Despite legislation enshrining the right to circumcision, the ritual still faces opposition in Germany, according to a local media outlet, which reported that a hospital in Essen is trying to convince parents to forgo the procedure for their sons.
The DerWesten.de news website cited Dr. Peter Liedgens, the director of pediatric surgery at Elisabeth Hospital, saying that he has managed to persuade three quarters of parents at his hospital to rethink circumcision. As a result, only 11 circumcisions were performed in the first quarter of 2015, down from 70 during the corresponding period the previous year.
The website also claimed that now the hospital would cease to perform any childhood circumcisions. However, a hospital spokesman clarified to The Jerusalem Post that, while it still performs circumcisions and has no plans on stopping, it performs them only on children above the age of one and only under general anesthesia.
“Circumcisions are performed only by our pediatric surgeons and not by ritual circumcisers on hospital grounds. So the new policy doesn’t really change anything concerning this procedure,” explained spokesman Thomas Kalhöfer.
Asked if the hospital would actively try to deter religious families from circumcising their children, Kalhöfer said that, “We respect the religious grounds of families asking for circumcision, and we don’t actively want to persuade them to desist.
“Our surgeons are arguing from a medical standpoint according to the new medical guidelines of the German Society of Pediatric Surgeons, who recommend to perform circumcision only for medical reasons,” he said, adding that the hospital’s policy toward circumcision has been in place since the beginning of the year.
In 2012, a court in Cologne ruled circumcision a form of bodily harm subject to criminal penalties, causing an international furor and vehement protests from Jewish organizations and the State of Israel.
While the Bundestag moved swiftly to pass legislation enshrining the right of German citizens to undergo circumcisions, several German medical associations came out strongly against the practice.
“There is no reason from a medical point of view to remove an intact foreskin from underage boys or boys unable to give consent,” the German Pediatric Association asserted in a 2012 statement.
Jewish groups have expressed growing concern over circumcision in recent years, in the face of campaigns to ban the practice in several countries and a 2013 resolution by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, which described circumcision as a “violation of the physical integrity of children.”
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “The health benefits of newborn male circumcision outweigh the risks, but the benefits are not great enough to recommend universal newborn circumcision,” and “the final decision should still be left to parents to make in the context of their religious, ethical, and cultural beliefs.”
“The Simon Wiesenthal Center calls upon authorities to insist that the religious rights of Jews and Muslims be protected,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the center.
While Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt of the Conference of European Rabbis mused that “the decision of the hospital is not based on questions of the legality of circumcision, which is guaranteed by German law, but on the fact that less and less Muslims are interested in this procedure, a fact showing the assimilation of Muslims into a post Judeo-Christian Europe.”
However, the hospital’s policy does show “a certain bias,” he said, adding that “for Jews the address for Brit Mila [circumcision] should be the synagogue and not the hospital.”
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