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Dutch doctors urge end to male circumcision

By Roberta Cowan

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Dutch doctors want politicians and human rights groups to speak out and discourage the practice of male circumcision in the Netherlands because they say it is a "painful and harmful ritual," and a violation of children's rights.

Between 10,000 and 15,000 boys are circumcised in the Netherlands each year, mostly for religious reasons and not always with an anesthetic, according to the Royal Dutch Medical Association (KNMG) which represents surgeons, pediatricians, general practitioners and urologists.

"We want to discourage male circumcision, because it is an unnecessary procedure with complications, which violates the integrity of the child," Lode Wigersma, a spokesman for the association, told Reuters on Friday.

"This is not an innocent procedure, we see complications in about 5 percent of the cases, as well as some long-term and psychological implications," he said.

Male circumcision involves the removal of all or part of the foreskin of the penis. It is a ritual obligation for infant Jewish boys, and is also a common rite among Muslims, who account for the largest share of circumcised men worldwide.

The Dutch medical association has urged religious leaders to find alternative rites of passage that are not irreversible and which are not painful for the child.

The practice of female genital mutation has been prohibited by law in the Netherlands since 1993 for all ages.

Last year the Dutch medical association released a report against the practice of circumcision of male children for non-medical reasons, hoping to initiate a public discussion.

Now it is appealing to Dutch politicians to speak out against the practice to help "gradually change the mentality" in society and among religious groups that circumcise their boys.

The doctors group said that contrary to popular belief, circumcision can cause some minor as well as serious complications including bleeding, infection, urethral stricture as well as panic attacks, which it says are particularly common.

It said there was no medical reason to surgically remove a part of the genitals of healthy babies and young children, who are too young to give their consent to the procedure.

The Dutch doctors are not calling for a circumcision ban, for fear the practice will be driven underground.

"We also understand that it (circumcision) is a deeply embedded religious habit so we don't expect it to be over in a few years, so our appeal is if you want to do it then have it done by a doctor with anesthesia," said Wigersma.

The majority of male circumcisions in the Netherlands are done in special circumcision clinics by doctors using anesthetic on Muslim boys between 5 and 7 years, according to Wigersma.

Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs, President of the Dutch Association of Rabbis, said only about 50 male Jewish babies are circumcised in the Netherlands each year.

He disputed the 5 percent complication rate, and said there have not been any problems in the Jewish community due to strict rules about how and when circumcision takes place.

"According to Jewish law, you have to do it (circumcision) the Jewish way," Jacobs said.

The doctors' recommendation to end the practice of circumcision is likely to be controversial given that it involves both Jewish and Muslim traditions.

In a rare show of unity in June, the Dutch Muslim and Jewish communities -- numbering about 1 million and 40,000 respectively in a total population of 16 million -- condemned the government's proposed ban on the religious slaughter of animals as a violation of their religious freedom. (Reporting By Roberta B. Cowan)

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