Female genital mutilation: when a cultural practice generates clinical and ethical dilemmas

J Obstet Gynecol Neonatal Nurs. Jan-Feb 1998;27(1):85-91. doi: 10.1111/j.1552-6909.1998.tb02595.x.


Female genital mutilation (FGM) is of growing concern to health care providers in the United States and Canada as more women from countries where the procedure is practiced emigrate to North America. An introduction to the demographics of FGM, including prevalence rates, is a necessary antecedent for understanding the cultural rationales for this widespread practice. Considering the health consequences of this practice promotes questions about legal and ethical aspects of care as North Americans approach FGM from their own individual cultural frameworks.

PIP: Female genital mutilation (FGM) is a widespread practice which affects millions of women. As women have migrated from countries in which FGM is practiced to the US, Canada, and western Europe, and present themselves to physicians with FGM-related morbidity, the levels of awareness and concern internationally about FGM as both a cultural practice and a human rights issue have grown over the past decade. There are, however, large gaps in the existing knowledge about FGM. Few studies have been conducted about its specific practices and no accurate statistics exist about its prevalence. The author describes FGM, including current information on its prevalence and classifications, while a review of the short- and long-term sequelae situates FGM in context as a health care issue. Background about FGM as a cultural practice is provided. National and international policy are then described with regard to current efforts to eradicate FGM, including legal initiatives proposed and legislated in the US. Ethical dilemmas on FGM and their possible resolutions are reviewed.

MeSH terms

  • Canada
  • Circumcision, Female / adverse effects*
  • Circumcision, Female / ethnology*
  • Cultural Diversity*
  • Culture*
  • Emigration and Immigration
  • Ethical Relativism
  • Ethics, Medical
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Internationality
  • Personal Autonomy
  • Social Values
  • United States