, in May 2012, the Cologne appellate court criminalized the non-medical circumcision of children. While finding that the doctor was innocent because of the legal uncertainty at the time of the circumcision, it ruled non-medical circumcisions were a form of bodily injury. Circumcision, the verdict stated, "should be considered bodily harm if it is performed on a boy who is unable to give his own consent." According to the ruling, neither the constitutional freedom of religion nor the rights of parents could justify non-medical circumcision.
Since then, the verdict has reverberated beyond both the area of the court's regional jurisdiction and the Muslim community. In Northern Bavaria, a physician filed a criminal complaint against a local Jewish mohel (ritual circumciser) for allegedly performing circumcisions in violation of the Cologne appellate court ruling. In Berlin, a prosecutor filed charges against Rabbi Yitzhak Ehrenberg for disturbing the peace when the rabbi publicly promised to continue conducting ritual circumcisions. (The charges against Ehrenberg have been dropped, but the case against the Bavarian mohel is still pending.) Even more dramatically, the Berlin Jewish Hospital ceased performing ritual circumcisions. Despite the fact that the Cologne court's legal jurisdiction fell well short of the capital city, hospital officials worried that it was opening itself up to potential lawsuits and even criminal prosecution.
You must be logged in to view or post comments.