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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, June 29, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 26
German court bans circumcision
No religious exemption granted
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German court bans circumcision
No religious exemption granted

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

A regional court in Cologne, Germany, ruled on June 27 that circumcisions of young boys amount to 'grievous bodily harm' and therefore may not be performed by doctors even if parents request them.

The decision came in the case of a doctor in Cologne who circumcised a four-year-old Muslim boy at his parents' request. The doctor was charged with grievous bodily harm, but was acquitted by a lower court on the grounds that the boy's parents had given consent to the procedure.

The regional court upheld the original charge of grievous bodily harm, but found the doctor innocent on the grounds that the law was ambiguous on the issue of religious circumcision.

'The body of the child is irreparably and permanently changed by a circumcision,' the court said.

'This change contravenes the interests of the child to decide later on his religious beliefs.'

Holm Putzke, a criminal law expert at the University of Passau, told the Financial Times Deutschland that the ruling was 'enormously important for doctors, because for the first time they have legal certainty.'

'Unlike many politicians, the court has not allowed itself to be scared off by charges of anti-Semitism or religious intolerance,' added Putzke.

Thousands of young boys are reportedly circumcised every year in Germany, especially in the country's large Jewish and Muslim communities.

Circumcision of males is required in Islam and Judaism. The Torah commands that Jewish boys are to be circumcised on the eighth day of their life. Circumcision is not mentioned in the Quran, but the practice is considered one of the traditions established by Muhammad.

In the United States, circumcision of children is presumed to be legal and is a common practice. An ordinance that would have banned circumcision in San Francisco qualified for the ballot last year, but was blocked by a judge before the election. California's legislature later passed a law prohibiting local governments from outlawing circumcision.

Even in countries where circumcision is presumed to be illegal - South Africa, for example - it is allowed for religious purposes.

Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, of which Germany is a signatory, guarantees freedom of religion and could be the basis for a lawsuit to overturn the court's decision.

'Freedom to manifest one's religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety; for the protection of public order, health, or morals; or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others,' the convention says.

The World Health Organization has estimated that nearly one in three males under the age of 15 has been circumcised.

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