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:
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:
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.
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