HELSINOR SANOMAT, Helsinki, Finland, 24 March 2003.

Finnish hospitals urged to perform circumcisions
Legislation under preparation at Ministry of Social Affairs and Health

Finnish university hospitals have received instructions from the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health and the Association of Finnish Local and Regional Authorities, urging public health care facilities to provide circumcisions for boys whose families want the procedure.
The purpose of the move is to avert complications that might result from religiously mandated circumcisions performed by untrained people, which often involve poor hygiene and inadequate anaesthesia.
The letter was sent
because Finland currently has no legislation on circumcisions. Now a bill on the procedure is under preparation at the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health.
Ministry official Marja-Liisa Partanen says that the issue will be examined while the present minister is still in office, before a new government takes over.
"Probably a small law will be passed on this issue, because it is difficult to link this with our law on public health. After all, this is not a question of actual health care", Partanen says.

The problem is not
a very extensive one. There are no precise figures on the number of circumcisions performed on boys in Finland, but Partanen estimates that it might be about 100 a year.
All religious-based circumcisions performed in hospitals are for Muslims. Finland's Jewish community has its own specialists who perform the procedure under hygienic conditions.
The basis of the letter and the legislative preparations is an incident in Kuopio in 2001 when an African-born doctor performed circumcisions on seven boys at home, several of whom were later hospitalised for complications. The criminal investigation in the case is expected to be completed next week.
The case could set a precedent as to whether such circumcisions constitute assault.
The letter sent to hospitals urges doctors to perform circumcisions on patients who ask for one. The purpose is to avoid complications that might result from procedures performed in the home.
According to Ritva Larjomaa of the Association of Finnish Local and Regional Authorities, a doctor with ethical objections to performing circumcisions cannot be forced to do it.
As the procedure is not a medical one, some doctors have refused to perform it, saying that it violates the physical integrity of the child. Larjomaa says that on the same basis a church minister might refuse to baptise a child.
"We should also not create a situation in which public health care does not operate, but the private sector does", Larjomaa emphasises.
Circumcision patients
must queue for the procedure just like all patients needing minor surgery. The price of the procedure is the same as for all types of day surgery provided by hospitals: slightly more than 100 euros. After the operation the patient can go straight home.

(File prepared 29 April 2003)