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German Law on Circumcision and its Debate: How an Ethical and Legal Issue Turned Political

8 Pages Posted: 7 Feb 2015  

Diana Aurenque

University of Tuebingen - Institute for Ethics and History of Medicine

Urban Wiesing

Universität Tübingen - Institut für Ethik und Geschichte der Medizin

Date Written: March 2015

Abstract

The article aims to illuminate the recent debate in Germany about the legitimacy of circumcision for religious reasons. The aim is both to evaluate the new German law allowing religious circumcision, and to outline the resulting conflict between the surrounding ethical and legal issues. We first elucidate the diversity of legal and medical views on religious circumcision in Germany. Next we examine to what extent invasive and irreversible physical interventions on infant boys unable to given their consent should be carried out for non‐medical reasons. To this end, the potential benefits and harms of circumcision for non‐medical reasons are compared. We argue that circumcision does not provide any benefits for the ‘child as a child’ and poses only risks to boys. We then set out to clarify and analyse political (rather than ethical) justifications of the new circumcision law. We demonstrate through this analysis how the circumcision debate in Germany has been transformed from a legal and ethical problem into a political issue, due at least in part to Germany's unique historical context. Although such a particular political sensibility is entirely comprehensible, it raises particular problems when it comes to framing and responding to medical ethical issues – as in the case of religious circumcision.

Keywords: German law on circumcision, the child's welfare, ethical and legal issues, political discussion, balancing benefits and harms

Suggested Citation

Aurenque, Diana and Wiesing, Urban, German Law on Circumcision and its Debate: How an Ethical and Legal Issue Turned Political (March 2015). Bioethics, Vol. 29, Issue 3, pp. 203-210, 2015. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2561604 or http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/bioe.12077

Diana Aurenque (Contact Author)

University of Tuebingen - Institute for Ethics and History of Medicine ( email )

Goethestr. 6
Tubingen, 72076
Germany

Urban Wiesing

Universität Tübingen - Institut für Ethik und Geschichte der Medizin ( email )

Mohlstrasse 36
D - 72074 Tuebingen
Germany

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