Health minister says no to circumcision ban

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Photo: Gorm Kallestad/Scanpix
13:53 CEST+02:00
Despite calls for an end to the practice after the recent death in Oslo of a baby boy, Health Minister Anne Grete Strøm-Erichsen has said male circumcision will not be banned in Norway.

The Labour Party minister has repeatedly come under pressure from the Centre Party, a junior government partner, to criminalize the ritual circumcision of infant boys. Female circumcision is already outlawed in Norway.

The debate surged back to the top of the political agenda in May when a two-week old boy died shortly after being circumcised at a doctor’s surgery on the eastern outskirts of Oslo.

But far from banning the practice, Strøm-Erichsen has instead indicated that a new law will likely require that all circumcisions be performed exclusively in hospitals at the taxpayers’ expense, newspaper VG reports.

“Were we to introduce a ban we would be the only country in the world to forbid ritual circumcision. Consequently, I cannot imagine that it will happen,” the minister told the newspaper.

A legislative proposal sent out for consultation last year recommends requiring all circumcisions to be carried out by doctors or other experts, with the state agreeing to cover all the costs.

With an estimated 2,000 mainly Muslim and Jewish boys circumcised each year in Norway, the state would expect to shell out around 13 million kroner ($2 million) annually.  

Centre Party justice policy spokeswoman Jenny Klinge has long been one of the most vocal opponents of the draft legislation.

“Circumcision is a form of abuse regardless of gender. This is about the rights of small children. In the United States, 100 boys die every year after circumcision. There is no good reason to slice into the healthy sexual organs of defenceless children,” she said.

The health ministry is considering allowing circumcisions to be performed by an expert, such as a Jewish mohel, as long as the operation is supervised by a doctor.

“The most important thing is that it takes place in a safe manner and with pain relief,” the minister’s advisor, Tord Dale, told VG.   

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“A mohel probably performs a lot more surgery of this kind than a Norwegian doctor.

“One could argue that the child should get to choose for himself when he is old enough. At the same time, this is a difficult deliberation when it comes to religious freedom. According to Judaism, you are not a Jew unless you are circumcised.”

During the consultation process, a number of high-profile groups urged the government to ban the practice. These included the Norwegian Medical Association, the Norwegian Nurses Organisation, the Norwegian Ombudsman for Children, and the faculty of medicine at the University of Oslo.

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