Friday, January 25, 2008

Body Autonomy

I believe very strongly in a person's right to bodily autonomy. Obviously, I believe in this up to the point where someone else's autonomy is affected--don't go punching or raping people, for example, but by all means, engage in silly dancing and eating what you like.

These views extend beyond abortion. I believe that pro-choice means more than just a woman's right to an abortion. I believe that it means a person has a right not to be abused, mutilated, or murdered. I believe that we should be able to be fat or thin without other people making it their business. I think that everyone, young and old, should be able to masturbate with a reasonable expectation of privacy. I believe that consenting adults should be able to engage in whatever sexual practices they like. But what I really want to talk about is this one: I also believe that it is wrong to surgically modify the genitals of male and female infants and children.

I have heard a number of arguments regarding circumcision, and none of them seem like a good enough reason to take a knife to the genitals of a person who cannot even speak, let alone consent. The stickiest (pardon the pun) argument I've seen so far, however, is the oft-repeated statistic about reduced HIV transmission among circumsized men. The reason it is sticky is because the numbers are there. If you are circumsized, you are less likely to contract HIV.

Now that I've admitted that point, however, I'd like to point out that it is well-known that HIV is pretty difficult to transmit, compared to many other infectious agents. Those who are transmitting it because they are uncircumsized could just as easily have prevented it by other means, such as wearing a condom, not engaging in penetrative sex, and limiting sex to partners who are already infected. I personally would not want to rely upon circumcision as the method for preventing myself from becoming infected with HIV. Remember, also, that the transmission is reduced, not eliminated by circumcision--unprotected sex is inherently risky with any partner.

Also, if you are pro-circumcision, and you give this as a reason for it, then I would suggest you not later on oppose the HPV vaccination on the grounds that HPV transmission can be stopped by behavior modification (in the form of abstinence, of course). It might make you look silly.


Cassandra said...

I'm not arguing the point, I was just curious how you would reply to the fact that parents have legal "ownership" of their children. For example, an underage person has the right to have sex with an adult, but because parents "own" their children, they then have a right to have the older party thrown in jail because of statutory rape. Parents are legally and socially allowed to "own" and control their children - what they do, how they dress, what they eat, who they're friends with, where they live. A parent can force a child to brush their teeth, bathe them, clean their ears, even wipe their behinds. Are you talking total and complete body autonomy or is there a line to be drawn? Again, not pushing anything, I'm just very interested in your opinion.

Anonymous said...

I will say, my son is circ. I let me husband decide since he is more anatomically like my son than I am. I did tell him that there was no medical basis for it, or at least shoddy medical basis...but he is the only one that would know what it is like to be cut or not cut. He decided for it.

HOWEVER...later he admitted that he did it because he thought it "should" be done...he was done so it must be necessary. He also said that after the fact that once he realized that there was no medical basis (why he didn't listen to me, I have no clue) and that it is a RELIGIOUS basis (he is VERY Athiest) he said he wish he didn't do it.

Ok, with that said...

Where he worked at the time there was actually this discussion when my son was born...I guess DH brought it up...and there was this guy who was ADAMANT that it HAD to be done. There IS a condition, though very very rare, where circumcision is the cure...I forget the name. Apparently this guy had it when he was younger and he was in so much agony from it(he wasn't done when he was born) then had to get cut then that he advocates for it for ALL boys so they won't have to go through the same agony he did. To be fair, often times this condition doesn't show until much later in a child's life, so most of the time there is no way to know when a boy is born whether or not they need the procedure.
As to Cassandra's comment about parents owning their kids... that is kind of a double edged sword. parents are allowed to make any and all medical decisions about their kids good or bad...however if parents didn't have that control then there could be unscrupulous people out there that would take the parents decisions away...for good or bad. Parents could very well have a maimed or dead child because of someone else's decision.

Is it right? No. But I would much rather have control over my kids health care than have to bury my son because a doctor or nurse or other "official" have more say than I do. If I make the wrong decision, I have to live with maiming or killing my child...if someone else made the decision I would be in jail for murder.

RioIriri said...

That is a very good question.

I think that the best interest of the child should be a consideration. After all, even though they "own" the kids, there are definite limitations to that. A parent cannot have sex with their child, physically abuse them, or neglect them without facing charges.

And while children do need to have rules and authority figures, there's a degree of that which I believe is harmful. The overprotective parent who never lets their child have any social contact with other children, for example, is legally permitted to do this, but I believe it is psychologically abusive, as are parents who spy on their kids and punish them for masturbation.

It's a very tricky line to draw for a lot of the above examples, but I believe that cutting off pieces of a child's genitalia should be out of bounds entirely.

