A German court in Cologne has ruled that a child's right to physical integrity trumps freedom of religion and parents' rights, German news agency DAPD reported Tuesday.
The original case involved a doctor accused of performing a circumcision on a 4-year-old Muslim boy that led to medical complications. Despite the ruling setting a precedent on physical integrity as noted above, the doctor in question was acquitted and prosecutors said they won't appeal.
The president of Germany's Central Council of Jews, Dieter Graumann, called the ruling "unprecedented and insensitive," urging the country's parliament to clarify the legal situation "to protect religious freedom against attacks." Graumann added that the circumcision of 8-day-old Jews has been practiced for thousands of years, and that "every country in the world respects this religious right."
Circumcision is considered a common and acceptable rite of passage, with an estimated 30% of all males worldwide are circumcised. Judaism is not the only religion that requires circumcision; Muslim culture also includes a ritual circumcision of young boys, although it is not explicitly written in the Quran.
Many parents also request the procedure for health reasons. Though medical research on the health benefits of circumcision varies, some studies in Africa have attested that circumcision helps reduce the rate of infection, specifically contraction of HIV.
Female circumcision is generally viewed as genital mutilation, as it is performed to reduce a woman's sexual desire and keep her from "straying." The UN has passed a number of resolutions against it, and some western countries have legislation forbidding it. Male circumcision, however, is not contested, and therefore no laws prohibit it.
Although the current ruling in Germany isn't binding for other courts, it creates a precedent that could be taken into account in future court decisions. This, in turn could, potentially create a tricky legal situation for doctors who perform the procedure.