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Religious circumcision and the Human Rights Act
  1. A R Gatrad1,
  2. A Sheikh2,
  3. H Jacks1,3
  1. 1Manor Hospital, Moat Road, Walsall WS2 9PS, UK
  2. 2Department of Primary Care and General Practice, Imperial College School of Medicine, London, UK
  3. 3Mills & Reeve, 54 Hagley Road, Edgbaston, Birmingham B16 8PE, UK
  1. Correspondence to:
    Dr A R Gatrad;

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Implications for state provision

Medicine today is in a delicate state of balance between the paternalistic and the modern; an increasingly empowered public demands its rights, while the medical profession is frequently seen as taking refuge behind a shield offered by evidence based medicine. When viewed in this context, it is perhaps not surprising that male religious circumcision—the most widely practised surgical operation in the world1—invokes considerable controversy and debate within the secularised West.

It is estimated that one third of the global male population is circumcised.2 Both Jewish and Islamic law sanction and indeed promote religious circumcision for males. Of concern then is the observation made by many that despite the presence of sizeable faith communities in Britain that adhere to this tradition, state provision of services for religious circumcision remains, at best, patchy. Religious minority communities demand the right to practice their faith, while medical opinion in Britain has historically derided religious circumcision on the grounds that there is at best, no good evidence that the procedure is of benefit, and at worst, that it constitutes a form of genital mutilation. What, if any, are the implications of the recently introduced Human Rights Act with respect to this continuing debate? In this paper, we summarise the legal arguments for and against religious circumcision in the light of this new legislation, exploring the powers and responsibility of the Secretary of State for Health in ensuring fair and equitable health care provision for all British citizens.


Pertinent to these deliberations is the need for a basic appreciation of monotheistic faiths with respect to male circumcision. The overview presented here is in no way comprehensive, but rather aims to convey something of the significance of this practice to both Jews and Muslims and helps to underpin the legal …

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