Circumcision is a common surgical procedure to remove the foreskin from the human penis. In the United States, the procedure has become so routine that new parents are generally asked shortly after birth about their preferences regarding circumcision (it’s assumed that, more likely than not, the parents will request circumcision). The procedure is at times controversial because many circumcisions are performed on infants. Less frequently, circumcisions are completed on adolescent or adult males.
Those who favor the procedure and parents requesting circumcision for their newborn sons do so based on the general belief that parents of minor children can make decisions for their children as they see fit, based on what they believe to be in the best interest of the child.
Those who oppose the procedure being performed on infants argue that a newborn child is unable to consent to such a permanent and irreversible medical procedure that the child may, later in life, wish they had never undergone.
Is Male Circumcision Legal in the U.S.?
Circumcision is legal in every state within the United States. This includes infant circumcisions consented to by parents, as well as adult circumcisions that are consented to by the patient.
Many circumcisions are performed within days after birth, or within the Jewish religion, 8 days after birth. Such circumcisions are completed based on the wishes of the parents, usually for non-medical reasons, such as societal norms, religious beliefs, or personal preferences.
Circumcisions on adult males are oftentimes undergone to prevent or rid the patient of diseases believed to be made more likely or made worse by the presence of a foreskin (e.g. HIV and other STDs). Scientific studies on the effectiveness of circumcision as disease prevention have shown mixed results.
Is Female Circumcision Legal?
Female circumcision, also known as female genital mutilation, involves any medical procedure that results in the removal or injury of part or all of external female genitalia for non-medical reasons. There are variations of female circumcision which remove different anatomical portions of the genitalia, none of which have been shown to provide actual health benefits.
It violates US federal law to perform female circumcision, regardless of the type, severity, or motivation for performing the procedure. This includes transporting a female outside of the US for the procedure to be performed. Anyone violating the law can be punished by fines, up to five years in prison, or both.
Traditional or cultural beliefs are cited by those who support female circumcision, and the procedure is still performed in some countries. The procedure is most often performed between infancy and adolescence. Internationally, it is estimated that 3 million girls are subjected to the procedure each year. The procedure is most common in regions of Africa and in some countries in the Middle East and Asia, as well as among immigrants coming from these areas.
If a Circumcision is Performed Without Consent, Can I Sue?
Circumcision, as with any medical procedure, absolutely requires consent. Decisions in recent court cases have suggested that someone circumcised without their consent, even if their parents consented for them as a child, may be able to sue the doctor when they reach 18 years of age based on medical malpractice or the idea that they suffered a personal injury.
This will generally only be the case if the circumcised patient suffered physical, sexual or psychological problems as a result of the circumcision. In such cases, filing a circumcision lawsuit may provide a legal remedy for the losses.
What if My Spouse and I Disagree on Consent?
If two parents of a child disagree on whether to have the child circumcised, a doctor should not perform the procedure (unless deemed medically necessary) without a court order. This means that one parent must secure an injunction through the courts to either allow/disallow the procedure. The injunction provides a legal basis for enforcing the final decision regarding the procedure
What if the Doctor Recommends a Circumcision?
Although rare, there are circumstances when a doctor may recommend a circumcision. The most common reasons for the doctor’s recommendation include:
- Easier hygiene
- Decreased risk of urinary tract infections
- Decreased risk of STDs
As with any medical procedure, it is possible that complications will result from a circumcision procedure. The rate of complications is very low, but when significant complications occur, legal recourse is possible.
This means that an adult who underwent a circumcision procedure as a child and suffered significant and irreversible complications, (adhesions, phimosis, chordee, or even necrosis) may be able to recover damages from the doctor who performed the surgery.
How Can an Attorney Help?
Circumcision injury cases are a highly specialized area of law. If you underwent a circumcision that was done without your consent–or with your consent, but with significant and lasting complications– it is best to contact a personal injury lawyer near you to figure out your options and secure compensation.