Facts, Values and Circumcision

Dave Hoffman

Dave Hoffman is the Murray Shusterman Professor of Transactional and Business Law at Temple Law School. He specializes in law and psychology, contracts, and quantitative analysis of civil procedure. He currently teaches contracts, civil procedure, corporations, and law and economics.

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10 Responses

  1. Chris says:

    “For what it’s worth, my view is that the government has about as much of a moral right to prohibit circumcision as it does to tell me that I must eat broccoli.”

    Forbidding the removal of a healthy part of an infant’s body is the same making a grown man eat broccoli?

    It sounds like you have a case of niave realism yourself.

  2. Dave Hoffman says:

    Forgive me Chris, I was trying to make a too-subtle reference to the health care debate.

    I’ll be clearer, then: I think that male circumcision is a very-long-standing cultural practice worthy of respect, and the government should not meddle in it. I’m quite aware that this is a value-laden view!

  3. Al says:

    While I agree that the debate cannot be settled merely by reference to the empirical facts, neither do I think that we should throw up our hands and say that the dispute is all about value-laden conceptions of the world. Of course the empirical facts matter. Factual data about the risks and benefits of circumsicion vs. no circumsicion should inform our value-laden judgments. Since these data are the foundation upon which the debate lies, they should be vigorously analyzed and discussed. We can then proceed to disagree about what the law should be in light of those data.

  4. Bob says:

    “Stop inciting fights with question-begging terms like “male genital mutilation.”

    Out of curiosity, do you feel the same about the term “female genital mutilation?” What if in reference only to similar forms of bodily alteration–removal of the clitoral hood, cutting the hood, and so on.

    “I think that male circumcision is a very-long-standing cultural practice worthy of respect, and the government should not meddle in it. I’m quite aware that this is a value-laden view!”

    Similar question. Isn’t female circumcision also a long-standing cultural practice? if it’s not worthy of respect, is it because your value is to respect longstanding practices in your culture but not a foreign one? Again, take out the extreme cases of removing the clitoris or labia.

  5. The real issue here is the human rights violation. These men are not permitted to have a say in how their body looks, works, and feels. This is doubly important because it effects their sexuality, too. We protect girls from harm, and rightly so. The Federal female genital cutting law, which has no religious exemption, prohibits even a pinprick to extract one drop of blood. Male genital cutting–aka circumcision–is certainly worse than that. We’ve come a long way with gender rights; let’s not perpetuate this harmful double standard.

  6. dave hoffman says:

    Dan,
    I understand your point of view, but it doesn’t seem particularly responsive to the points I made in my post.

  7. frankcross says:

    Ok, I don’t understand the argument that men are not permitted a say in how their body looks, works, and feels. Wouldn’t the same be true for non-circumcision (some adult men might prefer to be circumsized). I suppose circumcision is theoretically possible at a grown age (though at much greater cost), but I think circumcision too may be surgically reversed (again at a cost).

  8. dave hoffman says:

    Frank,
    Parents control all kinds of aspects of how their children look, feel, act — including deep interventions in personality, in economic security, in education, in philosophy. That’s kind of the point of parenting — why ought society to have to a role in that familial and personal decision?

  9. Paul says:

    It is a “familial and personal decision” for some people to whip their children with metal coat hangers. It is “for their own good” and “the bible tells me to” they claim. It doesn’t mean it should be allowed. It is odd how some circumcised men have blinders on in this discussion and won’t and or can’t accept the fact that something important to their genital functioning was taken from them without their consent.

  10. Shag from Brookline says:

    frankcross says:

    ” I suppose circumcision is theoretically possible at a grown age …. ”

    This is obviously true, at which time the subject can make an informed decision. I was a few years too young for WW II but I recall one of my older friends from the neighborhood serving in the Navy having to undergo the procedure for reasons of health. His recovery was quite painful, as he narrated while on leave.

    This subject brings to mind the Seinfeld episode of a bris where Kramer tried to intervene. While it was a funny sketch, it did raise the issue. Yes, the parents have rights, but what about the infant boy’s rights? As for surgical reversal, frankcross suggests the availability of surgical reversal on a cost/benefit basis. I doubt that there are that many takers.