Denmark's bid to ban male circumcision hits the buffers

Denmark's bid to ban male circumcision hits the buffers April 25, 2018

Denmark’s ruling Liberal Party has come out against a ban on the circumcision of young boys, meaning a controversial citizen’s proposal is unlikely to make it through parliament.
According to this report, the citizen’s proposal for the ban had received 44,685 votes at the time of writing, bringing it within a whisker of the 50,000 it needs to force a vote in the Danish parliament.
The party’s group chairman, Søren Gade, above said on Tuesday after a long-drawn out meeting of party MPs to discuss the issue:

It has been difficult today, and if we had taken the easy route, we would have said ‘yes’ to a ban.

Jakob Ellemann-Jensen, the party’s political spokesman, told the paper that views had been split across the party.
Many have veered both for and against. There are really a lot of arguments both for and against, and many among us held  different views.
The proposal was made by Lena Nyhus, chairwoman of Intact Denmark, an anti-circumcision pressure group. She said when she launched a petition in January:

If people want to let themselves be circumcised then they should have the opportunity to make that choice as an adult. Otherwise, they ought to be allowed to grow up with their body intact.

Opinion polls in the past have found that close to three quarters of Danes support a ban on the circumcision of boys and the Danish Medical Association has also called for it to be illegal under the age of 18.
But the proposal has caused great disquiet among Jews and Muslims in Denmark with Mosaiske, which represents Jews in Denmark this month warning in a fact sheet that the proposal:

Threatens the right of religious minorities to exist on a par with their fellow citizens. 

The opposition Social Democrats and the populist Danish People’s Party have both come out in opposition to the ban. The Liberal Alliance and the Conservative party plan to give their MPs a free vote. The Socialist People’s Party (SF) is the only party which is requiring its MPs to vote in favour.
SF health spokesperson Kirsten Normann Andersen said earlier this month:

We think it’s very simple. We had no problems deciding to forbid female circumcision, we had no problem scrapping the right for parents to smack children, and now it’s time to get to grips with this issue.

A member of the American anti-circumcision group Bloodstained Men, which asserts that circumcision violates human rights.
Stephen Moreton PhD, a research chemist based in Cheshire, England, who has been following the intactivist movement for years, and views it as a dangerous pseudoscientific cult, said he was pleased by the Danish development.  The long-standing atheist, sceptic and debunker of pseudoscience, who edits and writes for the debunking website www.circfacts.org, one of the few dedicated to exposing anti-circumcision pseudoscience, said today in a statement to the Freethinker:

It is welcome news that the current bid to ban infant circumcision in Denmark looks set to fail. Like similar moves in Norway and Iceland, it is motivated by an ideological opposition to male circumcision (MC) rather than an objective appraisal of the science or, for that matter, any thought for the wider ramifications.
If the procedure was purely a religious one I’d be all for the proposed ban, but it is not. As I explain in this recent Pink Humanist article circumcision has an impressive array of health benefits, whilst having no adverse effect on sexual function or pleasure. This is overlooked in the mad rush to jump on the anti-circumcision bandwagon, a bandwagon already crowded with conspiracy theorists, anti-vaxers, HIV/AIDS deniers, anti-Semites, bullies, liars, Internet trolls, zealots and cranks.
I wonder how many of the nearly 50,000 Danish citizens who supported this bill have read even one of the randomized controlled trials showing that circumcision is highly effective at stopping female to male HIV transmission? Or even know what a randomized controlled trial is? Or have any idea of the sheer volume of scientific research available on circumcision, and how little supports the anti-circumcision cause?
Medical matters should be decided by medical science, not popular opinion. The medical science is clear. In high-HIV settings (mostly in sub-Saharan Africa) male circumcision, including of infants, is vital to turning the epidemic around. It is set to avert tens of millions of new infections by the end of the century. That is medical scientific consensus, and is the basis for the current WHO program to circumcise as many males as possible in the most blighted countries.
Whether it is of use outside those settings is currently hotly debated, and it is fair to say that it would be hard to advocate for the procedure in any of the Nordic countries. But equally, the benefits are real and go far beyond just HIV prevention. What if the MC advocates turn out to be right? To ban the procedure would be to ban preventative medicine.
As the benefits outside of HIV epidemic settings may be relatively modest, such a ban there may not be the greatest of disasters, but it would be for Africa. What greatly concerns me is the message this is sending out to those who really do need the intervention.
In Malawi pseudoscientific denialism about the efficacy of MC, and a perception that the program is a western imposition on Africans, has already hampered the role out of MC. MC opponents are organising and feeding ill-informed Africans all across the continent misinformation about the procedure, and their social media are flagging developments in Europe.
This is a very dangerous message to send out: Africans must circumcise, but not us Europeans. We know better. It feeds directly into the ‘circumcision is a Western plot against Africans’ narrative. We have already seen the scope for disaster when pseudoscience and ideology trump science. When then President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, fell for HIV/AIDS denialist claims, he stalled his country’s implementation of anti-retroviral therapy (ART). The result was 330,000 dead Africans. What if the same tragic story is repeated for circumcision?
Are a few thousand Nordic foreskins really worth the lives of millions of Africans?

