THE NEW YORK SUN, Tuesday, September 18, 2007.

Oregon Legal Battle Ignites Debate on Circumcision

By Staff Reporter of the Sun
September 18, 2007

A legal battle between divorced parents in Oregon about the circumcision of their 12-year-old son is fast becoming a flash point between critics of the procedure and those who endorse it on medical and religious grounds.
James Boldt, a recent convert to Judaism, wants his son, who is also said to be converting, circumcised. Mr. Boldt's ex-wife, Lia, has objected. Lower courts sided with Mr. Boldt, who has full custody of his son. However, the Oregon Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments in the dispute in November.

Four Jewish organizations, the American Jewish Committee, the American Jewish Congress, the Anti-Defamation League, and the Orthodox Union, have joined together in an amicus curiae brief supporting the father's right to proceed over the mother's objections.

"It is of particular importance to amici that American Jews be free to practice circumcision because circumcision is and has been one of the most fundamental and sacred parts of the Jewish religion," the groups wrote. "Enabling the circumcision of a child, whether as part of a religious conversion or for medical reasons, cannot as a matter of law indicate any infirmity in a parent's ability to function as a parent. Moreover, any decision to single out circumcision as a basis for questioning the fitness of the custodial parent would violate the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of religion."

Ms. Boldt is being backed by a Seattle-based group, Doctors Against Circumcision, which contends that the procedure is unnecessary and amounts to abuse.

"Parents are free to practice their religion and to have religious beliefs, but they are not free to change the physical body of their child at will," the anti-circumcision group's executive director, John Geisheker, told The New York Sun.

Mr. Boldt contends that his son wants to have the circumcision done. However, Mr. Geisheker said it is impossible to know whether the son's choice is being made freely.

In court papers, Mr. Geisheker's group has argued that male circumcision should not be permitted on constitutional grounds because many states have passed laws banning female genital mutilation. Though studies have shown less incidence of sexually transmitted disease in circumcised men, Mr. Geisheker contends that circumcision is "non-therapeutic." He said it is akin to an increasingly trendy procedure where women have the appearance of their vaginas altered.

"Would you allow your 12-year-old daughter to have her labia trimmed for cosmetic reasons?" he asked.

The Jewish groups warned that a decision blocking the circumcision would encourage litigation over all sorts of medical procedures for children. "Surely a parent has the same authority to have a child's vision corrected or a birthmark on his face removed even if those procedures are also elective and even if the other parent objects," they wrote. "The Jewish experience with circumcision has shown that it is a safe and simple procedure with few complications."

(File created 18 September 2007)