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What is the child's right to bodily integrity
BOYS AND GIRLS ALIKE. An unconsenting child, an unnecessary, invasive surgery: is there any moral difference between male and female circumcision?" ~Brian Earp, a scientist and ethicist. He holds degrees from Yale, Oxford, and Cambridge universities and is an advocate for children’s rights.
"I study childhood genital surgeries. Female, male and intersex genital surgeries, specifically, and I make similar arguments about each one. As a general rule, I think that healthy children – whatever their sex or gender – should be free from having parts of their most intimate sexual organs removed before they can understand what’s at stake in such a procedure. There are a number of reasons I’ve come to hold this view, but in some ways it’s pretty simple. ‘Private parts’ are private. They’re personal. Barring some serious disease to treat or physical malfunction to address (for which surgery is the most conservative option), they should probably be left alone.
"In the 1990s, when the Canadian ethicist Margaret Somerville began to speak and write critically about the non-therapeutic circumcision of infant boys, she was attacked for even addressing the subject in public. In her book The Ethical Canary, she says her critics accused her of ‘detracting from the horror of female genital mutilation and weakening the case against it by speaking about it and infant male circumcision in the same context and pointing out that the same ethical and legal principles applied to both’.
"She wasn’t alone. The anthropologist Kirsten Bell has advanced similar arguments in her university lectures, provoking a reaction that was ‘immediate and hostile … How dare I mention these two entirely different operations in the same breath! How dare I compare the innocuous and beneficial removal of the foreskin with the extreme mutilations enacted against females in other societies!’
"There’s a problem with these claims. Almost every one of them is untrue or severely misleading
"Every parent who requests a genital-altering surgery for their child – for whatever reason under the sun – thinks that they are acting in the child’s best interests
"In the US context, male circumcision was adopted by the medical community in the late 1800s in an effort to combat masturbation, among other dubious reasons. It has since persisted as a rationalised habit, long past the time when it was effectively abandoned by other developed nations. Of course, it is probably true that most contemporary Western parents who choose circumcision for their sons do not do so out of a desire to ‘control’ their sexuality, but this is also true of most African parents who choose ‘circumcision’ for their daughters. As the renowned anti-FGM activist Hanny Lightfoot-Klein has stated: ‘The [main] reasons given for female circumcision in Africa and for routine male circumcision in the United States are essentially the same. Both promise cleanliness and the absence of odours as well as greater attractiveness and acceptability.’
"Given that both male and female forms of genital cutting express different cultural norms depending upon the context, and are performed for different reasons in different cultures, and even in different communities or individual families, how shall we assess the permissibility of either? Do we need to interview each set of parents to make sure that their proposed act of cutting is intended as an expression of acceptable norms? If they promise that it isn’t about ‘sexual control’ in their specific case, but rather about ‘hygiene’ or ‘aesthetics’ or something less symbolically problematic, should they be permitted to go ahead?
"But this is bound to fail. Every parent who requests a genital-altering surgery for their child – for whatever reason under the sun – thinks that they are acting in the child’s best interests; no one thinks that they are ‘mutilating’ their own offspring (whether female or male). So it is not the reason for the intervention that determines its permissibility, but rather the consequences of the intervention for the person whose genitals are actually on the line.
"As the social anthropologist Sara Johnsdotter has pointed out, there is no one-to-one relationship between the amount of genital tissue removed (in males, females, or indeed in intersex people), and either subjective satisfaction while having sex, or a feeling of having been personally harmed because one’s ‘private parts’ were altered before one could effectively resist. Medically unnecessary genital surgeries – of whatever degree of severity – will affect different people differently. This is because each individual’s relationship to their own body is unique, including what they find aesthetically appealing, what degree of risk they feel comfortable taking on when it comes to elective surgeries on their reproductive organs, and even what degree of sexual sensitivity they prefer (for personal or cultural reasons). That’s why ethicists are beginning to argue that individuals should be left to decide what to do with their own genitals when it comes to irreversible surgery, whatever their sex or gender."