Iceland’s Misstep: Banning Male Circumcision
Cultural competency is an ever-changing, progressive process. As cultural competence evolves so does the need to be respectful and responsive to the health benefits and practices of diverse populations. The evolution of cultural competence and the needs and beliefs of different groups requires officials to be sensitive to contrasting views. Anytime legislation is proposed it is imperative that all parties which may be affected by the new law be included in the drafting of the bill. Informed decisions based on knowledge gained through the active participation of diverse groups helps ensure a bill meets the needs of society without limiting important religious or cultural practices. Iceland is embroiled in a battle over a proposed law because political leaders failed to consult with two religious groups that the law directly affects.
Iceland’s Members of Parliament, MPs, are proposing a bill which would ban male circumcision. The bill recommends a six-year prison sentence for anyone “removing sexual organs in whole or in part.” Islamic and Jewish religious leaders are outraged by the proposed bill.
The MPs who drafted the bill believe male circumcision violates the rights of young boys. Judith Vonberg, a reporter from The Independent, interviewed Silja Dogg Gunnarsdottir, the Progressive Party MP who is the driving force behind the bill about the bill and questioned why religious leaders were not consulted or notified about the bill. Ms. Gunnarsdottir said,“ I didn’t think it was necessary to consult. I didn’t see it as a religious matter.”
Islamic leaders agree the importance of male circumcision is disputed. Some Islamic groups say it is important while other groups do not believe it holds any religious significance. If a Muslim male is circumcised it is considered a major event. However, in the Jewish religion male circumcision is profound.
MP Gunnarsdottir’s response is callous and tone deaf to the response by the Islamic and Judaic communities. The protection of rights is admirable but not when a law would criminalize a sacred ritual. The proposed ban overreaches its boundaries. Legislators cannot and should not ban a medical procedure based on personal beliefs. The United Nations, the World Health Organization and other countries do not categorize male circumcision as a violation of human rights. Iceland does not have the right to declare it a violation.
The decision to have a baby boy circumcised should be a private decision left for the family to make based on their religious beliefs. The government does not have the right to ban a practice which is rooted in the Torah.