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Court Rules Boy's Views Must Be Considered In Circumcision Case

OPB | Jan. 25, 2008 3:57 a.m. | Updated: July 17, 2012 1:17 a.m. | Portland, OR

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By Kristian Foden-Vencil

The Oregon Supreme Court ruled Friday that a 12-year-old boy should be questioned in court about whether he wants to be circumcised.

The boy is the subject of an ongoing custody battle.  His father wants him to be circumcised. His mother does not.

As Kristian Foden-Vencil reports, the court ruled that boy’s feelings will help a judge determine which parent gets custody.


It’s a highly unusual case in which the boy’s father gained custody, converted to Judaism, and then wanted his son to be circumcised.

The boy’s mother is against the idea and questions evidence, presented by the father, that the procedure is medically necessary.

The Oregon Supreme Court has now ruled that the boy’s views need to be considered.

George Hill a bio-ethicist with Doctors Opposing Circumcision, believes that sets a precedent.

George Hill: “This is a constitutional issue. Because parents certainly have rights to make decisions about their children. But do they have a right to violate their child’s bodily integrity in the absence of a very sound medical reason to do so?”

Hill says: No, they don’t.

And he says this case shows that a child as young as 12 has the right to refuse the procedure.

George Hill: “There are so many things wrong with circumcision. It’s a violation of human rights. It injures a child. It adversely affects his sexuality. It adversely affects his psychology. And it just goes on and on.”

Neither the parents, nor their attorneys would comment about this case on the record. But Portland attorney Michael Simon filed an amicus brief on behalf of the American Jewish Congress, the Anti-Defamation League and other Jewish organizations.

Michael Simon: “My clients were concerned that this was a wholesale attack on the practice of circumcision in America. My clients wanted to protect the constitutional right of Jewish families to continue to engage in circumcision, which has been going on for centuries.”

Simon says Friday’s ruling doesn’t set any precedent. He says the decision is very narrowly focused on this particular family — and whether the father is coercing the son into a decision.

Michael Simon: “The way we understand this case right now, is that the mother has raised the question of: should there be a change of custody because the child is in disagreement with the father over an important issue. And there the supreme court has simply said there should be an evidentiary hearing to decide whether there is a sufficient conflict between a 12 year old boy and his father such that the court should consider a change in custody.”

Figuring out whether or not an important precedent has been set — by asking people intricately involved with a case — can be difficult.

Carl Tobias is a law professor at the University of Richmond. He has no dog in this fight and he sees no precedent.

Mainly, he says, because this case could have involved a number of other medical procedures — not just circumcision.

Carl Tobias: “I think it is probably specific to the individual parties in this case. And I think all the Oregon Supreme Court has said is, that the lower court, the trial court should have taken into consideration the son’s views. Because at age 12 his views on this procedure are critical.”

The case now goes back to trial court.

If it finds the boy wants to be circumcised, custody will remain with the father. But if the boy says he doesn’t want the procedure, the custody arrangement must be reconsidered.

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