Skip to main content

Circumcising young boys on religious grounds causes grievous bodily harm, a German court ruled Tuesday in a landmark decision that the Jewish community said trampled on parents' religious rights.

The regional court in Cologne, western Germany, ruled that the "fundamental right of the child to bodily integrity outweighed the fundamental rights of the parents", a judgement that is expected to set a legal precedent.

"The religious freedom of the parents and their right to educate their child would not be unacceptably compromised, if they were obliged to wait until the child could himself decide to be circumcised," the court added.

Story continues below advertisement

The case was brought against a doctor in Cologne who had circumcised a four-year-old Muslim boy on his parents' wishes.

A few days after the operation, his parents took him to hospital as he was bleeding heavily. Prosecutors then charged the doctor with grievous bodily harm.

The doctor was acquitted by a lower court that judged he had acted within the law as the parents had given their consent.

On appeal, the regional court also acquitted the doctor but for different reasons.

The regional court upheld the original charge of grievous bodily harm but also ruled that the doctor was innocent as there was too much confusion on the legal situation around circumcision.

The court came down firmly against parents' right to have the ritual performed on young children.

"The body of the child is irreparably and permanently changed by a circumcision," the court said. "This change contravenes the interests of the child to decide later on his religious beliefs."

Story continues below advertisement

The decision caused outrage in Germany's Jewish community.

The head of the Central Committee of Jews, Dieter Graumann, said the ruling was "an unprecedented and dramatic intervention in the right of religious communities to self-determination."

The judgement was an "outrageous and insensitive act. Circumcision of newborn boys is a fixed part of the Jewish religion and has been practiced worldwide for centuries," added Graumann.

"This religious right is respected in every country in the world."

Holm Putzke, a criminal law expert at the University of Passau, told the Financial Times Deutschland that the ruling was "enormously important for doctors because for the first time they have legal certainty."

"Unlike many politicians, the court has not allowed itself to be scared off by charges of anti-Semitism or religious intolerance," added Mr. Putzke.

Story continues below advertisement

The World Health Organization has estimated that nearly one in three males under 15 is circumcised. In the United States, the operation is often performed for hygiene reasons on infants.

Thousands of young boys are circumcised every year in Germany, especially in the country's large Jewish and Muslim communities.

The court specified that circumcision was not illegal if carried out for medical reasons.

Report an error
Comments

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • All comments will be reviewed by one or more moderators before being posted to the site. This should only take a few moments.
  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed. Commenters who repeatedly violate community guidelines may be suspended, causing them to temporarily lose their ability to engage with comments.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.
Cannabis pro newsletter