HELSINGIN SANOMAT, Helsinki, 9 April 2003.

Prosecutor General defers move on Kuopio botched circumcision case

Kuopio case leads to assessment of fundamental rights

The office of the Prosecutor General is not making a decision on how to proceed with the case of the botched circumcisions of a number of Muslim boys in Kuopio in 2001 until a new law is passed on the question.

The office has investigated whether or not the operations, conducted at the boys' homes, constitute criminal assault. The boys had to be hospitalised for complications resulting from the operations.
Prosecutor General Päivi Hirvelä is deferring a decision on whether charges will be made, pending a decision by Parliament on the issue of religiously-mandated male circumcision.
The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health is to convene a working group to consider whether or not legislation is necessary to regulate the practice.
Hirvelä told Helsingin Sanomat that an examination of international treaties suggests that the legality of circumcisions "is very questionable".

Hirvelä sees the Kuopio case
as a precedent for weighing the issues of the fundamental rights of freedom of religion and the integrity of the body.
Hirvelä mentions the Biomedicine Convention of the Council of Europe and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Biomedicine Convention states that medical procedures can be implemented without the patient's consent only if the procedure has an immediate medical benefit.
The UN treaty requires that each signatory eliminate practices which harm the health of the child.

The working group
is expected to start its work in early May, and is expected to be given six months to complete its task, allowing the Government time to prepare proposed legislation by the end of the year.
The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health and the Association of Local and Regional Authorities have called on Finnish public health facilities to deal with religiously-mandated circumcisions. The Ministry estimates that about 100 ritual circumcisions are performed on boys living in Finland each year.
"We must find some kind of a solution that would allow people equal access to treatment. It is difficult for me to see that Finland would ban the circumcision of Jews and Muslims", says Ritva Halila, secretary-general of the national consultative committee on health care ethics.
The committee issued a statement four years ago pointing out that male circumcision has not been shown to have any health benefits, but that the procedure also does not present any serious problems, if performed correctly.
"It is important to make sure that they are performed under proper conditions, that the children would get good treatment for the pain, and that the risk of complications would be minimised", Halila says.

The issue of male ritual circumcision
came up in 2001 when six Muslim boys in Kuopio had to be hospitalised after their circumcisions. An African-born doctor performed the operations in a private home.
The Provincial Government of Eastern Finland reprimanded the doctor over the case.
In Finland the Jewish and Muslim Tatar communities have long dealt with their own circumcisions. There have been no problems, as the operations have been performed under hygienic conditions within the relatively well-to-do communities themselves.
However, the influx of Muslim immigrants, many of whom cannot afford the services of private doctors, has changed the situation.
In March, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health sent a letter to Finland's university hospitals urging public health facilities to perform the religiously-mandated operations as a way of averting back-alley circumcisions.
The Oulu University Hospital has provided circumcision services for years. The university hospitals of Helsinki, Kuopio, Tampere, and Turku refuse to perform circumcisions for non-medical reasons.

(File prepared 30 April 2003)