Danish Doctors Come Out Against Circumcision, but Stop Short of Calling for Ban

'Because of the pain, complications and permanence involved with the procedure, young men must make an informed, personal choice,' Danish Medical Association says.

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A Jewish baby during his circumcision ceremony
A Jewish baby during his circumcision ceremonyCredit: Limor Edrey

The Danish Medical Association has come out against circumcision for boys, though it stopped short of calling for a legal ban, The New York Times reports.

The Medical Associating released a statement last week saying circumcision should only be performed after receiving informed consent from the young man himself.

It should be should be “an informed, personal choice” that young men should make for themselves, reported The Local, a Danish news website.

"Male circumcision involves pain and risk of complications, and like surgery cannot be undone," the statement says.

"To be circumcised should be an informed personal choice. It is most consistent with the individual's right to self-determination, that it is parents who make the decision, but that it is left to the individual when he has come of age ," says Lise Moller, president of the Medical Association's Ethics Committee.

Moller says it should only be done when there is a clear medical need.

"The process towards the elimination of circumcision of boys without medical indication should be undertaken in dialogue with the population for whom circumcision boy has a special religious or cultural significance," says the Medical Association. But the most important thing is still the child's health, says Moller.

Female circumcision is illegal in Denmark.

The Danish Health and Medicines Authority estimates 1,000 to 2,000 circumcisions are performed in Denmark each year, primarily on Jewish and Muslim boys, The Local reports. 

The majority of procedures are done outside of the public health system in religious ceremonies in the child's home or at private clinics.

Moller told The Times that in drafting the policy, the committee consulted experts on ethics and law from the University of Copenhagen, as well as “a substantial white paper on ritual male circumcision authored by the Jewish community in Denmark.”

A bilateral meeting with representatives of the Jewish community was scheduled but ultimately canceled, reported the Times.

Complications from circumcision performed in the first year of life are rare, but the risk increases significantly if the procedure is performed later, according to a study published in 2014 in the medical journal JAMA Pediatrics.

Circumcision, or removing the foreskin from the penis, is a ritual obligation for infant Jewish boys and a common rite among Muslims, who account for most circumcised men worldwide.

The wider U.S. population adopted the practice due to potential health benefits, such as reducing the risk of urinary tract infections in infants and cutting the risk of sexually transmitted disease later in life, including HIV.

The American Academy of Pediatrics updated its recommendations in 2012 to say the benefits of male circumcision justify families having access to the procedure if they choose.

Circumcision has been at the center of heated debate in recent years, including efforts to ban it in San Francisco, Germany and elsewhere. The rate of circumcisions performed on newborns in U.S. hospitals has dropped over the past three decades.

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