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Neonatal male genital mutilation should be made illegal in developed nations

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 10/21/2012 Category: Health
Updated: 5 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 1,490 times Debate No: 26289
Debate Rounds (5)
Comments (7)
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I am repeating this debate. If you would like to accept, leave a comment. I was dissatisfied with the debate last time, partially because my opponent forfeited a round and partially because, after a week, the vote was tied zero-zero. Nothing has changed this time (other than the voting period being extended to two weeks), so the debate will still be a five-round debate with 72 hours and 8000 characters per argument.

As I have the burden of proof, my opponent may wish to simply accept during Round One, but I encourage him/her to at least provide a summary of the points that they will be arguing and some important definitions, if necessary.

Basic points that I will be arguing, in order of gravity:

1. That neonatal male genital mutilation permanently removes healthy, functional tissue without consent, and it should therefore be made illegal.

2. That neonatal male genital mutilation reduces sexual pleasure in later years.

3. That neonatal male genital mutilation is a gender rights issue.

4. (smaller point) That neonatal male genital mutilation causes extreme pain to the victim.

5. (smaller point) That neonatal male genital mutilation can cause numerous complications.

Unless stated to the contrary, the following terms mean as defined here:

1. Neonatal male genital mutilation (MGM): The removal, shortly after birth, of the male foreskin.

2. Neonatal female genital mutilation (FGM): The removal, shortly after birth, of the female clitoris and clitoral hood.

To be clear, my position is that both male and female genital mutilaiton should be illegal until the age of 18 in developed nations for any reason other than medical necessity. My opponent will argue that MGM should remain legal to be performed shortly after birth for any reason (Medical, health, aesthetic, religious).

Comment if you wish to accept.


Thank you for the invitation, Spotchman. I am glad you extended the invitation and I will do my best to argue for the side of con in this debate.

Let me begin by making sure I properly understand what is under discussion. The proposition under debate is:

"Neonatal male genital mutilation should be made illegal in developed nations"

I suppose a term like "circumcision" would have been less loaded then "mutilation", but I don't think this will be much of a detriment to my argument. I think the abbreviation to MGM is appropriate, so I will use it as well.

I. A Note on What Needs to be Shown by PRO

Two things are currently true in developed nations: MGM is legal, and MGM is being practiced. PRO will need to establish that MGM should be made illegal in developed nations. I suppose this entails that MGM should not be practiced in developed nations either. If PRO does not wish to be committed to this claim, I would expect an argument to establish why not.
I on the other hand may hold the position that MGM should be legal, even though it should not be practiced. There are many things that we consider to be ethically wrong, or that should not be practiced, yet we do not have laws against them, or have actually repealed laws against them. For example, we generally agree that lying, adultery, and insulting someone else should not be done in developed nations. However for a variety of reasons we do not think that these should be made illegal in all circumstances. I am not saying that I am indeed committed to the position that MGM should not be practiced but legal. I am merely pointing it out because pro will have to show not only that MGM should not be practiced, but that above and beyond, it should be made illegal.

Additionally, I want to note that FGM is currently both illegal and not practiced in developed nations. By introducing both abbreviations, I suspect that PRO will be making an argument based on an analogy between the two. In a somewhat preemptive fashion, I would like to point out that this difference might be significant to an argument involving MGM and FGM.

II. A Question about the Scope of the Debate

Furthermore, I take it to be the case that "developed nations" are only those which have some form of democratic governance. I also take it to be the case that democracies out to generally enact laws in agreement with the view of the majority of the people. This leaves open one important question concerning the content of this debate:

Is PRO arguing that MGM should be made illegal by virtue of convincing the majority of people in developed nations, but that the law should not be enacted until a clear majority consensus has been reached?


Is PRO arguing that MGM should be made illegal regardless of the majority view of people in developed nations, and that the law should be enacted with disregard to the majority view?

I find myself in a similar position. Am I expected to argue that a majority of people should be against a ban on MGM, but that we should pass laws in accord with the majority, or that an MGM ban should be illegal, regardless of what the majority of the people believe?

Since I accepted the challenge, I do feel committed to argue for either claim, but I would appreciate some clarification from PRO. I would, however, reject the terms of the debate if PRO is allowed to maintain that a ban should be enacted only if a majority is for it, but that CON must argue against a ban even in the face of the majority of the population.

Please also note that, should we only be arguing for a view of letting the majority pass the law, this does not automatically end the debate or reduce it to a citing of surveys in various countries. The focus would then shift to arguing about what laws people in a democracy ought to want to enact. However, the arguments in this debate do shift somewhat depending on whether we are talking about legislating above people's heads or about convincing the majority.

