Circumcision is “one of the most commonly performed surgical procedures in the world,” the purpose of which is to remove the foreskin from the penis. The question of whether circumcision should be considered a human rights or a medicals right issue has not produced a conclusive answer to this date. Both social scientists and the medical community have considered numerous elements of the medical procedure while concentrating on “concepts of health and medical systems” (Rogers, 2013, p. 97). This paper aims to examine the moral and legal aspects of circumcision to determine whether it is a human rights or a medical rights issue.
Human Rights and Circumcision
No one would deny that the haphazard application of the law to various groups of people often neglects the principle of universality of human rights. However, in the framework of the theory of human rights, any ambivalence in the application of the principle is impermissible because “all human beings are born equal in dignity and human right” (Rogers, 2013, p. 99). Therefore, the introduction of ambivalence into the concept of human rights goes against both the rhetoric and doctrine of universality, leading to the erosion of the philosophical underpinnings of modern law.
In short, the human rights of all people cannot be disregarded with impunity and instead have to be regarded as sacred. It might seem like an easy principle that is not characterized by ambivalence; however, upon close examination, it becomes clear that what is allowed and what is prohibited by human rights in the context of the law is often complicated by practical applications of universality. On the one hand, it might seem that the surgical removal of the skin during neonatal circumcision violates the bodily integrity of a person who cannot legally consent to such a procedure. On the other hand, however, the numerous medical benefits of circumcision outweigh the act of breaking someone’s autonomy.
Medical Aspects of Circumcision
Male circumcision is a surgical procedure commonly carried out during the neonatal period due to medical, religious, and aesthetic reasons, among others. A systematic review of articles published in peer-reviewed journals reveals that circumcision has no negative effects on “penile sensitivity, sexual arousal, sexual sensation, erectile function, premature ejaculation, ejaculatory latency, orgasm difficulties, sexual satisfaction, pleasure or pain during penetration” (Morris & Krieger, 2013, p. 2644).
The information presented in the review shows that the procedure is associated with benefits that include, but are not limited to, a reduction in the risk of urinary tract infection (UTI), HIV prevention, and a reduction of the transmission probabilities of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) (Tian et al., 2013). The Circumcision Policy Statement issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) notes that the risks of circumcision are much less than its numerous benefits (AAP, 2012). Furthermore, severe complications and penile injuries only occur at a rate of 0.005% (AAP, 2012). The document also suggests that families choosing the procedure have the right to factually correct information about specific health outcomes associated with it.
There is no consensus among legal and medical professionals on the issue of the morality and legality of male circumcision. However, taking into consideration the fact that the procedure is elective and is performed only after parental consent has been obtained, it can be said that circumcision is justified on the grounds of promoting quality of life, which makes it a medical rights issue.
AAP. (2012). Circumcision Policy Statement. Pediatrics, 130(3), 585-586.
Morris, B., & Krieger, J. (2013). Does male circumcision affect sexual function, sensitivity, or satisfaction?—A systematic review. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 10(11), 2644-2657.
Rogers, J. (2013). Law’s cut on the body of human rights. New York, NY: Routledge.
Tian, Y., Liu, W., Wang, J., Wazir, R., Yue, X., & Wang, K. (2013). Effects of circumcision on male sexual functions: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Asian Journal of Andrology, 15(5), 662-666.