Denmark Doctors Declare Circumcision of Healthy Boys Ethically Unacceptable

Denmark doctors believe circumcision has no meaningful health benefits According to a nationally representative poll from the summer of 2016, 87% of Danes favor a legal ban on non-therapeutic circumcision of boys under the age of 18 years. Doctors and medical organizations in Denmark, the other Nordic countries and, with one notable exception, elsewhere in the Western world agree that circumcision of healthy boys is ethically problematic. Not one medical association in the whole world recommends circumcision of healthy boys.


How would this effect Orthodox or Conservative Jews?

Greatly. In many countries and in a few states in the US, male circumcision is NOT a covered healthcare expense, so doctors are only doing it if paid out of pocket or not doing the procedure at all. This is getting the Orthodox and Conservative Jews and some Muslims really upset and suing insurance companies. Also in place like New York City, mohels are being charged with crimes against children for doing unnecessary medical procedures without a license.

That’s not good.

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Let’s discuss with a recent father of a baby boy and an MD @swamidass What are your thoughts on the controversy?

Is male circumcision an unnecessary medical procedure in the 21st century?
Should doctor’s and insurance companies be forced to do and pay for purely religious practices?
Should parents be liable for pain and suffering caused to their children and the possible infections, medical complications that may happen due to unlicensed mohels doing purely religious practices on children?

Male circumcision in a modern medical context is very safe, inexpensive, and easy. The alternative is much more dangerous: non-medical professionals cutting children outside a hospital context. Male circumcision itself has some large health benefits, reducing the transmission of STI’s like HIV and HPV. That is why male circumcision is done by medical professionals all over the world.

If this is true (and it is), why would Denmark declare it unethical and try to ban it?

I have to wonder if this is connected to anti-semitism. It is notable that the same time they are banning circumcision, they also already banned kosher slaughter of animals. The two issues are linked in these Icelandic countries. There is no good reason to do this except to communicate to Jews (and Muslims) that their beliefs are not acceptable in Europe.

Given the long and deplorable tradition of anti-semitism in Europe, we should be concerned about these bans. They are not motivated by medical concerns. It is connected to a ban on Kosher slaughter. It very much appears to be motivated by anti-semitism in this case.

“Female circumcision” is something different, and better called “female genital mutilation” (FGM) or “cutting” to distinguish it from circumcision. FGM should be banned everywhere. It has no medical benefits, it is dangerous, painful into adulthood, and designed to make sex painful. Equating male circumcision with FGM is misleading and a tactic sometimes used build support for anti-semitic laws.


Hmm, there has recently been an issue with Yellow Vests and anti-Semitism in France as well.

The issue of a ban is a more complicated question, but this is a good outline of the Danish physicians’ viewpoint, which I think is reasonable.

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This is a reasonable default for families that have not given a preference regarding circumcision. We should not, for example, default to circumcising all families unless they object. It goes too far to tell families that ask for it to be told it is unethical.


Parents must be able to trust their medical practitioners. Look what happened with vaccines when pseudo science got involved. If there is no health benefit for circumcision, it is unethical for health practitioners to not say that and let parents decide.

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I see doctors taking an ethical position regarding their own actions. That’s certainly their prerogative. If a family should disagree with me about the ethics of it, I don’t see why I should be faulted.

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When we start invoking the power of government to institute our personal preferences over other people who have different views, it crosses a line. I oppose coercive use of power in cases like this.

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I originally said that that was a more problematic situation, but that’s not what I’m talking about. Look at it this way: do you think doctors should have to perform abortions if it violates their conscience?

I don’t know of any doctor that opposes circumcision for the same reasons as others oppose abortion. Ironically, the same people who believe there should be no conscious objection for abortion, tend to support bans on circumcision. In general, I think we should make accommodation where we possibly can. Where we can’t, we should get more created.

I don’t think the specific reasons matter. The doctors have made a case based on the harm it causes and consent issues. The basic principle is the same. Again to be clear, a doctor’s ethical stance and a government ban are two separate issues.


Circumcision has fairly significant health benefits, not the least of which accrues to the women who are sexual partners with circumcised men.

There is nothing barbaric or merely ritualistic about it.

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Well this about children and the State does have power over a parents objection. For example Jehovah Witnesses and blood transfusions. In several states an EMT can give blood products to children in life threatening emergencies over the objections of parents.

Regarding circumcision, if the State Medical Board deems it of no health value, doesn’t the State have a responsibility and obligation to protect children from an unnecessary medical procedures?

Not if it is inexpensive and benign, and also with benefits to health. Of course, the government should not mandate it either.

Do you think it should be a covered cost? In NJ and NY, it is no longer covered by insurance, as it is an elective surgery. Doctors aren’t doing them and just sending the (smiling) babies home without it. Other doctors are doing them, when asked, and sending a big bill for payment.

@Patrick , is there a State Medical Board somewhere in the United States that deems circumcision as having no positive medical health value?
Why is the question of obtaining preconsent for this minor procedure any more ethically complicated than, say, neonatal vaccinations?