Here’s an interesting ethical dilemma: A divorced man decides to convert to Judaism and also decides to have his son, for whom he is the custodial parent, circumcised. Wrinkle #1: former wife, who is Russian Orthodox, opposes the circumcision. Wrinkle #2: the boy in question is twelve. Is it in the courts? Sure is.
This one is pretty straightforward in my mind: Converting to Judaism in later life is not sufficient cause in itself to snip off some not-insignificant portion of your pubescent son’s penis. The story says that the son in this case also expressed an interest in converting to Judaism, up to and including circumcision, but the story also notes the kid said it when he was nine. No offense to precocious nine-year-olds everywhere, but it’s kind of an early age to affirmatively decide to undergo elective surgery (or, for that matter, religious conversion). And I really don’t know too many 12-year-olds who think about things the same way they did when they were nine.
Now, as far as I can read, this issue seems to be proceeding without much consideration as to the kid’s current opinion on the matter, and I find that, well, a little weird. I’m not this kid, but I know that when I was 12, I wouldn’t be in a whole hell of a rush to let anyone take a sharp object to my genitals and come away with some portion thereof, for a medically unnecessary reason, even if one of my parents said it was important. In fact — I’m pretty sure about this — if one of my parents had said “I have the legal right to order some portion of your penis sliced off” when I was 12, my reaction (after clutching my wee package in defensive horror) would be to treat said parent to the first instance of me telling them to kiss my ass. In neither US or talmudic law is 12 the age of adulthood, but it’s certainly old enough for a kid of normal intelligence to decide who gets to do what with his penis, from a medically-unnecessary-surgery point of view.
If I were the judges in this particular case, what I would do is make sure the kid is capable of understanding what the issues were in this particular case and is capable of making a rational choice about what’s being decided regarding his own body, and only then — if I were satisfied that the kid knew what was going on, what circumcision entailed and that the kid was wanting to go through with it — would I begin to sort out the issue of what the parental rights were. I think it’s one thing to have infant male circumcision (which I’m not hugely for, but having grown up in a generation where circumcision was routinely performed for presumed medical reasons, don’t see it as having horrible side effects in general, so whatever); it’s another to perform it on someone who has the capability to understand what’s going on and deserves to have a say in whether he wants it or not. Maybe it’s just the manner in which this article is written that leaves this unaddressed, but I’m more than a little surprised that the kid’s choice in the matter isn’t more integral to the entire discussion. If it were my body up for discussion, I’d sure as hell want a say.