German court rules that male circumcision constitutes ‘bodily harm’

28 June, 2012

A court in Germany has ruled that the circumcision of young boys for non-medical reasons constitutes bodily harm.  The court decided that a child’s right to physical integrity should override religious considerations and the rights of the child’s parents.  The case involved a doctor in Cologne who carried out a circumcision on a four year-old boy which led to medical complications.  The doctor was acquitted of a charge of grievous bodily harm, but the court decided to rule against the right of parents to impose the procedure on young boys.  The British Humanist Association (BHA) welcomes the court’s decision, and would also like a debate on the outlawing of non-therapeutic infant circumcision in the UK.

The boy was circumcised by the doctor according to the wishes of his parents.  Several days after the procedure, he started to bleed heavily and had to be taken to hospital.  Prosecutors then charged the doctor with grievous bodily harm, but he was acquitted by a lower court on the grounds that he had acted within the law, because the boy’s parents had given their consent.  On appeal, the doctor was acquitted again, but this time on the grounds that there was too much confusion over the legal situation surrounding male circumcision.  In order to clear up this confusion, the court decided to rule against the right of parents to impose the procedure on young boys, if it is not carried out for medical reasons.  The court decided that the ‘fundamental right of the child to bodily integrity outweighed the fundamental rights of the parents’.

Pavan Dhaliwal, BHA Head of Public Affairs, commented that ‘It is wrong to carry out genital surgery on a child when the procedure has no medical justification, carries a risk of harm, is irreversible, and when the child is not in a position to give their consent.  Female genital mutilation is already illegal in this country, and there also needs to be legislation to outlaw the circumcision of male children, when it is not carried out for medical reasons.  This would not constitute an attack on religious freedom, because boys would still be allowed to be circumcised when they reach an age to consent, should they choose to undergo the procedure out of a believe that their covenant with god required it.  But infants are too young to give their consent, and their right to bodily integrity must take precedence over the religious beliefs of their parents.’


For further comment or information contact Pavan Dhaliwal, Head of Public Affairs at or on 0773 843 5059.

Media coverage of the court’s decision:

The law against female genital mutilation:


The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of ethically concerned, non-religious people in the UK. It is the largest organisation in the UK campaigning for an end to religious privilege and to discrimination based on religion or belief, and for a secular state.