Circumcision Declared Legal in First of 16 German States

Ruling in Berlin city-state follows recent controversy that erupted when a Cologne court indicted a doctor with inflicting unlawful bodily harm by circumcising a 4-year-old boy.

Infant male circumcision was declared legal Wednesday in one of Germany's 16 states, following weeks of controversy about whether the Jewish and Muslim ritual is a crime or not.

The city-state of Berlin became the first to rule on the issue, saying its prosecutors had been instructed not to charge doctors if the boy's parents had consented in writing and proved they were religiously motivated.

The legal row erupted after a ruling in June by a court in Cologne, which found that a doctor had inflicted unlawful bodily harm by circumcising a 4-year-old boy at his parents' request.

Although the Cologne ruling was only binding in a small region, doctors across the country halted the operation for fear of prosecution. The federal government then said it would introduce a law to ensure circumcision remains legal.

While Berlin has moved more swiftly than the federal government or the other states to restore the procedure's legality, it has also imposed restrictions on it, including the duty to inform parents about any medical risks.

"If these criteria are fulfilled, circumcision will remain immune from prosecution," the state justice minister, Thomas Heilmann, said. "If medical standards are observed, circumcision at home or in a synagogue is also acceptable."

He said those standards included using all possible means of reducing pain and limiting bleeding. However, only doctors would be legally allowed to perform the procedure.

Heilmann said the state government did not have the power to authorize a mohel, or Jewish person trained in circumcision, to carry out the ritual. He said only the upcoming federal legislation could change that aspect of the law.