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Germany to Pass Law on Circumcision to Counter Judges’ Ruling

July 18, 2012

Chancellor Angela Merkel

Chancellor Angela Merkel warned party colleagues this week that Germany risks being branded a “nation of buffoons” if it becomes the only country to prohibit the practice, Bild newspaper reported. Photographer: Jock Fistick/Bloomberg

German legislators will pass a law this year permitting the circumcision of boys in response to global protests by religious groups reacting to a district court ruling that the practice amounts to bodily harm.

Social Democrat Burkhard Lischka, who sits on parliament’s legal-affairs committee, said his opposition party and the environmental Greens reached agreement with the governing coalition to seek draft legislation, probably by October. He said a “broad majority” will approve a resolution in the lower house, or Bundestag, tomorrow.

“You have two world religions that view the circumcision of boys as a constitutive path to join a community of faith,” Lischka said today in a phone interview in Berlin.

Jewish, Muslim and Christian organizations this month decried a May 7 Cologne court decision that circumcising boys constitutes battery even if parents consent to it, creating legal uncertainty and the prospect that doctors could be committing a crime by performing the procedure. Chancellor Angela Merkel warned party colleagues this week that Germany risks being branded a “nation of buffoons” if it becomes the only country to prohibit the practice, Bild newspaper reported.

Lischka said the legal situation was “somewhat complicated” by balancing the constitutional right of bodily integrity with freedom of religion. The resolution language will permit circumcision of boys by a trained professional in situations that avoid inflicting “unnecessary pain.”

Justice Ministry spokeswoman Mareke Aden said today that a draft law is planned by the fall and that the issue “can’t be pushed off” amid global scrutiny.

Vacations Interrupted

Bundestag lawmakers are interrupting their vacations to attend an emergency session tomorrow to approve as much as 100 billion euros ($123 billion) in bailout aid for Spain. The legislative process on circumcision will probably begin in late September after parliament reconvenes on Sept. 10.

European rabbis held a three-day emergency meeting last week to address the ruling, which Pinchas Goldschmidt, chief of the Conference of European Rabbis, called “a frontal attack on Jewish life in Europe.” An Israeli parliamentary committee July 9 denounced the ruling after it met with Andreas Michaelis, the German ambassador to Israel.

The controversy began in November 2010, when a Muslim couple in Cologne asked a doctor to circumcise their 4-year-old son. The doctor used a local anesthetic and treated the wound with four stitches. Two days later, the mother rushed the son to the hospital after the wound began bleeding; the hospital contacted the police, leading to bodily harm charges.

While the Cologne court acquitted the doctor, it ruled male circumcision -- even when done properly by a doctor with the permission of the parents -- should be considered bodily harm if carried out on a boy unable to give his consent.

To contact the reporter on this story: Patrick Donahue in Berlin at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James Hertling at

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