The General Medical Council has approved clinical guidelines for the circumcision of male children for religious or medical reasons, after complaints about the standards of care provided.
Many doctors and members of the public feel that male circumcision for religious or cultural reasons is unethical because it entails a surgical technique, without the consent of the patient, which has little or no therapeutic value. But the GMC's standards committee chairman, Professor Sir Cyril Chantler, told the GMC last week that, unlike female circumcision, male circumcision was legal and the question about whether it was ethical was not a medical question. This had to be decided by society and not by doctors. If doctors could not carry out the procedure parents would turn to people who lacked the skills to perform the procedure competently.
The GMC advises those doctors who decide to circumcise a male child that they should have the necessary skills and experience to eradicate the pain and discomfort of the patient; that they should keep up to date with the procedure, including when it is not necessary for medical reasons; that they should explain any benefits or risks to those with parental responsibility; that the family's religious advisers might be present to advise on how the procedure should be performed to meet the religious requirements; that they should listen carefully to the parents' or guardians' views; and that whenever possible they should obtain the permission of both parents. In all cases doctors should obtain valid consent, in writing, before performing the procedure.
The council advises doctors that they are not obliged to perform a circumcision and they should explain if they are opposed to the procedure for other than therapeutic reasons.
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