Hat tip: BarrieJohn

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  • sailor1031

    So we should force people to undergo a procedure because it is alleged to mitigate disease? This is utterly beside the point. Western societies don’t even ban smoking FFS. What’s next? Dietary laws prescribed by some government agency on the grounds that diets can adversely affect health? Banning the whopper and the Big Mac (a better idea than circumcising eight-day-olds)? where does this nannyism stop? If adult people want to limit the spread of HIV and actually believe these studies then let them get circumcised. The issue here is not what adults do, it’s about the rights of young children. Those rights should not be discarded in favour of either coercive state nannyism or irrelevant religious bigotry. No-one is stopping adult jews from getting circumcised if they want to; I just wonder what YWHW does with all the foreskins. Seems an odd thing for a sane person to collect if you ask me.

  • Very sensible development. Dr Stephen Moreton is quite right. There is so much more to early infant male circumcision than religion. The heath benefits should be front and centre, just as is the case for vaccination of children.
    ALL **EVIDENCE-BASED** policy statements support IMC. The latest American Academy of Pediatrics infant male circumcision policy statement (in 2012) concluded that benefits exceed risks and that unbiased education be given to parents early in infancy, as well as other recommendations clearly designed to encourage this highly beneficial procedure. The CDC draft recommendations support male circumcision in infancy as the best time, and later for those not circumcised at birth.
    The benefits of infant male circumcision exceed the risks by over 100 to 1. Over their lifetime, half of uncircumcised males suffer a medical condition caused by their foreskin. See article in Mayo Clin Proc in 2014:
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24702735
    and article in World J Clin Pediatr in 2017:
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28224100
    Many men will die as a result of their foreskin, as will their sexual partners …. from genital cancers, HIV/AIDS and syphilis.
    Given the benefits and very low risks early infant male circumcision is in many ways similar to vaccinations. In fact, it would be unethical now not to recommend the procedure to parents of baby boys:
    http://www.circinfo.net/pdfs/Rivin_IntJChildrensRights_2016.pdf
    Multiple large systematic reviews and a meta-analysis have shown that circumcision has no adverse effect on sexual function, sensation or sexual pleasure. See systematic reviews and meta-analyses in the USA, Denmark, Australia and China, all published in peer-reviewed journals:
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=morris+bj+2013+sexual
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=tian+circumcision+meta-analysis
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=circumcision+2016+dan+med+j
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28653427
    Men circumcised as sexually experienced adults report better sex after being circumcised. This was the finding of two large high quality randomized controlled trials in Africa and Central America:
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=krieger+2008+circumcision
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28258953
    Sexual sensation resides in the head of the penis, not the foreskin:
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=cox+g+2015+circumcision
    All well-designed unbiased research studies, including high quality randomized controlled trials, find that the overwhelming majority of women prefer a circumcised man for sexual activity and pleasure. Women with male sexual partners who are circumcised have lower risk of cervical cancer, various common STIs and infertility: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=morris+bj+2017+lancet
    A study of 1.4 million males by CDC researchers found adverse events from infant circumcision in the USA to be 0.4%, virtually all being minor and easily treated with complete resolution:
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24820907
    Failure to recommend circumcision is akin to failure to recommend vaccination.
    http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/1073110517750603
    http://booksandjournals.brillonline.com/content/journals/15718182/24/2
    For confirmation of the latest scientific evidence on male circumcision go to PubMed.com or reputable sources such as the website of the Mayo Clinic for reliable advice, not anti-circumcision websites and opinion pieces in the lay news media.
    Brian Morris, DSc PhD, Professor Emeritus in Medical Sciences, Sydney Medical School, University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia

