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Time to ban male circumcision?

If passed, article 50 will ban genital cutting for boys in San Francisco, with profound religious implications for Jews and Muslims. But isn't it time to oppose all circumcision?

Tuesday 14 June 2011 14.46 BST

San Francisco voters will decide later this year whether, like its female counterpart, male infant circumcision should be outlawed. If passed, article 50 — the "Genital Cutting of Male Minors" — would make it unlawful to circumcise, cut, or mutilate the foreskin, testicles, or penis of another person aged under 18. The bill includes an exemption for cases of medical necessity, but not for custom or ritual, which has profound implications for the many Jews and Muslims who consider it an essential part of their religious or cultural practice.

Unsurprisingly, the bill has attracted considerable controversy. Some regard it as a modern manifestation of western antisemitism, while certain feminist groups consider the idea of comparing male and female genital cutting to be both offensive and unsubstantiated.

Neither the World Health Organisation nor the UN oppose male circumcision, and given that the procedure is so unquestioned that 33% of American boys still undergo it, one might think that they have a point. But is it really so simple? And are the differences between male and female circumcision really so straightforward?

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