I do agree, though, that things like basic hygiene, dressing oneself, and table manners need to not be left up to the little heathens at first ;) Obviously they have to learn these things to become citizens.

One sticking point I do have, though, is about what they eat. I really think it's unfair to force a child to eat things that they do not want to eat, and that it causes long-term problems. Most people I know who "hate vegetables" were forced to sit at a table until they ate them, or they were otherwise punished. They associate negative feelings with vegetables because of that!

My mother had a rule that we did not have to eat what we did not want to eat, but she wasn't going to go and fix us something else otherwise. Because things like peas, broccoli, and spinach weren't a source of conflict, they were simply a non-issue. They were food on the table, and you could eat them or not eat them. So we didn't know that they were some kind of nasty thing that we had to eat at gunpoint--and we ate them quite happily! The only thing that I wouldn't eat was meat, and my mother was respectful of my ethical reasons for that.

RioIriri said...

From the things I've read and seen of botched circumcisions, I'd rather take the risk of some rare condition occurring than open up the kid to unnecessary risk. I think people are becoming more and more aware of opting out, though--up until recently, it was the default for boys born in the US, regardless of religion, so I can't really fault parents who didn't know.

And I definitely understand about being able to make those decisions. I recently read about premature and severely disabled infants, and how in some cases, parents' wishes to only give palliative care were overruled by the state, and their infants were subjected to invasive, painful treatment that simply prolonged the dying process instead of saving their lives.

It's a really tough situation, though, when children don't get a say in whether they get lifesaving care that their parents deny them because of religious beliefs. I think in cases where the child can express a desire for the lifesaving treatment, they should receive it, even if their parents object.

Cassandra said...

I'm enjoying this discussion because I don't have kids yet and it's good to hear a lot of opinions so I'm more prepared when I do.

So I'll try another example because I'm not sure the first point got through.

Circumcision can be done for hygeinic purposes. Of course the parent could simply show a young child how to appropriately wash so the surgery isn't needed. Two sides to the story.

But try it with another scenario. Some parents believe in a keeping children in a sterile environment. Sanitizing hand wash, sprays, etc. - no germs, no dirt, always clean! All toys, countertops, anything the child touches must be wiped down. It's hygeinic, but kids generally don't build up immunities to bugs and will frequently end up getting sicker more often than kids who live in filth. Two sides to the story, both trying to achieve the same goal.

Nobody is going to tell the parents who sanitize everything that they're doing it wrong. Nobody is going to say they're harming their children more by keeping everything spotless.

Generally speaking, kids aren't going to know the benefit or downfall, one way or another. The choices made for the kids at young ages can profoundly affect them for the rest of their lives. Parents can do a lot of things that could be seen as harm to their childrens bodies in one light or good in another. Is there a way to draw a line between? Is there a way to really know what the boundary is?

It's just the different philosophies of parenting to meet reasonable goals. Personally I think parents who sanitize everything are screwing their kids up, but I'm not going to say they're bad parents or infringing on their childrens' right to a healthy immune system. But again, I'm genuinely open to the idea that there's a definitive line to be drawn. The question is where?

Mercurior said...

ok i am male, i am intact, i live in the UK.

Any mutilation of anyones genitals, without consent, is abuse in my mind.

cassandra taking your last comment first, there are studies and articles about the hyper cleaning of places. heres a few for example

how dumb are they not to realise you need to clean every part of you.. i am not i was never taught and i am clean.. simple..

The BMA state that in general, "the parents should determine how best to promote their children’s interests, and it is for society to decide what limits should be imposed on parental choices." They state that because the parents' interests and the child's interests sometimes differ, there are "limits on parents' rights to choose and parents are not entitled to demand medical procedures contrary to their child's best interests." They state that competent children may decide for themselves

what people dont think is it could hurt

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics' 1999 Circumcision Policy Statement, “There is considerable evidence that newborns who are circumcised without analgesia experience pain and psychologic stress

Boyle et al. (2002) stated that "the genitally intact male has thousands of fine touch receptors and other highly erogenous nerve endings—many of which are lost to circumcision." They concluded, "Evidence has also started to accumulate that male circumcision may result in lifelong physical, sexual, and sometimes psychological harm as well." yes really good stuff.

Several studies have shown that uncircumcised men are at greater risk of human papilloma virus (HPV) infection.

Studies have reported a rate of penile cancer from 3 to 22 times higher in uncircumcised than circumcised men

there you go some info for you.

Tabitha said...

It seems to me that it would be best to just allow boys to keep their foreskins and decide later in life if they want to be circumsized or not.

William said...
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