  • barriejohn

    @sailor 1031: Correct.
    Liberals getting it wrong AGAIN, in pursuit of “freedoms” which are not freedoms.
    If people want to let themselves be circumcised then they should have the opportunity to make that choice as an adult. Otherwise, they ought to be allowed to grow up with their body intact.
    Why can’t people see this? Is it so very difficult to understand?

  • 1859

    So what disease does Female GM prevent?
    So the medical evidence and consensus is that Male Circumcision in Sub-Saharan African stops the spread of HIV ?- OK, then let these adult, sexually active young men volunteer for circumcision – but not babies, young children, small boys FFS !
    Would the above ‘research chemist’, living in the UK, really have his own baby’s foreskin cut off because it will protect him from HIV infection when he becomes sexually active in 16 years time? I don’t think so. To compare the reasons for and against MC in Danish society with the reasons for and against MC in sub-Saharan Africa is spurious and downright stupid. Methinks he must have his dick stuck in a test tube.

  • Gary

    I’m waiting for the first circumcised man to sue the overseeing rabi and mohel and maybe his parents for mutilating him without consent. There must be someone in the mega litigious USA who feels agreived enough and desirous of say $10,000,000 to push for justice. Or if there are a few of them set up a Class Action. The prospect of loosing a shed load of money is the one thing that the models and rabis fear.

  • Graham Martin-Royle

    @1859 why aren’t there people advocating for the removal of young girls breasts? After all, if they are removed while they are still a child, they won’t miss them, they’ll forget the operation and they’ll never have to worry about breast cancer when they’re older. Stupid argument? Yes, but so is the argument from Stephan Morton. Young male children will not be having sex so let them choose when they’re adults.

  • Maggie

    Why pick on the penis to lop off a part of ? The body is replete with parts that have terrible, fatal diseases associated with them, and many are not vital to life.
    Unfortunately Denmark’s decision is not the worst. That belongs to the US Senate and its refusal to ban FGM, because “multiculturalism”.

  • Dioigi
  • These comments all are the usual arguments of intactivism and ingnore the fact that loving and reasonable parents can choose circumcision for medical or religious reasons and know that there is a body of science showing benefits with low risk of harm. There is no time in life where it is easier to perform circumcision safely than the neonatal period, when healing is most rapid, and benefits are present starting in the first months of life (UTI risk reduction).

  • Laura Roberts

    @sailor1031: “Western societies don’t even ban smoking FFS.”
    They goddamn well should! Few things piss me off more than people poisoning my air as a side-effect of their own utterly pointless and self-destructive behaviour. Not only is it inconsiderate and annoying, but it can trigger asthma attacks.
    Beyond that, we now know that smoking more than a few cigarettes causes permanent changes to one’s DNA. It’s entirely possible that second-hand smoke does the same thing, in which case, smoking too close to someone may someday legitimately be considered a form of assault. Personally, I think that day can’t come soon enough.

  • Barry Duke

    Laura, a couple of weeks ago I wrote a piece about smoking for the Spanish paper Round Town News.. It might amuse you, or maybe not.

