An unkind cut

by | May 29, 2015

For some reason gods seem to have an obsession with what humans do with their genitals, to the extent that they insist that baby boys and young girls need to have alterations made.  In the case of the girls, female genital mutilation (FGM)  is widespread in Africa and the Middle East (and also sometimes practiced by immigrants from those countries).  For boys, the practice of circumcision (removal of the foreskin) has religious origins, but, at least in the US, is a widespread routine procedure, with a rate of about 75% (which is much higher than the 15% rate here in Canada.

As for me, I support a consistent principle of bodily autonomy.  I assert that every person has the absolute right to determine what happens to their own body.  This informs my position on abortion:  I am pro-choice because a woman has the right to choose to be pregnant or not.  It informs my position on assisted dying: A mentally competent person has the right to choose when and how to end their life.  And it informs my opposition to alterations of genitals of boys and girls, whether for cultural, cosmetic, or religious reasons.  Babies and children are not able to make properly informed choices about this, but their parents are obligated to refrain from making irreversible decisions on behalf of their children (except, of course, where such things are medically indicated).

Which brings me to the sad case of Heather Hironimus , a mother who was recently jailed because she would not acquiesce to the demands of the father of her 4-year-old son to have the boy circumcised.  She was recently released from jail, after agreeing to allow the surgery, but claims that she was “bullied” into signing the form. (Meanwhile, the father apparently believes that circumcision is “just the normal thing to do.”)

I can’t imagine what the poor little boy will be thinking is happening to him. I can’t imagine the anguish of the mother knowing that her little boy is going to be put through a useless painful procedure on one of the most sensitive parts of his body just so the father can prove a point.  I can’t imagine the callousness of the father going ahead with this (though it does bring to mind the biblical tale of Abraham being quite willing to sacrifice his son just because he thought Yahweh was telling him to).

2 thoughts on “An unkind cut

  1. Indi

    > As for me, I support a consistent principle of bodily autonomy. I assert that every person has the absolute right to determine what happens to their own body.

    That’s a good and consistent position, and I agree with it wholeheartedly.

    > I can’t imagine what the poor little boy will be thinking is happening to him.

    I haven’t really been following the story in detail, but I have read bits here and there. From what I’ve read, I gather that the reason Hironimus objected to the circumcision in the first place is because the kid became terrified of it. Originally she supported it, but when the boy started to get scared and panicky she changed her mind and withdrew her support. That’s when the court battle ensued.

    That’s her side of the story anyway. Of course, the father claims that it was her who scared the kid about it.

    The sad and infuriating thing about the case is that Hironimus didn’t try to argue *reasonably* against having her child mutilated… she tried to use religion. She basically said that *her* religious beliefs about how she should control her son’s body should trump the father’s. I can’t support that argument (or the inverse of it). For Hironimus, this was never a battle of reason against religion, or of someone’s rights to bodily autonomy. It was just her faith against his.

    And of course, in a situation like that: whoever wins, the child loses.

    She’s just as much a failure of a parent as the father is. It just so happened, in this case, that her faith happened to align with the sane and reasonable thing to do. This is not a story of a child torn between a bad father and a good mother. It is a story of a child with two bad parents, which is tragic enough, and then the slightly worse parent won the day.

  2. Theo Bromine Post author

    While I disagree in principle with an argument from religion, I’m not sure that it isn’t a reasonable tactic for Hironimus to use, especially in an environment (the US court system) where all manner of ridiculous beliefs and actions seem to get a pass if they are religiously motivated (as long as its one of the *right* religions).


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