Health minister says no to circumcision ban

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.

Health minister says no to circumcision ban
Photo: Gorm Kallestad/Scanpix

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.   

“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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Why are more people waiting to be given a GP in Norway?

As many as 116,000 people are waiting to be given a "fastlege", or GP, in Norway. So, why are residents having to wait to be assigned a doctor?

More than 116,000 people are waiting to be given a GP in Norway. Pictured is a picture of a stethoscope and some paperwork.
More than 116,000 people are waiting to be given a GP in Norway. Pictured is a picture of a stethoscope and some paperwork. Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.

A recent quarterly report from the Norwegian Directorate of Health has revealed that 116,000 people in Norway are on the waiting list to be given a GP

Furthermore, the number of those without a doctor has grown in recent years, with those in rural and northern parts of the country more likely to be left waiting for a GP. 

The current GP scheme in Norway allows everyone to choose their own doctor, who acts as the patients’ main point of contact with the health service. Your GP is also responsible for your primary medical needs, and you are allowed to change your doctor twice a year. 

READ ALSO: How Norway’s health insurance scheme works and the common problems foreigners face

Doctors in Norway have warned that a lack of funding and staff is threatening the GP system. 

“The GP scheme is on the verge of collapsing because there are too few doctors,” Bernand Holthe, a GP on the board of the Nordland Medical Association and a member of GP’s association for the area, told public broadcaster NRK

He says that reform in 2012 to the GP system has left doctors with too much work with not enough resources at their disposal. 

“After the collaboration reform in 2012, the GP scheme has been given too many tasks without receiving a corresponding amount of resources,” Holthe said. 

The government has pledged around 450 million in funding for GPs in its state budget for 2022, which Holthe argues isn’t enough to recruit the number of GPs necessary. 

Nils Kristian Klev and Marte Kvittum Tangen who represent the country’s 5,000 or so GPs also said they were disappointed with the level of funding allocated for doctors in the national budget. 

“The Labor Party was clear before the election that they would increase the basic funding in the GP scheme. This is by far the most important measure to ensure stability and recruitment and it is urgent,” the pair told Norwegian newswire NTB.

Patients have been left frustrated, and in a recent survey on healthcare in the country, one reader of The Local expressed their frustration at not having a GP. 

“I moved from Olso to Tromso, and I’m currently without a GP. Helsenorge didn’t think this was an issue and told me to visit a hospital if I needed to see a doctor. How can a municipality have no places for a doctor? Everyone has a right to a local doctor, and I’ve been left with nothing. All I can do is join a waiting list in the hopes a place turns up before I get ill,” Sinead from Tromsø said in the survey. 

Another reader described the fastlege system as “horrible”. 

Key vocabulary

Fastlege– GP 

Legevakt– Emergency room

Sykehus– Hospital 

Helseforsikring– Health insurance

Legekontor- Doctors office