Sunday 9 September 2012

National Secular Society gets its knickers in a twist over male circumcision

The National Secular Society (NSS) is currently waging a campaign against male circumcision which plumbed astonishing depths in July when they published an article on their website (with apparent endorsement) making the following astonishing claim:

‘Why MGM and FGM are not considered equally reprehensible defies compassionate reason’.

This is a truly outrageous statement.

FGM (female genital mutilation) is a barbaric act involving cutting off a woman’s clitoris, an organ designed purely for giving women pleasure during sexual intercourse.

As well as being deeply dehumanising to women FGM leads to serious complications which can even be fatal. It can result in abscesses, cysts and fistulas and is a potent cause of vaginal stenosis and obstructed labour from which women and babies can die.

I not infrequently had to deal with some of the horrendous consequences of FGM when working as a surgeon in East Africa. It is rightly deplored and understandably illegal in Britain.

But the National Secular Society apparently believes that male circumcision, a common cultural practice in some faith communities and also a recognised surgical procedure for certain medical conditions, is ‘equally reprehensible’ and should be renamed MGM (male genital mutilation).

They have backed a bizarre recent court decision in Germany to ban it.

The ruling on circumcision was handed down by a court in Cologne in June but the German government has since announced it will legislate to explicitly legalise the practice.

Last month, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) published a review of scientific evidence saying that ‘the health benefits of newborn male circumcision outweigh the risks of the procedure’.

However, the AAP added it did not recommend it for all newborn boys, saying the decision was best left to parents, in consultation with doctors.

So it’s difficult to understand what the National Secular Society is getting its knickers in a twist about.

Equating FGM with male circumcision is not only incredibly stupid. It is also profoundly insulting to the thousands of women who have butchered through FGM.

The NSS campaign seems to be motivated more by religious prejudice, in particular a disdain for Islam and Judaism, than scientific fact. But in these days of rising secular fundamentalism and intolerance, I guess this should not surprise us.

Male circumcision is not a Christian requirement and so Christians are free to choose about the practice. The New Testament emphasises that what is in one’s heart is more important than one’s outward appearance or conformity to religious ritual.

Regardless, the secularists should not be trying to force their bigoted ideology on others, be they Muslims, Jews or those of any other faith.

‘A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a person’s praise is not from other people, but from God.’ (Romans 2:28, 29)


  1. My son has had a double circumcision!!!!
    If the NSS had been around and forced this sort of legislation he would not have been around long enough to have had his second circumcision, that is the one referred to in Romans 2:28,29).
    Why? because of a birth abnormality he needed to be circumcised to be able to urinate.

    NSS some people HAVE TO BE circumcised they would die or be in agony all their life is that what you want?

    1. I don't think the NSS or anyone else is against medically required circumcision.

    2. Unnecessary - note unnecessary - genital surgery is a breach of the human rights of all children, girls, boys, intersex babies. Medical necessity is medical necessity and you should be proud that you looked after your boy. But you should help us protect boys who don't need it.

  2. Of course if you take the worst of FGC and the least of MGC they are not comparable, but -
    * 50 boys have died in Eastern Cape Province alone this year from tribal circumcision, and more have lost their penises
    * The Malaysian and Indonesian variety of female genital cutting is surgical and may be quite mild, even tokenistic
    * A US doctor invented a device in 1959 to "circumcise" girls, with a shield to protect the clitoris: That is now illegal.
    * In 2010 the AAP proposed to allow a token, ritual nick to girls, "much less extensive than neonatal male genital cutting" (their own words) but were howled down and had to withdraw. If that is not acceptable, how can much-more-extensive male genital cutting be acceptable?
    It is as human rights issues they may be compared, and as human rights abuses both should end.
    More than half of US boys are circumcised, 95% of them "medically" not for religion. The AAP is worried the rate will go below the tipping point of 50% and "looking like the others" will start to work against it. Their culturally biased, flawed policy makes it clear that it's really about the money. See

    AR: Nobody has ever suggested that medically necessary circumcisions be restricted. (It sounds like something much less drastic would have sufficed for your son, but some doctors just like doing them.)

