Some of you may know that baby #2 is due in a few short weeks. We elected not to find out whether we’re having a boy or girl, and the anticipation is really exciting! With our first, we did a home birth, and we’re planning on the same for this child. I wrote a blog on why we opted out of the traditional hospital birth, but one of the reasons that was important to my husband and I was avoiding unnecessary interventions. Typically, that might make you think of unnecessary drug administration, labor induction, episiotomy, or Caesarean sections, vaccinations immediately after birth, etc…but that’s not where it stops. So let’s get to the main topic of this blog: routine circumcision has become a very popular trend in America over the past 100 years or so, but how does it fit into a proper libertarian perspective?
First, let’s discuss what it means to be a libertarian: a person who follows the non-aggression principle as a logical follow-on from the concept of self-sovereignty.
What does self-sovereignty mean?
This is the (radical) notion that individuals own themselves, and that this is inherent to every person, everywhere, at all points in time. I say it’s radical, because while most people accept this premise on its face, they fail to follow it through to its logical conclusion. Let’s take a quick look at why self-sovereignty makes sense and why it’s a sound foundational principle on which to base your worldview. We’ll start by trying to answer the question “Who Owns You?” (I’ll borrow heavily from Rothbard). Here are the potential answers, and why they’re debunked or legitimate:
- You own you. You alone have the right to yourself and your labor, and responsibility for the actions you choose to take. Perfectly legitimate statement.
- Someone else owns you. You do not have rights over yourself or your labor; someone else does. This is an illegitimate position because who is to say who gets to own others? Are redheads inherently better than brunettes? Is darker skin more legitimate than lighter skin? Are tall people bequeathed special wisdom over others? All of these positions are arbitrary, and thus, the notion that some people own others is ludicrous. It’s also called slavery.
- Everyone owns everyone. Well perhaps there is no such thing as self-ownership, and we all just sort of belong to one another. While it’s a nice sentiment, think about it practically – must you (or should you) consult everyone else before you make a decision about what to do with yourself or your time? Is that practical at all, or even feasible? Does everyone need everyone else’s permission before they spend their time a certain way, eat an apple, or read a book? This premise is not feasible, and probably not even desirable.
If, like me, you agree that Option 1 is the most sound answer of those presented above, then you’re well on your way to understanding NAP…and my position on circumcision. If you don’t agree, let me know in the comments and I’ll try to politely debunk your statements 🙂
So what is the non-aggression principle?
You can read more about it here, but here’s the short & sweet version: the only morally justified use of force is in defense. If you can be honest enough with yourself to look at circumcision objectively, you’ll realize that a permanent removal and alteration of a body part without a person’s consent constitutes aggression. It should be clear to anyone with half a brain that an infant cannot consent to the removal of his foreskin. To understand why consent is important, please refer to the self-sovereignty section above.
To test the premise that infant circumcision is morally sound, imagine if instead of a foreskin, parents were electing to remove an infant’s left leg, or right thumb, or both ears for non-medically necessary reasons (read here for a slideshow on the medicalization of circumcision in the United States). That would be absolutely ludicrous, right? Why is a foreskin any different than a limb, eyelid, or other appendage? “Oh hey, looks like you were born with two ears…you definitely don’t need both of those…let’s fix that right up for you.” This is a logically inconsistent position, and libertarianism should be consistent (as should all philosophies and moral theories). To test the premise even further, imagine if it became medically popular to permanently alter the vaginas of infant girls. Culturally, we find that abhorrent, and castigate those people around the world who participate in female genital mutilation (FGM). Why is it any different for infant girls than for infant boys? This position is not logically consistent, and I’d argue that we are subjecting our sons and grandsons to a grave injustice.
Let’s briefly address some of the other arguments made for routine circumcision in the States:
- “It looks funny.” Most of the rest of the world doesn’t seem to think so. And is this really a good enough reason to permanently remove, alter, or potentially disfigure someone else’s body? This is also pretty superficial.
- “I prefer the look of a cut penis.” Let’s go back to the consistency discussion above – can you imagine the outrage if fathers started advocating alteration of their daughter’s genitals based on their own personal preferences? Icky, gross, and thoroughly inconsistent. Mothers should not do the same to their sons.
- “We want him to look like his father” and/or “People will make fun of him.” Rather than chopping off a perfectly natural part of your infant son’s body (and causing him much pain), what a great opportunity to teach your children about self-acceptance, confidence, and tolerance for those that may look different than you. Don’t be afraid of these topics!
- “Uncut penises (penii?!?) are unclean and unhealthy.” Um, no. Let’s refer again to the worldwide circumcision rates, or this slideshow that spells out how most of the studies saying circumcision prevents prostate cancer, crossed eyes, masturbation, cervical cancer, epilepsy, HIV, etc have been enhanced, falsified, or otherwise debunked. IntactAmerica is another great resource to challenge conventional medical wisdom. Why challenge conventional medical wisdom? They used to advocate x-rays for pregnant women, right?
- “It’s a religious covenant.” I’m not in the business of telling people what they should and should not believe, and it’s virtually impossible to get between a person and their God/higher power/etc. But I’d ask those who subscribe to a religious belief that mandates circumcision to reflect deeply on these questions: did your God design the human body wastefully or unnecessarily? Would He/She create something without function? I cannot answer this for you, but it’s a question worth consideration.
- “It will hurt the baby less than when he’s older.” There is a pesky little idea that babies don’t feel pain…or perhaps it’s really that an infant cannot express pain the same way a toddler, child, teenager, or adult can. If you have the intestinal fortitude, look at these images…I simply searched for “infant circumcision surgery.” I didn’t even search for “circumcision gone wrong” because I don’t think I could take it.
Here’s the bottom line:
I believe in the concept of self-ownership. If I’m going to be consistent, that applies to my children as well. While I believe it is my (and my husband’s) moral obligation to faithfully shepherd our children and guide their decisions until they have such capacity to do so themselves, that does not give me the right to make permanent, potentially damaging decisions about their bodies for them (medical necessity excepted)…especially for cosmetic or cultural purposes. If my son later wishes to be circumcised, at least we have given him the opportunity to make that choice himself, and he will have informed consent. This is a position that is sound, logical, and aligned with the principles of self-ownership and non-aggression.
PS: A side note on the “earring” question…many people might ask the question “If it’s morally wrong to circumcise your son without consent, why is it alright to pierce your daughter’s ears?” Here are a few quick thoughts:
- I haven’t pierced my daughter’s ears, either…that’s a decision she can make for herself, and I’ll help her to facilitate it if/when that day comes. I didn’t have mine pierced until I was 13, because I wanted to and that’s the age my parents thought was appropriate. NBD.
- There is an order of magnitude difference between putting a hole in non-critical flesh (an ear lobe) and completely removing a functional piece of skin that serves a purpose.
- The potential damage from “earrings gone wrong” (basically scarring and infection) are a lot less severe than those that can come from a botched circumcision (removing too much skin, scarring, decreased sensitivity, infection, curvature, accidental removal of the entire penis, and even death following complications).