III. A Note about Ethics and Policy

In the 5 points introduced by Pro, several ethical terms were introduced: Consent, pleasure, rights, pain, and some other related concepts. I do not believe that these terms trivially imply anything about policy. Rather, PRO will need to establish, or at least state, how and why these concepts have important implications for what the laws and policies should be. I am picking up on arguments making use of Kantian (or deontic) ethics, utilitarian/consequentialist considerations, and even some contractarian notions [1]. These three ethical systems are usually taken to be mutually exclusive, and they have a distinctly different understanding of what makes an action right or wrong, or what constitutes a harm, and what the resultant laws should be. It would be important for PRO to establish if his argument is supposed to be
a) disjunctive - showing that there is a number of ethical systems acceptable for policy making in "developed nation," and under any of these systems MGM should be illegal, or
b) based on one of the ethical theories. In this case, PRO would have to first establish that one of these theories is indeed the one and only view which should be used to generate laws in developed nations, and that under this view MGM should be made illegal

What I do not take to be a legitimate move is to create an amalgamation of arguments from various theories without properly distinguishing between them. Although I suppose I must establish this by specifically showing how the various claims would undercut each other based on the underlying assumption, and then additionally provide considerations why some could be defeated on their own. I merely wish to point this out in anticipation of the argument on behalf of PRO.

Here is the bottom line I want to get to: I do not think this argument should be predominantly about whether 1-5 are true. This argument should predominantly be about whether 1-5 are sufficient for passing a law against MGM. (I take this to exclude the 'and should therefore be made illegal' in 1. That is of course what is under discussion)

IV. Definitions and some Granted Premises

In other words, I am already granting that

1*. Neonatal male genital mutilation permanently removes healthy, functional tissue without consent

I agree to the totality of this statement as I take any removal of non-healthy non-functional tissue to be something that is not included in the definition of MGM. Actually, in order for this to work, I'd like to propose the following changes to the definition of MGM:

Neonatal male genital mutilation (MGM): The removal, shortly after birth, of the healthy, functional male foreskin.

Neonatal female genital mutilation (FGM): The removal, shortly after birth, of the healthy, functional female clitoris and clitoral hood.

Now 1* is almost true by definition, except for the caveat about consent.

2*. That neonatal male genital mutilation can reduce sexual pleasure in later years.

(I don't in fact know whether 2 is true, but I don't care to get involved in the details, except that the degree of reduced pleasure might be important later on. Also, note that I am only granting 2*. It seems hard to establish that MGM does in fact reduce sexual pleasure for everyone. In fact, this is necessarily false, as there may well be men that live entirely asexual celibate lives, in which case there would of course be no difference, even if their entire penis had been removed.)

5. That neonatal male genital mutilation can cause numerous complications.

(Again, the only interesting question here is one of prevalence and severity. But the fact that it can cause this, as any medical procedure seems trivially true)

V. Let's Roll

I'm out of characters ;). Depending on where PRO will place the emphasis, my opening statement will establish a more definitive position

Debate Round No. 1


Although I did not expect Con to use all 8000 characters in Round One, I appreciate his enthusiasm.

I do not argue that MGM should be made illegal in spite of a majority, nor do I expect Con to argue that it should be kept legal in spite of a majority. This debate should be over whether or not MGM should be made legal by virtue of convincing the majority.

Con's proposal to the definition change of MGM and FGM are interesting. They imply that GM is only GM if the foreskin or clitoris and clitoral hood are healthy and functioning. However, amputation is not always necessary to cure a problem with the female or male genitals. MGM is often perscribed for phimosis, for example, but that is almost always unnecessary [1]. The only reasons for which amputation of the foreskin is medically necessary are frostbite (which can be avoided), cancer (which is rare), and extreme infection (such as balantitis xerotica obliterans and other rare infections). For this reason, I reject Con's definition proposal, but maintain that my position is that MGM and FGM should be illegal in developed nations for all people under the age of 18 for all reasons other than medical NECESSITY. In other words, the fact that MGM would be an effective cure for a patient's condition does not necessarily mean that MGM should be performed on the patient.

I concede that MGM does not necessarily reduce sexual pleasure later on. After all, it is possible that a MGM victim may die before reaching sexual maturity, and it is possible that the victim may never have sex during his life. I would like to expand this contention to "That MGM can reduce sexual pleasure and masturbatory pleasure and ease". A study [2] has been performed that suggest that sexual pleasure, masturbatory pleasure, and masturbatory ease decrease after MGM. It is difficult to determine the degree by which these factors change because of the obvious lack of a way to measure sexual pleasure.

