A ban on circumcision won’t ban circumcision

Columnist Jean Wagemans analyses the discussion on a potential ban on circumcision for boys and concludes that a ban wouldn’t make any difference.

One of the items in news programme Brandpunt last Sunday concerned the potential ban on circumcision for boys. It’s a controversial subject and the expectation was that sparks might fly.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Champions and opponents explained their arguments calmly and deliberately. It looked like a party political broadcast for the reasonable party.


As constructive as it was, the exchange did not bring a solution to the conflict any nearer. This comes as no surprise seeing that the views of the two parties are diametrically opposed. Moreover, and this is crucial in cases like this, the lack of a criterion to weigh the arguments against and in favour made itself felt.

One of the people in favour of a ban based his argument on the principle that circumcision is a non-essential medical intervention on a legally incapable child. That is why it mustn’t happen, even if the intervention is performed by a doctor.

The doctors present rallied with pragmatic arguments. They help perform circumcisions in order to prevent botch jobs on the kitchen table and avoid medical complications. Isn’t that what doctors do?

Blind eye

The choice between principles and pragmatism is not the only one lacking an ultimate decision criterion. Suppose the law decides that the rights of the child are more important than freedom of religion. The ban is imposed. Does that mean no boys will be circumcised?

Of course not. Some opponents of the ban suggested a circumcision boat which the newborn and its relatives could be flown to in a helicopter.

So if there is no ban the circumcisions will continue to take place and if there is a ban they will continue as well. I think I’m beginning to understand the Dutch predilection for turning a blind eye.


Jean Wagemans is Assistant Professor of Argumentation Theory at the University of Amsterdam

 This article was published earlier in the Volkskrant




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