COLOGNE – A German court has ruled that circumcising young boys represents grievous bodily harm, a decision that could have significant repercussions for religious groups.
NDJ World | Published: Jun 27 2012 Europe→World News
The case centered on a four-year-old boy whose Muslim parents had him circumcised by a doctor, which led to medical complications.
The doctor was charged with grievous bodily harm but acquitted by a lower court, which judged he had acted within the law as the parents had given their consent.
On appeal, the regional court also acquitted the doctor, but for different reasons. It upheld the original charge of grievous bodily harm, but ruled that the doctor was innocent as there was too much confusion on the legal situation.
Although Muslims and Jews circumcise infant boys as a religious practice and many other people do so for health reasons, the court found that the child’s “fundamental right to bodily integrity” was more important than the parents’ rights.
“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.”
According to the court, the religious freedom “would not be unduly impaired”, because the child could later decide whether to have the circumcision.
Jewish leaders reacted furiously to the decision. The central council’s president, Dieter Graumann, called it “outrageous and insensitive”, and said circumcision had been practiced for thousands of years.
“In every country in the world, this religious right is respected,” he said.
The Central Council of Jews in Germany condemned the decision by the regional court in Cologne as “an unprecedented and dramatic intrusion on the self-determination of religious communities” and called on the German parliament to pass legislation protecting circumcision as a religious practice.
Germany has no law against male circumcision, as there is against female genital cutting. Experts said the decision would not be enforceable in other jurisdictions. But the legal uncertainty and threat of prosecution could lead doctors to decline to perform the procedure.
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