South African Press Association, Capetown, 01 October 2001.

Circumcision cut in Sweden

Stockholm - A law restricting circumcisions took effect on Monday in Sweden, despite opposition from Jewish groups.

The law, which the Swedish parliament passed on June 1, requires circumcision to be performed only by a physician or another person with appropriate training. It also requires the administration of an analgesic or an anaesthetic in connection with the procedure.

"Brith Milah," the Hebrew expression for circumcision, is practiced on Jewish boys eight days after birth. It also is a rite of passage in Islam, generally for older boys.

Bo Lindblom, deputy director of Sweden's National Board of Health and Welfare, said the legislation arose after a handful of serious injuries and a death occurred during circumcisions in the Scandinavian country. He said most of those injured were Muslims.

Jewish groups pointed out that circumcision has been performed safely throughout history and criticised the legislation as an "unnecessary" restriction on freedom of religion.

Circumcision is usually performed by physicians and "mohels", who are trained to perform the sacred Jewish ceremony. Under the new law, a mohel can apply for a special permit to perform the ceremony, but somebody must be qualified to administer the analgesic.

"There are no other countries that have laws like this," said Rabbi Philip Spectre of the Great Synagogue in Stockholm. "I think the backlash will be tremendous around the world."

Spectre said the new law also could pose practical problems because it may sometimes be difficult to find a physician or a nurse, for example on Sundays, and it wasn't clear what type of analgesic would be required.

Many circumcisions in the Jewish tradition are performed without pain killers, he said, although sometimes a salve is used to numb the child before the procedure.

Lindblom said the law provided important precautions to protect the health of children.

"When an operation is not performed because of injury or handicap you want to apply stricter standards so that it is safe," Lindblom said. "Just a salve is not enough." - Sapa-AP

Cite as:
(File prepared 02 October 2001)