Monday, August 27, 2007

King Solomon and the Foreskin

From recent media reports:
A divorced couple has gone to court to determine whether their son is to be circumcised following his father's conversion to Judaism.
The father, James Boldt, wants his 12-year-old son to undergo the surgical procedure, but the boy's mother opposes it. So far, Oregon courts have sided with the father, who has custody. The case is scheduled to be heard by the Oregon Supreme Court in the fall.
"You're talking about not just religious instruction or whether you're going to send the child to parochial school or public school," said Lawrence Gorin, a Portland attorney. "This is a matter of permanent change of bodily structure. And it's irreversible."
The mother filed for divorce in 1998 after the couple married in the early 1990s. The father started studying Judaism in 1999 and eventually converted. The child initially lived with his mother, but the father later gained custody.
In court papers, the father claims the boy gradually concluded that he also wanted to convert to Judaism and understands that it requires circumcision. He also claims that as the custodial parent he had a constitutional right to raise his son in his religion.
This case raises many issues:
* US law rightly affords parents wide latitude to make decisions for and about their children. But there are exceptions to that rule. For example, a Jehovah’s Witness usually cannot deprive his child of a life-saving blood transfusion.
* Circumcision isn’t a medical emergency, or even medically indicated, and this boy isn’t an infant who won't remember what was done to him. He’s twelve years old, old enough to understand the procedure. Does he want to undergo this procedure? Shouldn’t this be a deciding factor? And if it is, is a 12-year-old mature enough to decide this for himself? We do not have any information on where the boy stands, other than the father's claims.
• If minor girls can have an abortion, why can’t minor boys refuse a circumcision?
• Why does the father’s conversion to Judaism necessitate elective surgery on the son?
* Is cutting living tissue off a body part of a 12-year-old a breach of human rights?
Pretend you're sitting on the Oregon Supreme Court. How would you decide?


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