German Circumcision Rule Approved by Cabinet After Global Outcry

Germany’s Cabinet approved a law allowing male circumcision under medical supervision, responding to an outcry this year by Jewish and Muslim groups after a court ruled the procedure amounted to bodily harm.

The draft law, which says the procedure can only take place after “comprehensive instruction” of parents and requires a professional medical procedure to limit suffering, will re- establish legal clarity that was thrown into question with the district court ruling in May in Cologne, the Justice Ministry in Berlin said in an e-mailed statement.

The new rules “bring various interests into a balanced compromise,” the ministry said. They open the way for religious expression by specifically permitting male circumcision while offering protection against bodily injury.

An uproar among religious groups broke out over the summer after the court said that circumcising boys constitutes battery even if parents consent to it. Stung by criticism from Jewish and Muslim groups, German lawmakers passed a resolution on July 19 during a parliamentary recess, calling on Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government to draft legislation explicitly permitting the practice.

That accompanied a debate about balancing religious rights with the state’s constitutional obligation to protect bodily integrity. Legislators agreed to allow the procedure specifically if it seeks to avoid “unnecessary pain.”

A child’s rights “are sufficiently protected to the extent that circumcision is not permitted if it endangers the child -- even taking its intended purpose into account,” Stephan Thomae, a lawmaker with the governing Free Democratic Party, said in an e-mailed statement.

Protects Children

The law would, for example, prevent circumcision of a child suffering from hemophilia, Thomae said in a statement. Parliament still must pass the legislation.

Charlotte Knobloch, the former president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said she was “relieved that Germany hasn’t become the first and only country in the world in which Jews can no longer practice their religion.”

While the July resolution addressed religious grounds, stating that “Jewish and Muslim religious life must continue to be possible in Germany,” the draft law’s focus on medical procedure prevents courts from having to take religious motivation into account.

Merkel in July warned that Germany risked being branded a “nation of buffoons” if it becomes the only country to prohibit the practice, Bild newspaper reported.

The controversy began in November 2010, when a Muslim couple in Cologne asked a doctor to circumcise their 4-year-old son. The doctor used a local anesthetic and treated the wound with four stitches. Two days later, the mother rushed the son to the hospital after the wound began bleeding; the hospital contacted the police, leading to charges.

While the Cologne court acquitted the doctor, it ruled male circumcision -- even when done properly by a doctor with the permission of the parents -- should be considered bodily harm if carried out on a boy unable to give his consent.

To contact the reporter on this story: Patrick Donahue in Berlin at pdonahue1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James Hertling at jhertling@bloomberg.net

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