We were all shocked to hear that genital mutilation is still carried out on children in the 21st Century in New Zealand. In a series of events that would not have been out of place in an account by Christopher Hitchens, a boy of 4 years old has been hospitalised after a circumcision operation severed an artery in his penis, another boy aged 14 screamed in pain as his operation was performed. TV3 has reported:
“The botched operation, which saw the (4 year old) boy require emergency hospitalisation, was performed at an unnamed medical centre in January by a general practitioner, assisted by a doctor unqualified to practice in New Zealand and the doctor’s wife.
The commissioner’s report recommended the doctor in charge of the operation review which patients he performed operations on – “giving particular consideration whether he should undertake circumcisions in boys aged older than six months.
“This case illustrates what can happen when a doctor is unfamiliar with, or chooses not to follow, recommended guidelines for a surgical procedure. It also highlights why patients (or their parents) need to be provided with adequate information so they can make an informed choice and give their informed consent.”
Informed consent? whose informed consent….the child was given no chance to withhold his consent, informed or otherwise. Such are the rights of the child in New Zealand.
There would have been a national outcry and a swift prosection if this had been a genital circumcision and infibulation (botched or otherwise) of a female child, outlawed by Part 8: Crimes Against the Person of The Crimes Act 1961.
The rest of the report is deeply disturbing and some readers may find the following distressing:
“On arriving at the medical centre, the parents and the young patient were directed to the waiting room, with the doctor busy performing a circumcision on another patient, a 14-year-old boy.
The family were concerned to hear the screams of the older boy.
The clinic’s manager, and wife of the operating doctor, told them, although the 14-year-old had been given the maximum dose of morphine, he was “too sensitive and could not handle the pain”, the report said.
The boy’s mother told the commissioner the child was taken into the operating room, was given an injection, then cut into seconds later, before the painkiller had time to take effect.
Seeing her son in pain caused the mother to start crying, at which point she was ordered out of the room by the doctor, apparently for passing her anxiety onto the child and disturbing him. About 10 minutes later, the boy’s father was also ejected from the room.
“We could hear our son crying for help and begging us not to leave him there by himself. He kept asking them to let us in but they wouldn’t listen,” she said.
These unfortunate children were coerced, operated on and traumatised when it was evident that consent was neither properly informed nor maintained. No-one should have the “right” to inflict this on children in this day and age.
Under the Crimes Act there is no defence that the person on whom the act was done consented to that act, or that the person charged believed that such consent had been given. But this only applies to female genital mutilation, we think it’s time that the law is amended to include circumcision of males below the age at which they are able to give a proper, fully considered consent and that protection be afforded to all children in New Zealand.
Some of New Zealand’s closest neighbours have already introduced measures to limit the practice of child circumcision. The Australian states of Victoria, New South Wales, Western Australia and Tasmania have stopped the practice of non-therapeutic male circumcision in all public hospitals. with the Tasmanian President of the Australian Medical Association (AMA), Haydn Walters, stating that “the AMA would support a call to ban circumcision for non-medical, non-religious reasons” (Wikipedia)
Further afield, in Canada “the Fetus and Newborn Committee of the Canadian Paediatric Society posted “Neonatal circumcision revisited” in 1996 and “Circumcision: Information for Parents” in November 2004. The 1996 position statement says that “circumcision of newborns should not be routinely performed“ and the 2004 information to parents says: ‘Circumcision is a “non-therapeutic” procedure, which means it is not medically necessary. Parents who decide to circumcise their newborns often do so for religious, social, or cultural reasons. […] After reviewing the scientific evidence for and against circumcision, the CPS does not recommend routine circumcision for newborn boys. Many paediatricians no longer perform circumcisions.
The British Medical Association provides “that “male circumcision is generally assumed to be lawful provided that it is performed competently; it is believed to be in the child’s best interests; and there is valid consent” from both parents and the child, if possible.” The BMS stipulates that “competent children may decide for themselves; the wishes that children express must be taken into account; if parents disagree, non-therapeutic circumcision must not be carried out without the leave of a court; consent should be confirmed in writing.”
As far as we are aware virtually all of the 100,000 Tongan and Samoan males in New Zealand are circumcised. The procedure is not routinely available through the public health system so children are operated on in private surgeries and health clinics, at a cost of around $400. It is considered to be a “a solemn ritual” and an important male rite of passage carried out between the ages of seven and 15 years. “Being circumcised is sign of manliness and sexual prowess. Not to be circumcised can bring shame on a man and his partner and family.” source. It should be noted that it does not seem to be a ‘religious’ practice for many people and that it was being carried out in the Pacific Islands before the arrival of Europeans.
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