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Germany votes to keep circumcision legal

December 12, 2012|By Renuka Rayasam
  • An infant boy is surrounded by rabbis and relatives at a Jewish ritual circumcision ceremony in Berlin in October.
An infant boy is surrounded by rabbis and relatives at a Jewish ritual circumcision… (Markus Schreiber / Associated…)

BERLIN -- After months of controversy, lawmakers overwhelmingly approved legislation Wednesday to guarantee that male circumcision remains legal in Germany, assuaging Jews and Muslims who feared the practice would be banned.

The legislation makes it clear that parents have the right to circumcise their newborn sons if the practice follows medical rules and is carried out by a trained practitioner. Once the boy reaches the age of six months, only a doctor can perform the circumcision.

After a two-hour debate, 434 members of the Bundestag, Germany's lower house of parliament, voted in favor of the proposal put forth by German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

One hundred representatives voted against it and 46 abstained. Those who opposed the legislation had put forward an alternative, which was defeated, to restrict circumcision to males of at least age 14 who had given their informed consent. Another unsuccessful proposal would have allowed only doctors to perform the procedure, regardless of the subject's age.

The new legislation accommodates Jews who insist that the ritual must be carried out by a specially designated person known as a mohel. The Central Council of Jews in Germany said it would start a training program to ensure that mohels receive proper medical training.

The legality of circumcision in Germany was thrown into question in May after a district court in the western German city of Cologne ruled that the circumcision of a young Muslim boy amounted to bodily harm and was illegal. Jews and Muslims, for whom the practice is a key element of the faith, erupted in protest, and the central government quickly vowed to pass legislation to guarantee its legality nationwide. The months of debate that ensued centered on balancing medical concerns with religious freedom.

Until the legal question was settled, medical groups advised doctors to avoid performing circumcisions. Many Jewish and Muslim religious leaders said publicly that they felt threatened by the Cologne ruling and wondered whether they remained welcome in Germany.

The upper house of parliament passed the draft law last month.

The measure should ensure that what has always been possible for Muslims and Jews in Germany will continue to be possible, Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger told German radio Wednesday.

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