An insight to the Denmark circumcision debate
To many Danes the case is simple; any man or woman may do with their own bodies what they see fit, but no one should be allowed to make decisions about non-medically warranted procedures on behalf of anybody else.
Doctors perform circumcision Photo: Courtesy Operation Abraham
In the article “Assault on Jewish customs in Scandinavia,” which appeared in The
Jerusalem Post on October 8, Magnus Frank paints a bleak and unfortunately
rather biased picture of the current debate regarding the circumcision of
un-consenting boys in Denmark.
I find it imperative to present the
Israeli public with a broader view on the debate than the one offered by
Persecution of minorities, i.e. anti-Semitism, is a very
serious issue and an offense that the authorities in Denmark take a very strong
view on indeed, which Magnus Frank probably knows very well. I am also sure that
he is well aware of how rare an offence it is in Danish society, which is widely
inclusive and in fact highly secular.
Speculating that the media and a
wide variety of the debating Danish public may have ulterior motives in the
ongoing discussion regarding circumcision is an unnecessary and unproductive
approach to the debate and frankly it only serves to demonstrate that Frank may
simply lack proper arguments for his point of view.
The majority of the
voices raised against circumcision have three main points: firstly, the basic
human right to an intact body. When there are no medical reasons to
perform surgery on a child, any procedure must be considered an
Secondly, research has shown that in societies such Denmark’s
where good healthcare and high hygiene standards prevail there are hardly any
medical benefits from circumcision. When it comes to preventing STD’s, for
instance, a much more effective approach is the simple use of
Thirdly, there is the concern that if there are any risks the
child may suffer health or sexual consequences from the circumcision immediately
after the procedure or perhaps later on in life as an adult, it should be
This is a debate about the individual’s freedom of choice,
about avoiding the infliction of unnecessary pain and suffering for non-medically
warranted procedures and about the prevention of health and sexual complications
later in life.
It should be noted that Prof. Morten Frisch’s
study, which was questioned by Frank, has incorporated a number of measures to
ensure the statistical validity of the data as well as peer review, which is of
course the very reason it was deemed fit to be published in a respectable
international medical journal in the first place.
Prof. Frisch’s study
suggests that a significantly larger number of circumcised men report sexual
problems than do their intact peers. In addition, women in relationships with
circumcised males report sexual problems more frequently than do women with
Therefore Prof. Frisch has found it vital to call for
further studies. It is paramount to understand the potential consequences of
The majority of the circumcised subjects in the study were
not of Muslim or Jewish origin.
It is my understanding that if the study
were to be transferred to for instance US, it indicates that approximately 10
million American men maybe more and their respective partners suffer from sexual
problems that are less frequent among their intact peers.
the understanding of the Danish debate is also the simple fact that circumcision
is not a common procedure in Denmark, so it is primarily performed by the Jewish
and Muslim community and in connection with medically warranted
It would be fair for an outsider to assume that the Danish
debate might well have xenophobic undertones, however that does not appear to be
the case. Rather the case is simply that the majority of Danes place a very high
value on personal freedom of choice and are naturally skeptical of non-consensual
non-medically warranted procedures.
Mr. Magnus Frank brings up another
interesting point in his piece, namely that the circumcised males in Denmark
supposedly generally enjoy “a much higher level of education, income, and living
compared to the average Dane.”
While that may be true of the Jewish
population in Denmark (I have never seen studies to prove it, but am inclined to
think that it may very well be correct) it is unfortunately not true when it
comes to the Muslim population in Denmark.
Multiple studies have shown
that while young Muslim women in Denmark generally excel in the educational
system, the young Muslim men fail to follow their example. So I am inclined to
think that the ability to achieve a high level of education, income and standard
of living does not depend on the amputation of highly specialized and sensitive
skin in the genital area but rather on other cultural factors.
it is regarded deeply unacceptable to inflict pain or abuse on children – any
pain or abuse. Therefore children’s rights are protected throughout the
legislation, universally banning for instance spankings and other forms of
physical acts of violence against children. The legislation also protects the
children from psychological abuse and it protects girls from non-medically
warranted circumcision procedures also known as female genital
Boys do not currently enjoy the same right to bodily
integrity under Danish legislation as girls do. A recent poll indicates that a
majority of the Danish population finds that it is time to ensure the boys equal
To many Danes the case is simple; any man or woman may do with
their own bodies what they see fit, when they reach adulthood, but no one – not
even parents – should be allowed to make decisions about performing permanent
non-medically warranted potentially harmful procedures on behalf of anybody
The author is a strategy, change and communications consultant.