The non-therapeutic circumcision of male minors

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The KNMG Physicians Federation

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Abstract: The official viewpoint of KNMG and other related medical/scientific organisations is that non-therapeutic circumcision of male minors is a violation of children’s rights to autonomy and physical integrity. Contrary to popular belief, circumcision can cause complications – bleeding, infection, urethral stricture and panic attacks are particularly common. KNMG is therefore urging a strong policy of deterrence. KNMG is calling upon doctors to actively and insistently inform parents who are considering the procedure of the absence of medical benefits and the danger of complications.

Viewpoint Summary (page 5 of PDF):

KNMG viewpoint
Non-therapeutic circumcision of male minors

  • There is no convincing evidence that circumcision is useful or necessary in terms of prevention or hygiene. Partly in the light of the complications which can arise during or after circumcision, circumcision is not justifiable except on medical/therapeutic grounds. Insofar as there are medical benefits, such as a possibly reduced risk of HIV infection, it is reasonable to put off circumcision until the age at which such a risk is relevant and the boy himself can decide about the intervention, or can opt for any available alternatives.
  • Contrary to what is often thought, circumcision entails the risk of medical and psychological complications. The most common complications are bleeding, infections, meatus stenosis (narrowing of the urethra) and panic attacks. Partial or complete penis amputations as a result of complications following circumcisions have also been reported, as have psychological problems as a result of the circumcision.
  • Non-therapeutic circumcision of male minors is contrary to the rule that minors may only be exposed to medical treatments if illness or abnormalities are present, or if it can be convincingly demonstrated that the medical intervention is in the interest of the child, as in the case of vaccinations.
  • Non-therapeutic circumcision of male minors conflicts with the child’s right to autonomy and physical integrity.
  • The KNMG calls on (referring) doctors to explicitly inform parents/carers who are considering non-therapeutic circumcision for male minors of the risk of complications and the lack of convincing medical benefits. The fact that this is a medically non-essential intervention with a real risk of complications makes the quality of this advice particularly important. The doctor must then record the informed consent in the medical file.
  • The KNMG respects the deep religious, symbolic and cultural feelings that surround the practice of non-therapeutic circumcision. The KNMG calls for a dialogue between doctors’ organisations, experts and the religious groups concerned in order to put the issue of non-therapeutic circumcision of male minors on the agenda and ultimately restrict it as much as possible.
  • There are good reasons for a legal prohibition of non-therapeutic circumcision of male minors, as exists for female genital mutilation. However, the KNMG fears that a legal prohibition would result in the intervention being performed by non-medi- cally qualified individuals in circumstances in which the quality of the intervention could not be sufficiently guaranteed. This could lead to more serious complications than is currently the case.

This viewpoint by the KNMG is jointly endorsed by the following scientific associations:

  • The Netherlands Society of General Practitioners
  • The Netherlands Society of Youth Healthcare Physicians
  • The Netherlands Association of Paediatric Surgeons
  • The Netherlands Association of Plastic Surgeons
  • The Netherlands Association for Paediatric Medicine
  • The Netherlands Urology Association
  • The Netherlands Surgeons’ Association