I agree with Con that the fact that MGM CAN cause complications is not very relevant. The contention should state "That MGM has a high risk of causing complications". Here is a webpage [3] that shows the prevalence of complications in MGM victims, with some studies showing complication rates as high as 10%. More severe complications are rarer, but why subject someone to any degree of risk when the procedure is unnecessary?

Parents have a lot of say in decisions made about their children. Genital mutilation should not be one of them. After all, it permanently removes healthy, functional tissue without consent. Any procedure that permanently removes healthy, functional tissue without consent should have a good reason behind it, which MGM and FGM do not.

MGM is a gender rights issue. Part of the reason I use the term "Genital mutilation" to describe it is that that is the term that is commonly used to describe FGM. FGM used to be reffered to as "Female circumcision" or "Female genital cutting". Now, people use the word "Mutilation" to describe it because that's what it is. MGM is very similar to FGM in many regards, but I am mostly going to focus on showing that they are equivalent as human rights issues: Both reduce sexual pleasure WITHOUT sacrificing the victim's ability to orgasm [4], and both obviously permanently remove healthy, functional tissue without consent.

To add to the "Functioning" part of my first contention, I would like to point out that the foreskin plays a number of important roles, the most obvious being protecting the glans from abrasions and keratinization, a process that turns the surface of the glans thick and leathery, reducing sexual pleasure. Keratinization happens to virtually all mutilated men to some degree, but is very rare in intact men. The foreskin lubricates the glans, providing an important function during intercourse. It is often said that the foreskin has 20,000 nerve endings, but I cannot find an actual study as to how many there are, but there are at least quite a few.

In conclusion, MGM permanently removes healthy, functional tissue without consent. The victim is harmed by the procedure, experiencing less sensitivity, sexual pleasure, masturbatory pleasure, and masturbatory ease later on.



Wow, not much time left. Well, here goes my best shot at an opening statement.

First, my thanks to PRO for clarifying that what is under debate is convincing the majority in developed nations. Thus, I will argue that MGM is not something the the majority of people in developed nations should vote to outlaw.

I. Who Determines Harm?

My first point is about the question who determines what constitutes a harm in a developed nation. The reason this point is important is because from the viewpoint of religions that practice circumcision, not to circumcise a male child would constitute a harm to the child.

In Judaism:
"circumcision is an outward physical sign of the eternal covenant between G-d and the Jewish people. It is also a sign that the Jewish people will be perpetuated through the circumcised man." [1]

In Islam:
"In the Sunnah, Muhammad stated that circumcision was a 'law for men'",
"The main reason given for the ritual is cleanliness. It is essential that every Muslim washes before praying. It is important that no urine is left on the body. Muslims believe the removal of the foreskin makes it easier to keep the penis clean because urine can't get trapped there."
in addition:
"For the majority of Muslims, circumcision is seen as an introduction to the Islamic faith and a sign of belonging." [2]

In other words, circumcision is an essential aspect to at least two major religions that are currently being practiced by many people in developed nations. According to those religions, it would be a religious harm to boys not to be circumcised (i.e. it would be a violation of God's will). Boys who are not circumcised might consider themselves to be sinning against their god, or not be full members of their religious community.

The reason this is important is because PRO has mentioned some harms, almost exclusively harms to sexual pleasure. But to elevate loss of sexual pleasure as a greater harm than being in violation of God's command (from the perspective of a given individual) seems like an illegitimate elevation of some harms over others.

One of the important pillars of modern developed nations has been a freedom of conscience in religious questions. This means that the state or government does not legislate so as to elevate one religious viewpoint over another. An important aspect of religious views is what constitutes harm, and to fix by legislation that sexual pleasure trumps religious observance is overreaching the worldview neutrality that a democratic government is supposed to have.

If there is some ultimate trumping view of harm that should dominate in a democracy than I think PRO needs to a) provide an account of this and b) give an argument why this is the right account.

II. Religious Liberty

This point is similar to the first. For many years Islam and Judaism have been practiced in developed nations. As a matter of fact, whenever some religions became persecuted by the state, this has lead to great violence in the 20th century. However, at times, new religions have begun to take hold in developed nations, but these religions violated some of the fundamental values of the people already living in the country, and have as a result been greatly limited in their liberties. For example, Scientology is on a federal cult watch list in Germany, due to its subversive nature,
"On December 7, 2007, German federal and state interior ministers expressed the opinion that the Scientology organization was continuing to pursue anti-constitutional goals, restricting "essential basic and human rights like the dignity of man or the right to equal treatment", and asked Germany's domestic intelligence agencies to collect and evaluate the information required for a possible judicial inquiry aimed at banning the organization." [3]

Another example is the state of Utah, which was not allowed to join the United States until Mormonism had renounced its stance on polygamy. [4]

I suspect that if a religion which endorsed FGM began to be practiced in a developed nation, it would and should find similar resistance. However, Islam and Judaism have for a long time been allowed to practice their tenants and commitments in developed nation. People of these religions settled in these countries under the understanding that they were guaranteed their religious freedom to practice their beliefs.

