NYC abandons consent requirement for Jewish oral suction circumcision ritual

New York City caves to pressure from the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, and abandons a policy requiring written consent from parents before a mohel can perform metzitzah b’peh, a barbaric circumcision ritual that involves orally suctioning blood from the wounded penis.

Metzitzah b’peh is a bizarre Jewish ritual where a member of the ultra-Orthodox clergy known as a mohel uses his mouth to suck the blood off a newborn’s penis immediately after circumcision, in order to “ritually cleanse the wound.”

According to the New York City Health Department, ultra-Orthodox ritual Jewish circumcision has been linked to the spread of herpes, a potentially deadly virus for infants. The New York City Bureau of Sexually Transmitted Disease Control reports there have been 14 such case in New York City since 2000. Two of those infants died, and two others have suffered significant brain damage as a result.

Repeat: Two of those infants died, and two others have suffered significant brain damage as a result.

Because of the risks of metzitzah b’peh, New York City instituted a consent form in January 2012. Mohels were directed to ask parents to sign the form, which spells out the risks of MBP before it is performed. However, clergy urged their communities not to comply with the requirement, and reports indicate the policy only produced one signed consent form in recent years.

In a new agreement, New York Mayor Bill DeBlasio’s administration has reached a settlement with the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community which would abandon the common sense policy of requiring a written consent form from parents before a mohel can perform metzitzah b’peh.

The settlement comes after NYC was hit with a lawsuit challenging the Health Department’s regulations requiring mohels to obtain written consent from parents before using the oral suction method (metzitzah b’peh).

Religion Clause reports that under the settlement the city will use local healthcare providers to educate the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community about the risks of herpes infection in infants. Jewish leaders also promise to help the city identify the mohel who performed the circumcision on any infant who becomes infected with herpes.  If genetic testing shows the mohel was the source of the infection, the Jewish community will permanently remove him as a mohel, and he will be subject to financial penalties if he continues to perform circumcisions.  However the list of those removed will not be made public.

This is unacceptable. Rather than abandoning written consent forms, the city should be prosecuting the practitioners for medical malpractice, endangering the health of a child, and child abuse.

Dr. William Schaffner, chair of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University, comments on the controversial and dangerous religious ritual:

“First, these are serious infections in newborns, and second, there is no safe way an individual can perform oral suction on an open wound. Third, these terrible infections are completely preventable. They should not occur in the 21st century with our scientific knowledge.”

Ritual Jewish circumcision (metzitzah b’peh) is child abuse. Parents do not have the moral right to expose their children to the potential risks involved in this primitive Bronze Age blood ritual. The fact that the practice is legal is a travesty of justice and decency. Religious superstition can never justify endangering the health and welfare of a child.

(H/T Religion Clause; portions of this article were previously published here.)

Metzitzah b’peh: Ritual Jewish circumcision
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