The RACP has updated its position on circumcision

Spoiler alert: It isn’t good

Jonathan Meddings

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Twelve years after its last position on male circumcision, the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) has quietly released an update over the summer holidays.

The new position statement comes one year after the death of a young boy in Perth following circumcision complications. His younger brother, cut at the same time, was also left in a critical condition but thankfully survived.

Like the old position, the new one states that the RACP “believes that the frequency of diseases modifiable by circumcision, the level of protection offered by circumcision and the complication rates of circumcision do not warrant routine infant circumcision in Australia or Aotearoa New Zealand.”

Unfortunately that is where the good news ends.

Misplaced respect for parental choice

The RACP states, without adequate explanation, that parental choice to circumcise should be respected. But why? There are many decisions parents rightly get to make for their children. Deciding how much of their bodies they get to keep should not be one of them.

The fact is there are already limits to parents’ ability to make medical decisions for their children. The wishes of parents who seek to deny children life-saving medical treatment (which occurs sometimes based on their religious views) are disregarded. And special medical procedures like sterilisation require court approval to be performed on children because they are “invasive, irreversible and major surgery”. This legal precedent was set by Marion’s case in the High Court of Australia in 1992.

The case related to the sterilisation of an intellectually disabled young girl, with the Court also noting that there is a significant risk of making a “wrong decision” about both the child’s present or future capacity to consent. But when it comes to the non-consensual circumcision of children there is no such risk unless they are also intellectually disabled — most will grow up with the capacity to make the circumcision decision. The problem is many are simply not given the chance to grow up and decide for themselves whether or not they want their foreskin amputated.

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