The Bismarck Tribune, Sat., June 8, 1996, 1-800-472-2273, Bismarck

[Headline] Suit says circumcision law reflects gender bias

FARGO (AP)-Routine circumcision of baby boys is cruel and parents should be
prohibited from seeking the procedure for their children, plaintiffs in a
federal law suit said Friday.

"It's like tearing your fingernail off. That's how painful it is," said
Duane Voskuil, a [former] philosophy and ethics professor at Bismarck State

Voskuil supported a law enacted by the 1985 North Dakota Legislature that
prohibits the mutilation of genitals in girls age 17 and younger. But now
he is one of four plaintiffs in a lawsuit seeking to declare the law

Zenas Baer, the plaintiffs' lawyer, said the law amounts to gender
discrimination because it does not give males the same legal protection
from routine circumcisions--a procedure he characterizes as mutilation.
Baer filed a lawsuit Friday in U.S. District Court in Fargo.

"We think baby boys should get the same protection as baby girls," he said.

Baer said that unless there is a legitimate medical reason, neither parents
nor doctors should be able to decide whether baby boys are circumcised.
It's a procedure that "severely deforms that individual for life," he said.

Since babies cannot consent to circumcision, the procedure should only be
allowed in adult men, Voskuil said. "We are not against circumcision, but
we are against non-consenting circumcision," he said.

Roger Allen, a pediatrician in Minot, said some studies show that
circumcisions reduce the risk of boys developing infections and diseases
later In life. But the evidence is sketchy, he said.

"You can't demonstrate anything remarkably good or remarkably bad that
relates to the procedure Allen said.

State lawmakers considered including boys in the 1995 bill. But the idea
was scratched because of a lack of support, said Sen. Tim Mathern, D-Fargo,
a bill cosponsor.

"I would have had no problem keeping it together and both males and females
being treated the same," he said. "But we couldn't get enough votes."

About 60 percent of baby boys are circumcised nationwide, including between
80 and 90 percent of North Dakota boys, said plaintiff Jody McLaughlin of
Minot. It's a traditional procedure that has little medical basis and is
shunned by other Western countries, she said.

"People in Europe ... call us barbarians," McLaughlin said.

Circumcision involves the removal of the foreskin at the end of the penis.
Baer said taking away the foreskin and its nerve endings decreases a male's
potential for sexual pleasure.

The lawsuit could have national and international importance, Baer said.
"It really becomes an issue of human rights," he said.

The lawsuit also could have religious implications. Many Jewish and Islamic
people consider circumcision a religious practice.

"We don't believe you have a right to do that based on religion " Baer
said. But courts would likely grant exemptions for Jews and Muslims if
routine circumcisions ever were outlawed, he added.

Baer said he hopes the 1995 law is ruled unconstitutional and the
Legislature then decides to pass a new law forbidding the mutilation of the
genitals of both boys and girls.

(File revised 10 May 2008)