San Francisco Could Ban Male Circumcision

A controversial new measure could make it onto the ballot in San Francisco in November: city resident Lloyd Schofield says that he’s “on track” to gain enough signatures for his proposed measure, which would make it illegal to perform circumcision on men below the age of 18. The act would be a misdemeanor carrying a $1,000 fine. Schofield is claiming that this is a human rights issue, in part because the city has already made female circumcision illegal, but needless to say, it has angered some San Francisco residents.

The Anti-Defamation League, the local Jewish Community Relations Council, the Board of Rabbis of Northern California and the American Jewish Committee condemned the measure, saying that they were “deeply troubled by this initiative, which would interfere with the rights of parents to make religious decisions for their own families.”

Jewish groups are objecting to the fact that ritual circumcision of men under the age of 18 would be made illegal, despite the fact that it is, in the words of these San Francisco-area Jewish organizations, “of fundamental importance in the Jewish tradition.” Male circumcision is also an important practice in Islam, although it is not compulsory.

Schofield doesn’t accept the argument that religious or cultural significance should change how circumcision is viewed. “People can practice whatever religion they want, but your religious practice ends with someone else’s body,” Schofield said. “His body doesn’t belong to his culture, his government, his religion or even his parents. It’s his decision.”

If nothing else, this is an interesting moment for Americans to consider how foreign attempts to ban or limit female circumcision (or female genital mutilation, as it is also referred to) may be received in cultures where these practices have similar signifiance. This doesn’t mean that the two kinds of circumcision should be compared, though; while male circumcision arguably reduces sexual sensation, female circumcision in its more extreme instances can cause death or severe health problems. Male circumcision has actually been associated with some health benefits, including reducing the risk of HIV acquisition by men during vaginal intercourse, but this is not an accepted conclusion.

Male circumcision was severely limited in Sweden about ten years ago, after a Muslim boy died while being circumcised. Now Swedes who want their sons to be circumcised must either have the circumcision performed under anesthetic, with a doctor or nurse present, or leave the country to have the ritual performed. The law left the country’s Jewish minority, according to the BBC, feeling “isolated and vulnerable.”

It will be interesting to see how this plays out, and whether Schofield is able to get the 7,138 signatures that he needs by April 26, but it does seem like an insensitive and problematic move on his part, and one that I hope the voters of San Francisco don’t have to decide on. Although the discussion about the cultural merits versus the health risks of both female and male circumcision is one that we should be having, male circumcision carries far too much religious (and social) weight for this reaction to be anything but offensive.

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Photo from Flickr.


Barrie W5 years ago

Why do Jews see the need for circumcision?

Trevor W.
Trevor W.5 years ago

What sort of journalism is this?

"Male circumcision has actually been associated with some health benefits, including reducing the risk of HIV acquisition by men during vaginal intercourse, but this is not an accepted conclusion."

First you make a statement like it's a fact, then say it's not an accepted conclusion. Never mind that if you actually did you research you'd find that no one has been able to validate that study.

Second, infants do die from circumcision, they also can have a host of other problems ranging from erections so painful they are impotent to complete lack of sensitivity during intercourse. To say that circumcision shouldn't be compared to female genital mutilation is moronic, they are identical practices and human rights violations, society doesn't get to make decisions about another persons body without their consent. Doctors can't even inform parents correctly about the realities of the surgery, my parents spared me a circumcision when I was born, but from following the doctor's advice to forcibly retract my foreskin to clean as an infant I got infections and it had to be removed anyway.

We were born with everything we need, anyone suggesting that it's okay to take that away is committing an act of violence.

Dorothy R.
Dorothy R5 years ago

When my boys were born they were not circumsized. I thought it was stupid then and still do. They had no problems. Circumcision is sort of like throwing virgins off a cliff to make the corn grow. (tribute to Garrison Keilor for that metaphor.) Mutilation or covering your head can not make one more spiritual or pure. That is in you thoughts, words and actions. The religions of the world will be more useful when that is recognized.

