Legislation on circumcision stalled
Mother fined for having son circumcised
Proposed legislation on non-medical circumcisions has not progressed even though a bill on the matter has been under preparation for nearly a decade. There are no plans to put forward a proposal on the matter during the current government term, which runs out next year.
The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health recommended in 2003 that circumcisions should be allowed as a part of public health care, but this has not happened.
An estimated 200 boys are circumcised in Finland each year for religious reasons.
None of Finland’s university hospitals perform circumcisions for non-medical reasons, and the willingness of private doctors to do the procedure has declined.
As a result, some parents are sending their sons abroad for the procedure, or have the operation done in Finland by someone who is not a doctor.
Helsinki District Court on Tuesday sentenced a mother to a fine for incitement to assault for having her six-month old son circumcised.
In the summer of 2008 the woman had hired a person who claimed to be a surgeon to perform the circumcision. No credentials were shown, and the boy had to be hospitalised the next day for bleeding.
Earlier in the spring, the parents of another boy were fined in a similar case. The circumcision, which led to complications, was performed by a rabbi who was brought in from Britain.
In both cases the court applied a precedent set by the Finnish Supreme Court in 2008.
In its ruling the Supreme Court decided that a religiously mandated circumcision of a Muslim boy was not illegal, because it was made in a proper medical fashion. According to the decision, banning all circumcisions would violate the constitutional guarantee of privacy in family life and freedom of religion.
However, the decision does not answer the controversial questions of whether or not doctors are obliged to perform circumcisions, or how they should be paid for. It is hoped that new legislation might clarify these issues.
“If a law were to come, its key content would be that the procedure could be done only by doctors. Individual doctors would be allowed to refuse”, says director Eija Koivuranta of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health.
Religiously mandated non-medical circumcisions are mainly performed on Jewish and Muslim boys.
In Judaism, a ritual circumcision must be performed by a mohel, who is trained in the procedure according to Jewish tradition. In Finland nearly all mohels are also doctors, although Jewish law does not require them to have formal medical training.
“We feel that it is not necessary to pass a law according to which someone who performs a circumcision should be a doctor”, says Dan Kantor, a spokesman for the Helsinki Jewish Congregation.
Finland’s Islamic Council is in favour of passing a law on circumcisions.
“If a family cannot afford a private doctor, it should be possible to perform the procedure in the public sector, or financial assistance should be provided. Otherwise circumcisions might be performed in conditions that are not safe for children”, says the council’s information officer Isra Lehtinen.
The Finnish Medical Association feels that no law authorising circumcisions should be passed, and that public health care should not be obliged to perform the procedures.
This view is echoed by Harry Lindahl, thinks that non-medical circumcisions for underage boys should be illegal.
“I think that it would be fine to wait until a boy turns 18, when he can decide for himself”, Lindahl notes.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Supreme Court: Properly performed religious based male circumcision no crime (17.10.2008)
Court rules circumcision of four-year-old boy illegal (7.8.2006)
Some hospitals sharply oppose religiously mandated circumcisions (25.3.2003)
Prosecutor General defers move on Kuopio botched circumcision case (9.4.2003)
Botched circumcisions send four boys to hospital in Kuopio (21.8.2001)