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The ethics of circumcision

Our Position

Intact America envisions a world where children are free from medically unnecessary surgeries carried out on them without their consent in the name of culture, religion, profit, or parental preference.

There are no ethical arguments to support the removal of normal body parts from children who cannot consent.

While parents have the right to consent to medically necessary treatment for their children, bioethical principles limit this right to cases where the child’s life or health are at risk.

The foreskin is a normal, healthy body part that protects the penis and contributes to sexual pleasure. “Routine” circumcision does not treat any disease; therefore, it is unethical to circumcise babies and children.

Parents’ responsibilities vs. children’s rights

In health care decisions, respect for the patient’s right to self-determination implies that he or she has the capacity to make an informed decision and act voluntarily. Because children have no legal capacity to freely and voluntarily consent, the right to decide is given to a “proxy” (or substitute) decision maker — usually a parent. However, a parent’s right to consent to the child's medical care or procedures is limited to cases where the intervention is necessary to save the life or the health of the child. "Routine” circumcision is not one of these cases.

Healthcare provider’s responsibilities

Infant circumcision violates all four of the universally accepted bioethical principles[36]:

Non-maleficence (or “do no harm”)

The principle of non-maleficence requires that medical practitioners not intentionally cause a needless injury to the patient. Childhood circumcision involves the permanent surgical removal of healthy, protective, erogenous tissue from a child, and is therefore a needless injury. Thus, because it is harmful and not medically necessary, childhood circumcision violates the principle of non-maleficence.

Beneficence (or the act of doing good)

The principle of beneficence requires that health care professionals provide a benefit to a patient. Because “routine” childhood circumcision provides no benefit to the child, removes a normal body part, and exposes him to unnecessary risk, trauma and pain, it violates the bioethical principle of beneficence.

Justice

The principle of justice in health care implies fairness, equal treatment and, by extension, equal protection. In the United States, girls of all ages are protected by law from all medically unnecessary genital surgeries. Boys are entitled to the same legal protection. There is no acceptable rationale for a distinction in law between female and male genital modification. Circumcising a baby boy violates the principle of justice.

Autonomy

The bioethical principle of autonomy invests every person with the right to make decisions regarding his or her own body. Our Declaration of Independence states that we are “endowed with certain unalienable rights,” including self-determination. And the U.S. Constitution guarantees “the right of the people to be secure in their persons…” Infant circumcision permanently removes a body part from a person who cannot consent, and thus violates the principle of autonomy.

What is the anti-circumcision movement?

We prefer the terms “intactivism” or “intactivist movement.” The intactivist movement promotes the right of boys – and all persons – to be free from forced, medically unnecessary surgery on their genitals. We do not oppose circumcision, so long the person being circumcised has the legal age and the cognitive capacity to make an informed decision to undergo the procedure.

Opposition to circumcision has always existed, but it has remained in the shadows too long because genitals and sex were taboo subjects in our society. The intactivist movement continues to gain momentum, as many circumcised men and regretful parents speak out in an effort to protect future generations from what they have suffered.

Intact America is the most recent largest formally organized expression of the intactivist movement, and is funded solely by tax-deductible donations.

Learn more about us at intactamerica.org.