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Ban the circumcision ban

Editorial

If cities such as San Francisco were allowed to determine which medical procedures were acceptable and which ones weren't, we'd be left with a ridiculous patchwork of rules.

June 25, 2011

The San Francisco ballot measure that would ban circumcision of male children is an unwarranted intrusion on family privacy, quite possibly unconstitutional and just plain wrong. And we're fairly certain the vast majority of San Franciscans see it the same way, given the public thrashing the measure has received.

But some bad ideas never die; they just move on to new signature-gathering campaigns. It doesn't take many harried shoppers outside a supermarket to qualify an issue for the ballot — a similar effort emerged in Santa Monica but quickly faded away — and we can expect other measures to crop up elsewhere.

In addition to being wrongheaded and potentially discriminatory toward Jews and Muslims, who practice male circumcision as a matter of religious tradition, the San Francisco proposal would overstep the authority of municipalities. States and to some extent the federal government regulate medical practices, not cities or counties. On Friday, a local congressman introduced legislation to emphasize that point by prohibiting states from banning circumcision. A state legislator is preparing a similar measure, prohibiting municipalities from enacting such bans, to be introduced over the summer. We hope that both win quick approval.

If cities are allowed to determine which medical procedures are acceptable and which ones aren't, doctors, hospitals and patients will be subject to a ridiculous patchwork of here-you-can, here-you-can't rules. Against the Lap-Band for minors? We are too, but that decision is up to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which is considering the question, not local obesity activists.

The forthcoming bill by Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Silver Lake) is expected to invoke the state's regulatory powers over medical matters. Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) said his bill aims to protect the 1st Amendment rights of Jewish and Muslim families.

Opponents of circumcision have said it's less about winning at the ballot box now than kindling public awareness of what has been considered a fringe cause. They have every right to attempt to sway Americans' opinion on the issue, but the municipal ballot box is not the right public relations venue.

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