To cut or not to cut- that is the question

To cut or not to cut- that is the question

I am not familiar with any case in Australia about circumcision, but I suspect the argument will be whether or not circumcision is a “major long-term issue” and if so in what circumstances a decision is made by whom (one or both parents) about whether or not their son is circumcised.

I say all this because of a recent case in Oregon, USA. In Boldt and Boldt, the father had taken up the Jewish faith many years before, and the mother was Russian Orthodox. The son M who was now 12, commenced attended synagogue with his father. The father proposed as part of the son’s conversion as a Jew that the son be circumcised. The mother opposed this, and sought instead that the son live with her. The mother said that the son opposed being circumcised.

Proponents of for and against circumcision made submissions to the court including Doctors Opposing Circumcision and the American Jewish Congress.

The Oregon Supreme Court held:

Although the parties and amici have presented extensive material regarding circumcision, we do not need to decide in this case which side has presented a more persuasive case regarding the medical risks or benefits of male circumcision. We conclude that, although circumcision is an invasive medical procedure that results in permanent physical alteration of a body part and has attendant medical risks, the decision to have a male child circumcised for medical or religious reasons is one that is commonly and historically made by parents in the United States. We also conclude that the decision to circumcise a male child is one that generally falls within a custodial parent’s authority, unfettered by a noncustodial parent’s concerns or beliefs — medical, religious or otherwise. Were mother’s concerns or beliefs regarding circumcision all that were asserted in the affidavits in this case, we would conclude that mother did not carry her initial statutory burden to demonstrate a sufficient change in circumstances demonstrating father’s inability to properly care for M.

However, in this case, mother has averred in her affidavit that M objects to the circumcision. In our view, at age 12, M’s attitude regarding circumcision, though not conclusive of the custody issue presented here, is a fact necessary to the determination of whether mother has asserted a colorable claim of a change of circumstances sufficient to warrant a hearing concerning whether to change custody. That is so because forcing M at age 12 to undergo the circumcision against his will could seriously affect the relationship between M and father, and could have a pronounced effect on father’s capability to properly care for …Thus, if mother’s assertions are verified the trial court would be entitled to reconsider custody. As to that inquiry, however, we think that no decision should be made without some assessment of M’s true state of mind. That conclusion dictates the outcome here.

We remand the case to the trial court with instructions to resolve the factual issue whether M agrees or objects to the circumcision. In order to resolve that question, the trial court may choose to determine M’s state of mind … If the trial court finds that M agrees to be circumcised, the court shall enter an order denying mother’s motions. If, however, the trial court finds that M opposes the circumcision, it must then determine whether M’s opposition to the circumcision will affect father’s ability to properly care for M. And, if necessary, the trial court then can determine whether it is in M’s best interests to retain the existing custody arrangement, whether other conditions should be imposed on father’s continued custody of M, or change custody from father to mother.

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