Circumcision as Mutilation

 Posted by on 20 January 2009 at 12:01 am  Circumcision, Objectivism
Jan 202009

I’ve been catching up on my listening of Dr. Peikoff’s excellent podcasts (available via iTunes) over the past few weeks. I have been enjoying them immensely — although I definitely prefer his solo podcasts to the group discussions. The questions have become increasingly interesting, and his answers are often a bit surprising. I don’t always agree with him fully, and I find our minor disagreements of great interest. All in all, I think these podcasts are a fantastic contribution our understanding of Objectivism — particularly its application to the ordinary problems of daily life. So if you’re not listening to them, you’re missing out!

A few weeks ago, my ears perked up in his discussion of circumcision in Podcast #34. I am adamantly opposed to that practice — on the grounds that it inhibits a man’s natural potential for sexual pleasure. Admittedly, I was a bit petrified to hear what Dr. Peikoff might say. (What if he didn’t think it was a big deal?!? Yikes!) But I need not have worried: he knows his stuff. Here’s the transcription, courtesy of Flibby:

Question: Medical issues aside, what right does a parent have to alter a child’s body? On one end of the spectrum, I could imagine a parent wanting to remove an abnormal but benign growth, say, a sixth, non-functioning finger. On the other end of the spectrum is circumcision, which I regard as mutilation.:

Peikoff: By the way, I agree with that 100 percent. There can be no legitimate reason for anyone to circumcise a boy. It’s either primitive religion, abject conformity, or the evil of destructiveness. Now this question goes on.

Question: Aside from from those two extremes of the sixth finger and circumcision, somewhere in the middle of the spectrum are things like ear-piercing on which I am undecided.

Peikoff: Now, my view would be this: If there is no violation of the biologically normal, then a parent may make changes. He may make changes in that which is abnormal or that which is required by the health. For instance, I do not think parents should have the right to withhold blood in the case of a child who is going to sicken and die for lack of a transfusion. That should be absolutely mandatory on similar grounds on what I said on the further question. But aside from this, I think anything else that would be permanent should be left to the child once he’s 18, forbidden by the parent until he’s 18. For instance, even piercing ears to wear earrings, piercing the tongue, having indelible tattoos — all of that I think should be prohibited by a parent and impermissible to a parent to do when the child is their ward and doesn’t know well enough what to do.

So that’s a pretty old-fashioned view but that’s definitely my view.

I was allowed to get my ears pierced after I graduated from 8th grade. That seemed way too late to me at the time, but in retrospect, I’m glad that I was mature enough to make my own decision and to care for the wound as required. (A friend of mine who got her ears pierced some years before me was so grossed out that she couldn’t touch them.) I don’t think that was problematic — but only because ear piecing is such a small thing, without any negative implications for a girl’s life. I wouldn’t say the same about a tattoo, piercing another area of the body, or a boy piercing his ears. I think those should be forbidden by the parents while their child is still a child.

What say you?

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