Debbie Bush
Debbie Bush5 years ago

Thank you Kai S! That is exactly correct! And as for all you THINKING you know better.. WRONG! I had my struggle with this TORTURE. As a Mom I could not understand the sense of this practice. So at fifteen (yes, I have NO problem admitting my imperfectness) I researched its importance. I found out age did not govern intelligence. Upon asking many, I then went as well go my Dr. His answer, one I will NEVER forget. "It mostly benefits fruit of the loom because of the overexposure. But as for any medical benefit there absolutely is none. Teach to be clean, which should be done anyway, and there is no issue. In my many many years of practice I have not had one single case." I thank him so for his educated honesty. I also asked about its being able to be performed later and was told absolutely. I made up my mind then and there that it was not my body to choose. I was concerned for dreaded 'locker room confrontations' , my son shared with me later, it had happened, but his answer,"Its not my fault your mother didn't love you!", (which was not something we had ever discussed, he himself saw it that way entirely on his own) and he said they just stood there, dazed and confused, it never occured to them in that manner, they would just look down and walk away. I have three boys with no mutilation, but have promised to pay for it WITH anesthesia if they ever want it done. No Dr appts for any problems and none have asked to have it done either. I am very glad I didn't just follow blindl

David Cromie
David C6 years ago

There is nothing antisemitic about this proposal. What about other sects/religions that pratice genital mutilation for religious purposes - Muslims, for example?

I am very bemused with your 'deafness' analogy, Lika. Surely you can see that curing deafness is a medical procedure, not a religious rite, and designed to enhance the life, functioning, and well-being of the individual. What is ritual circumcision, male or female, supposed to be a 'cure' for?.

In similar vein, Christian Scientists would deny a blood transfusion to save the life of a child, for religious purposes, does any sane person think this a good thing?

When a child attains adulthood, then he can make his own decisions about excising any part of his own body.

Peter S.
Peter S6 years ago

circumcision is the permanent ablation of an evolved part of the sexual organ. It is simply stupid to assume it plays no role. Per the Hippocratic Oath, physicians simply shouldn't practice surgery unnecessarily, which is certainly what this is. A balance needs to be found between the religious rights of a community and the government's need to protect infants from potentially harmful and unnecessary procedures.

Kai Steeves
Kai S6 years ago

It's the baby's body, not the parents. If the boy decides that he wants to be circumcised, let him decide when he's old enough. Don't force your decisions and/or religious choices on your baby. Give their bodies the respect they deserve, and let them make their own decisions.

J. B.
Jean B6 years ago

To Adam K.:
— Your arguments about the health benefits of circumcision to the public health are biased. Only 1% of men will have problems involving a tight foreskin! Why circumcise 99% of men because 1% might have a problem of that sort?

— Fewer problems with erections, especially at puberty? I have been circumcised and have had problems all my life because my skin was cut too short!

— Penile cancer is an extremely rare cancer.

— I know men who are not circumcised that have never had any of the other problems you talk about.

We live in 2011, it's more than time we stop those archaic rituals! Hands off my body!

Gregory S.
Gregory S.6 years ago

The issue is not whether parents want their sons to be circumcised. The issue is if the "individual" wants to be circumcised. Why are a boy's rights subordinated, since it's really a boy's penis. --For too long this has been considered a "family issue" when it's really an "individual" issue.--

Why any third party (parents included) thinks circumcision is their choice to make is so extremely arrogant it makes me sick to my stomach. As a grown circumcised male, this was done to me without my consent. This decision has affected my sexual performance. My parent's erroneous decision has affected by sex life for my entire life.

People...keep "your' religious beliefs to yourself and stop forcing it on other people....(including your kids). Let's try the word "reform". Just because something has been done for 5000 years does not make it correct.

Akiva S.
Akiva S6 years ago

This is a pretense. At the heart of this MGM bill is clearly antisemitism. One only need to look at history to see that outlawing circumcision has become a major trend for any nation that conquered the Israelites- Babylonians, Greeks, Romans, to name a few. In addition, the "Foreskin Man" comic book series id reminiscent of Nazi propaganda artists.