  3. How desperately sad that Dr Saunders, a doctor and a Christian, refuses to bear witness to such terrible well-documented suffering of the weak (babies and children) at the hands of the strong (religious adults).

    Are not all children who suffer and die worthy of compassion- or is it just girls when it comes to genitals? Why is he so judgmental and contemptuous of people who seek to prevent more death and devastation being caused to children of both genders whose genitals have been modified before the child could consent or dissent to such a momentous decision?

    No medical association in the world actively recommends routine genital cutting, although the AAP did recommend Forced Female genital cutting 2 years ago.
    The AAP astonishingly excluded from its recent review the 'case reports' that would have shown over 100 direct deaths a year and thousands of serious complications from this medically unnecessary operation in the USA alone. In the UK, we know that many babies end up on paediatric intensive care after the operation.

    Dr Saunders might better use the negative energy he has expended on inventing destructive motives for straw men and instead be a positive force for change. He could support the burgeoning Jewish and Islamic organisations committed to protecting their children whilst maintaining their religious culture and beliefs- no anti-semitism there either.

    Taking a knife to a child's normal genitals, modifying them to reduce erogenous tissue and forever changing the way they will experience sex is an extraordinary thing for an adult to do to a child, whatever the gender. One would hope that there are good medical reasons for it, but there aren't. Most medical associations in the world recommend that the practice be discouraged or stopped- the AAP instead talks of financial motives for continuing.

    Peter, this is far more important than whether or not you believe in some revealed truth or not, this is about protecting children- something we can only do if we all work together. Working together is the lesson of child protection, hard-won in the face of parents and detractors who demanded the continued so-called 'rights' of parents not to spare the rod and to beat their children purple or the so-called 'rights' of parents to drive out demons. Sadly, articles on your own CMF website still support the driving out of demons even after the terrible tragedy of Victoria Climbie and others like her.

    Yes FGM and murder are grave issues that need far more effort to stamp out. That does not mean that other forms of harm should be ridiculed as Dr Saunders so stubbornly seeks to do in a misplaced show of solidarity with other religious practices. It would be unconscionable to think that Dr Saunders' motivation for this blog post is self-interest- if one harmful traditional practice is challenged what does that mean for others?

    Without doubt some of his more measured and open-minded Christian readers will be ashamed to be associated with this intemperate post. Dr Saunders would do well to revisit and reflect on the Hippocratic oath 'First do no harm' before he offers such uncritical support to traditional practices- religious or not.

    1. I absolutely agree. Quite why the article above defends circumcision as a routine procedure for babies who by definition have no choice in the matter is baffling. It is certainly not a rational position to hold; neither is it a humane one.

    2. Nor is it a Christian one. Consider Gen 1:27 "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him". Cutting babies is the sin of presumption, thinking you know better than G*d.

      And the Apostle Paul Gal. 5:1-4 'Listen! I, Paul, am telling you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you. Once again I testify to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obliged to obey the entire law. You who want to be justified by the law have cut yourselves off from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.'

  4. Some of the most common forms of female circumcision do a lot *less* damage than the usual form of male circumcision. Sometimes there's just an incision with nothing actually removed. One form just removes the clitoral hood (the female foreskin), so it's the exact equivalent of cutting off a boy's foreskin. In some countries, female circumcision is performed by doctors in operating theatres with anesthesia. Conversely, male circumcision is often performed as a tribal practice. Over 100 males died of circumcision in just one province of South Africa last year and there were at least two penile amputations.

    Most people aren't aware that the UK and USA also used to practise female circumcision. Fortunately, it never caught on the same way as male circumcision, but there are middle-aged white US American women walking round today with no external clitoris because it was removed. Some of them don't even realise what has been done to them. There are frequent references to the practice in medical literature up until at least 1959. Most of them point out the similarity with male circumcision, and suggest that it should be performed for the same reasons. Blue Cross/Blue Shield had a code for clitoridectomy till 1977.
    Circumcision in the Female: Its Necessity and How to Perform It
    Benjamin E. Dawson, A.M., M.D. - Kansas City, Missouri
    President, Eclectic Medical University
    American Journal of Clinical Medicine, vol. 22, no. 6, p. 520-523, June 1915
    Female Circumcision: Indications and a New Technique
    W.G. Rathmann, M.D. GP, vol. XX, no. 3, pp 115-120 , September, 1959
    Circumcision of the Female
    C.F. McDonald, M.D. - Milwaukee, Wisconsin
    GP, Vol. XVIII No. 3, p. 98-99, September, 1958
    ("If the male needs circumcision for cleanliness and hygiene, why not the female?")

