Examining Nontherapeutic Circumcision

78 Pages Posted: 17 May 2018

See all articles by Stephen R. Munzer

Stephen R. Munzer

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - School of Law


This study in moral, political, and legal philosophy contends that it is morally impermissible to circumcise male minors without a medical indication (nontherapeutic circumcision). Male minors have a moral anticipatory autonomy right-in-trust not to be circumcised. This right depends on norms of autonomy and bodily integrity. These norms generate three direct non-consequentialist arguments against nontherapeutic circumcision: (1) the loss of nonrenewable functional tissue, (2) genital salience, and (3) limits on a parental right to permanently modify their sons' bodies. An indirect argument holds (4) that if it is morally impermissible to remove the female prepuce (clitoral hood), then it is also morally impermissible to remove the male prepuce (foreskin). Although there is debate across medical cultures, a reasonable understanding supports the claim that nontherapeutic circumcision causes some harms and imposes unwarranted risks on male minors. The overall moral case applies to secular circumcisions and, with some qualifications, to religious circumcisions in Judaism and Islam. Arguments of political philosophy that invoke the freedom of religion, toleration, multiculturalism, and social meaning qualify somewhat, but do not eliminate, the case against circumcising male minors without a medical indication. Nevertheless, the arguments deployed in this study do not warrant legal interference at this time with secular and religious practices of nontherapeutic circumcision.

Keywords: autonomy, bodily integrity, bris, circumcision, complications, consequentialism, functional impairment, gender equality, genitals, harms, longevity, Maimonides, metzitzah b'peh, milah and peri'ah, Oliver C. Schroeder Jr. Prize, psychosocial effects, religious freedom, tolerance, WHO FGM types

JEL Classification: I10, I12, I19, Y90, Z10, Z12, Z18, Z19

Suggested Citation

Munzer, Stephen R., Examining Nontherapeutic Circumcision. 28 Health Matrix 1 (2018), UCLA School of Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 18-19, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3180209

Stephen R. Munzer (Contact Author)

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - School of Law ( email )

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