HERALD SUN, Victoria, Australia, Wednesday, March 13, 1996.


by Anita Quigley

AUSTRALIA could face a wave of litigation unless circumcision is banned, a leading academic said yesterday.

The president of children's welfare group Oz Child, Dr. Neville Turner claims male circumcision is a breach of human rights and leaves parents and doctors liable to be sued.

Dr. Turner, who is also a professor of law at Monash University, describes the once routine procedure as ``unnecessary, painful, dangerous and barbarous.''

“Doctors and nurses who perform circumcision on infants relying on the consent of parents are taking a grave risk”, he said.

“If it is ultimately declared to be a void consent, then it will have constituted an assault, and they could be civilly and criminally liable.”

Dr. Turner said the procedure was contrary to article 24 (3) of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

He has called for immediate Australia-wide legislation banning it.

Dr. Turner says traditional practices should not be observed.

Male circumcision is still commonly practiced by Muslim and Jewish communities.

National Medicare figures showed 15,000 circumcisions were performed on boys under six months during 1993-94.

On top of this, 400 Jewish circumcisions were conducted outside the hospital system in Melbourne in 1994.

Dr. Turner said there was evidence that many men suffered negative psychological effects as a result of being circumcised.

“I think doctors are leaving themselves wide open for legal action to be taken against them,” he said.

“I'm not suggesting people should rush off to court, but parental consent will not be a justification.”

The Australia Medical Association's ethics committee chairman, Dr. Keith Woollard, said there was no doubt male circumcision was a growing legal and ethical problem.

“Having looked at both sides of the argument, my own view is that there is not sufficient evidence to justify it as a routine surgical procedure on otherwise healthy people,” he said.

But Dr. Woollard cautions the debate ”must not degenerate into some sort of criticism of Jewish and Muslim faiths.”

About 40 per cent of baby boys were circumcised in Australia in 1980.

Today, less than 20 per cent are circumcised.

(File revised 7 May 2008)