    More recently, the AAP's Bioethics committee changed its policy on female cutting in 2010 saying "It might be more effective if federal and state laws enabled pediatricians to reach out to families by offering a ritual [clitoral] nick as a possible compromise to avoid greater harm."
    They were forced to retract this about six weeks later:

    Dr Diekema, the chair of the committee said "We're talking about something far less extensive than the removal of foreskin in a male".

    This is one blogger's account of female circumcision:

    Why would the procedure in that most recent link be illegal in most western countries, yet this is legal:

  5. Genital cutting of any child, no matter the severity or excuses given is abuse. By legal definition genital cutting of someone without their expressed understanding and consent is assault and battery. Tampering with the genitals of a child should be punishable by law.

    1. It is indeed telling that most of the comments prior to yours are evaluations of the medical procedures and sexual comparisons as opposed to the actual rights of indefensible children.

  6. What is FGM? It is a variety of practices which, in the worst case, involves cutting off the clitoris and most of the labia then sews up what little is left. Most FGM is accounted for by lesser forms which may involve cutting off part of the labia. In the mildest form it involves simply making a tiny cut in the prepuce of the clitoris and removes no tissue.

    Male circumcision removes half the skin of the penis cutting across the normal lines of nerve supply and venous/lymph drainage to the glans. Often it destroys the blood supply provided to the perimeatal area of the glans by the Frenular artery. It removes the ridged band which is a part of the ejaculatory reflex (Taylor 1996)and destroys the part of the penis most sensitive to fine touch (Sorrels 2007). Frisch reported in 2011 that However, circumcised men reported more partners and were more likely to report frequent orgasm difficulties.

    Any cutting of girls genitals is forbidden by statute in Britain while the destruction a man's foreskin is carried out with impunity. I concur with NSS that ‘Why MGM and FGM are not considered equally reprehensible defies compassionate reason’.

    PS. What is the relevance of male circumcision in 'Cristian Medical Comment'?

  7. "Male circumcision is not a Christian requirement and so Christians are free to choose about the practice." Is that so Dr Saunders? Well I am not Christian although I was born the son of Roman Catholics who saw fit to instruct that a perfectly healthy and natural part of my infant body was amputated without any consideration of my opinion in the matter. I am the one whose body is now missing part that millions of other men possess and are perfectly happy with and are enjoying a more satisfactory sex life than I ever have or will. I consider that you are outrageous to suggest that it is acceptable for my parents to have imposed their will upon me in such a barbaric manner and yet the practice of genital cutting of females is rightly deplored. I suggest that you should refer to your bible and take note where it says that "Thou shalt not steal." A part of my body that nature bestowed upon me was stolen by my parents and you seem to think that this is of no consequence. Myopic or what.

  8. And doctors call themselves "scientific"? it is hysterical - and yes racist - ignorance surrounding the unknown. FGM is NOT "a barbaric act involving cutting off a woman’s clitoris, an organ designed purely for giving women pleasure during sexual intercourse." What about WHO/UNICEF TYPES I & II & IV? Educate yourself and get back to us. The actual facts are at:

    EG 97% of women in lovely civilised democratic Egypt but NO clitoral cutting.

    And Christians supporting continuation of FMGM/C up to 60% in Ethiopia (Table 7B)

    And religious obligation is cited as a major reason, up to 70% in Mali (Table 8)

    And speaking of the unknown, I get a bit p'd off by writers with no foreskin like the anonymous author of this piece (or was it PETER SAUNDERS) telling me that my foreskin is not an organ of sexual pleasure, that my tender glans is better off being keratinised against exquisite sensual pleasure or that slicing off a chunk of my precious frenulum would have NIL effect on my experience. Get yourself a a foreskin mate and get back to me.


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