CULTURE & BEHAVIOR: An insight to the Denmark circumcision debate
By LENA NYHUS – 10/15/2012 – To many Danes the case is simple; any man or woman may do with their own bodies what they see fit, but no one should be allowed to make decisions about non-medically warranted procedures on behalf of anybody else.In the article “Assault on Jewish customs in Scandinavia,” which appeared in The Jerusalem Post on October 8, Magnus Frank paints a bleak and unfortunately rather biased picture of the current debate regarding the circumcision of un-consenting boys in Denmark.
I find it imperative to present the Israeli public with a broader view on the debate than the one offered by Frank. Persecution of minorities, i.e. anti-Semitism, is a very serious issue and an offense that the authorities in Denmark take a very strong view on indeed, which Magnus Frank probably knows very well. I am also sure that he is well aware of how rare an offence it is in Danish society, which is widely inclusive and in fact highly secular.
Speculating that the media and a wide variety of the debating Danish public may have ulterior motives in the ongoing discussion regarding circumcision is an unnecessary and unproductive approach to the debate and frankly it only serves to demonstrate that Frank may simply lack proper arguments for his point of view. The majority of the voices raised against circumcision have three main points: firstly, the basic human right to an intact body. When there are no medical reasons to perform surgery on a child, any procedure must be considered an assault.Secondly, research has shown that in societies such Denmark’s where good healthcare and high hygiene standards prevail there are hardly any medical benefits from circumcision. When it comes to preventing STD’s, for instance, a much more effective approach is the simple use of condoms.
Thirdly, there is the concern that if there are any risks the child may suffer health or sexual consequences from the circumcision immediately after the procedure or perhaps later on in life as an adult, it should be prohibited. This is a debate about the individual’s freedom of choice, about avoiding the infliction of unnecessary pain and suffering for non-medically warranted procedures and about the prevention of health and sexual complications later in life. It should be noted that Prof. Morten Frisch’s study, which was questioned by Frank, has incorporated a number of measures to ensure the statistical validity of the data as well as peer review, which is of course the very reason it was deemed fit to be published in a respectable international medical journal in the first place.
Prof. Frisch’s study suggests that a significantly larger number of circumcised men report sexual problems than do their intact peers. In addition, women in relationships with circumcised males report sexual problems more frequently than do women with intact partners.
Therefore Prof. Frisch has found it vital to call for further studies. It is paramount to understand the potential consequences of circumcision.
The majority of the circumcised subjects in the study were not of Muslim or Jewish origin.
It is my understanding that if the study were to be transferred to for instance US, it indicates that approximately 10 million American men maybe more and their respective partners suffer from sexual problems that are less frequent among their intact peers. Important to the understanding of the Danish debate is also the simple fact that circumcision is not a common procedure in Denmark, so it is primarily performed by the Jewish and Muslim community and in connection with medically warranted circumstances. It would be fair for an outsider to assume that the Danish debate might well have xenophobic undertones, however that does not appear to be the case. Rather the case is simply that the majority of Danes place a very high value on personal freedom of choice and are naturally skeptical of non-consensual non-medically warranted procedures. Mr. Magnus Frank brings up another interesting point in his piece, namely that the circumcised males in Denmark supposedly generally enjoy “a much higher level of education, income, and living compared to the average Dane.”
While that may be true of the Jewish population in Denmark (I have never seen studies to prove it, but am inclined to think that it may very well be correct) it is unfortunately not true when it comes to the Muslim population in Denmark. Multiple studies have shown that while young Muslim women in Denmark generally excel in the educational system, the young Muslim men fail to follow their example. So I am inclined to think that the ability to achieve a high level of education, income and standard of living does not depend on the amputation of highly specialized and sensitive skin in the genital area but rather on other cultural factors. In Denmark it is regarded deeply unacceptable to inflict pain or abuse on children – any pain or abuse. Therefore children’s rights are protected throughout the legislation, universally banning for instance spankings and other forms of physical acts of violence against children. The legislation also protects the children from psychological abuse and it protects girls from non-medically warranted circumcision procedures also known as female genital mutilation. Boys do not currently enjoy the same right to bodily integrity under Danish legislation as girls do. A recent poll indicates that a majority of the Danish population finds that it is time to ensure the boys equal rights.
To many Danes the case is simple; any man or woman may do with their own bodies what they see fit, when they reach adulthood, but no one – not even parents – should be allowed to make decisions about performing permanent non-medically warranted potentially harmful procedures on behalf of anybody else.
The author is a strategy, change and communications consultant.