Cutting Controversy: German Court Sets New Circumcision Rules

In the latest twist in a controversy that has divided Germans, a regional court has ruled that doctors need to discuss circumcision procedures with the child before they can be carried out.

The Higher Regional Court of Hamm, a city in western Germany, has concretized the law regulating culturally and religiously motivated circumcision, ruling that parents and doctors need to discuss any impending procedure with children.

Circumcision has become a highly fraught subject in Germany since 2012, when a Higher Regional Court in Cologne decided that religious circumcision of boys constituted “bodily harm.” That case involved a 4-year-old boy who, two days after being circumcised according to the wishes of his Muslim parents, was brought to the emergency room due to profuse bleeding. The prosecutor then brought charges against the doctor who had performed the circumcision.

While the doctor was ultimately acquitted, the court decided that a child’s right to self-determination superceded his parents’ right to freedom of religion. The decision prompted widespread uproar, particularly among Jewish and Muslim groups and as far away as Turkey, Israel and the United States. Germany’s Central Council of Jews called it “an unprecedented and dramatic intrusion on the right to self-determination of religious communities.” Ali Demir, the chairman of the Islamic Religious Community, argued that circumcision is a “harmless procedure, a tradition that is thousands of years old and highly symbolic.”

Ultimately, the Bundestag, Germany’s parliament, passed a law allowing the religious procedure. According to the new rules, specially qualified members of religious communities can perform the operation in the first six months of a boy’s life, after which it must be performed by a physician.

A New Set of Rules

Today’s ruling from Hamm adds a new set of conditions to the circumcision process. In the specific case, the court had prohibited a mother from having her 6-year-old son circumcised. The woman, who comes from Kenya, wanted to have her son circumcised in accordance with the customs of her homeland, so that he would be accepted as a full-fledged man by visiting relatives. The divorced father of the son had gone to court to prevent this.


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