Understanding intactivism

While in circwatch we often discuss studies, articles and publications, and point their flaws, contradictions and conflicts of interest, we are first and foremost bound to the principles of bodily autonomy and genital integrity.

Performing irreversible “elective” surgery on non consenting individuals violates the principle of bodily autonomy. It denies the person the right to provide informed consent and make an informed choice.

Removing part of the genitals of children without medical consent violates their genital integrity, part of the children’s right to physical integrity.

Both violations are ethically problematic.

Sure, there is often a discussion of whether there are benefits or harm, whether circumcision affects sexual function or sensitivity or not. But that is basically an academic discussion.

Let’s be clear. If a child was in a life or death situation, where not performing a circumcision would easily cause the child to die or be permanently impaired, it would be irresponsible to not do it. But that is not the case with neonatal circumcision or with child circumcision.

As clearly indicated by the AAP and discussed by the members of the task force, circumcision is often a non-medical decision based on cultural, religious or family factors. And that is problematic.

By performing a circumcision on your newborn child, you are denying this newborn person the right to choose, the right to make informed decisions over his own genitals, and you are depriving him of a normal part of his body. As a parent you may have the best of intentions, but you are missing this side of the issue.

Doctors should not be enabling parents. This is often perceived by parents as a recommendation, resulting in tilting the balance without regards for the future preferences or desires of the minor individual.

Even if there is a lower risk of a minor or rare condition, there is also a harm in circumcising. The procedure is irreversible and leaves permanent marks – a scar and missing parts. There are low incidence high impact risks that should be taken into consideration as well.

We are not “anti-circumcision”. We have no issue with people becoming circumcised – as long as they can provide informed consent. But we have problems with people forcing minors to undergo permanent reductive procedures on their genitalia.

Andrew Freedman, of the AAP 2012 Task Force on Circumcision, wrote: “It is inconceivable that there will ever be a study whose results are so overwhelming as to mandate or abolish circumcision for everyone, overriding all deeply held religious and cultural beliefs.” And while this is true, it should not be taken as a carte blanche to override children’s ownership of their own bodies. It should be taken to apply to your choice over your own body, not your choice over someone else’s body. You don’t own your child’s body.

Your child’s body should not be an accessory to your religious or cultural expression. Your child’s freedom of choice and bodily integrity are at stake. Please, respect the dignity and personhood of your child.

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