Between prophylaxis and child abuse: the ethics of neonatal male circumcision

Am J Bioeth. 2003 Spring;3(2):35-48. doi: 10.1162/152651603766436216.


Opinion about neonatal male circumcision is deeply divided. Some take it to be a prophylactic measure with unequivocal and significant health benefits, while others consider it a form of child abuse. We argue against both these polar views. In doing so, we discuss whether circumcision constitutes bodily mutilation, whether the absence of the child's informed consent makes it wrong, the nature and strength of the evidence regarding medical harms and benefits, and what moral weight cultural considerations have. We conclude that nontherapeutic circumcision of infant boys is a suitable matter for parental discretion.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Analgesia
  • Circumcision, Female / adverse effects
  • Circumcision, Female / ethics
  • Circumcision, Male / adverse effects
  • Circumcision, Male / ethics*
  • Cultural Diversity*
  • Decision Making
  • Empirical Research
  • Female
  • HIV Infections / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn*
  • Male
  • Pain / drug therapy
  • Parental Consent / ethics
  • Penile Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Risk Assessment*
  • Sexuality
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases / epidemiology
  • Social Values
  • Surgical Procedures, Operative / ethics
  • Urinary Tract Infections / epidemiology