  • John the Drunkard

    Justifications for circumcision are ALL post-hoc rationalizations. At no time has circumcision been normalized on the basis of any ‘benefit.’ Religious circumcision has rumbled along in the background for millennia, but modern circumcision is rooted in anti-sexual religious hysteria.
    We could reduce breast cancer rates to near zero by routine mastectomy for all pre-adolescent girls. Morton?
    Muslims don’t seem to be bound by the 8 day rule, and should not be worried about bans like that proposed in Denmark. FGM isn’t really supported by the Koran or Hadith…its just another example of religion serving to perpetuate tribal barbarism.
    The anti-circ movement is certainly riddled with woo-woo and pop-psych bullshit. But we are still talking about the involuntary amputation of normal tissue for religious, or psuedo-scientific, motives.

  • Good to see that not all the comments are by foaming at the mouth intactivists, although a few come close. I would urge readers, whatever their views, to read my article in the Pink Humanist (http://www.thepinkhumanist.com/articles/370-circumcision-regulation-not-prohibition ) which gives a general overview without taking sides in the debate about whether the procedure is worthwhile outside of high-HIV settings (it certainly is worthwhile in those settings). They should also check out http://www.circfacts.org where many of the common arguments are debunked. Like the alluring, but ultimately poor, argument about leaving circumcision until adulthood. Apply that in a high-HIV setting and you just get more dead people, more sick people and higher health care costs: http://circfacts.org/general-information/#med3 And the victims are not just those who miss the snip, they include anyone else they infect, as well as their families and loved ones.
    Unfortunately this issue attracts emotional responses far more than reasoned science-based ones. If we atheists are serious about being rational and all that, then let’s be so about circumcision. Cut the rhetoric, and stick to the science, and the science says that the HIV epidemic is unlikely to be turned around without circumcision (condoms etc. are just not proving sufficient). In the absence of HIV there is still a case to be made, but the jury is out on whether that case is strong enough to merit it. So I will not advocate for it. But there is enough evidence now to indicate it might be, so I will not oppose it either, even if by a mohel, provided it is done to a high medical standard.

  • barriejohn

    Oh, no; the trolls have arrived! “Circumcision choice”. What fucking choice does an infant have? Moreton has been accused of “exploiting HIV/AIDS to perpetuate child abuse”. I couldn’t put it better myself. And these people talk about “rationality”!

  • Gaurav Tyagi

    @Barry Duke, I read your article about smoking in the Spanish paper, ‘Round Town News’, an excellent composition.
    As a smoker myself, I used to be quite agitated about the very high prices of cigarette packets during my time in The Netherlands.
    A good thing about living in China is that cigarette packets here come in the range of 5-100 RMB so, one can buy any of them suitable for the smokers budget furthermore, all cigarette packets are very well designed with nice pictures and sceneries etc. None of them carry any disgusting pictures of Human Lungs after smoking etc…
    I remember reading somewhere (cannot remember the source) on being told by someone that smoking cigarettes result in slow death a smoker retorted; fine, I am not in a hurry.

  • Michael Glass

    Want to do something about circumcision?
    Charging like a bull at a gate is only going to get the gatekeepers to construct bigger and better gates.
    Here are some practical steps and the rationale for taking these steps:
    Circumcision is surgery and there are always risks. Infant circumcision is always questionable, because the owner of the foreskin cannot give his own consent to the surgery. 
    While the moral question remains, some common sense rules could reduce the risks of this surgery.
    1  Unqualified people should be banned from circumcising anyone!
    2  Incompetent circumcisers should be banned from circumcising anyone else! 
    3  Dangerous traditional practices such as metzitzah b’peh (oral suction of the circumcision wound) should be discouraged by public education and other suitable measures.
    4  Before anyone is circumcised, an independent doctor must certify in writing that the person is free of any bleeding disorders and any other contra-indications and is strong enough to withstand the surgery. It is scandalous when bleeding disorders are discovered after a child’s life is endangered by uncontrolled bleeding
    5  No child should be circumcised against the objection of a parent. The informed and written consent of both parents should be mandatory.
    6  If a man or an older child is forcibly circumcised against his will, this should be treated as a sexual assault, and the perpetrator prosecuted accordingly.
    These rules won’t interfere with most circumcisions and they don’t answer the ethical problem of circumcising young boys, but they would reduce the medical risks of this operation and deal with other abuses.