A ban on MGM would constitute a government label on these religions saying: "This religion is a false religion." Here is why: According to these religions, God commanded them to circumcise. Presumably, everything that God commands is good. So if the government bans the practice, then this amounts to saying "Either God is bad, or your religion is false in its reporting of God's commands." This would clearly constitute a kind of dis-establishment of religion. And this, as much as anything else, is a violation of religious liberty.

I want to emphasize here that there is a difference between not allowing a religion in to a country in the first place, because it fundamentally clashes with the values of that society, and deciding to declare a religion false after it has already been established and practiced there, and many citizens of the country have understood themselves as being free to practice their religion.

III What are Legitimate Reasons to Change the Law?

Finally, I want to re-iterate something I brought up in the 'acceptance and definition' part. We can talk about the medical benefits and sexual detriment of MGM all day long, but to jump from there to "we should ban it" is nothing but a non-sequitur. We need some principled understanding of what things should be banned and legislated, and what things should not be. I would like to emphasize the the burden of proof here lies with PRO. I am merely defending the legal status quo, so I do not need to give criteria or considerations for what it takes to change the law. PRO on the other hand is arguing for a change, so PRO will need to establish why the interesting medical considerations about MGM are in any way relevant to what should be the laws in a developed nation.

Unless PRO can establish that his list of medical claims have important implications for changing the law, he cannot win this debate.

I had hoped that PRO would have listed some of these considerations in the opening statement, so that I could have replied to it sooner. Just to motivate this point further, let me give some examples of what principles are obviously bad principles for changing the law:

A. If it does harm, then it should be illegal
- Marital infidelity, lying, and being rude at the grocery store all does harm, yet we are not having laws against these things
B. If the majority of the people thinks it is wrong, then it should be illegal
- The majority of the people think that Secular Humanism, Islam, Judaism, Catholicism, Presbyterianism, Methodism, and Baptists are wrong. But we obviously can't outlaw every worldview.

PRO can't appeal to A or B to link his medical considerations to legality. What is the alternate principle at work here?

IV Conclusion

Thus, PRO owes us an account of harm, an account of the limits of religious liberty, and an account of when to change the law.

This is it for my opening statement. I will of course have an opportunity to rebut PRO's opening statement in the third round, but I thought this was the place to establish the case for keeping MGM legal for 'any' reason. I think my defense mainly applies to religious reasons, so if I cannot establish that it should stay legal for medical or aesthetic reasons, I still defended CON in the way intended in the debate announcement.

I am out of characters once again, so I hope to get into more interesting discussion in the following rounds.

Debate Round No. 2


I thank Con for a great argument against outlawing MGM for religious reasons. If Con wishes, he may base most of his arguments on religion; however, I would like to see at least a few points in later rounds for keeping MGM legal for people who mutilate for non-religious purposes.

Con began with one of the most elaborate strawmen I've ever seen, albeit probably accidentally. Con thinks that I argue that MGM should be outlawed because it is harmful.

I do not argue that, for Muslim or Jewish men, sexual pleasure, protection from keratinization, taking away risk of complication, masturbatory pleasure, and masturbatory ease are more important than God's command. In fact, I know Muslim and Jewish men for whom God's command is more important than almost anything. For men and women such as these, who wish to show devotion to their God in the form of genital cutting, I wish to protect their right to get circumcised when they are over the age of 18. Until then, however, it is not a parent's right to permanently mutilate a person.

I do not argue that things that do harm should be illegal. I argue that things that do permanent harm without consent, where the harm being done is at the level of the harm done by MGM, should be illegal.

So, the question should not be of whether or not the harm that MGM does is sufficient to make it illegal, but of whether or not the harm done by keeping intact all of the boys in a particular religion for only the first eighteen years of their lives outweighs the harm done by mutilating all of the boys who are born to Muslim or Jewish parents who decide that they do not align completely with their parents' religion, or, for any other reason, feel that the degree of sexual pleasure, masturbatory pleasure and/or masturbatory ease that MGM destroys, or the protection from keratinization and abrasions that the foreskin offers, outweigh the command of their parents' God, as well as the harm done to all of the men who suffer from complications due to MGM. All the harm done by the boys practicing all but one part of their religion instead of every part of their religion, moreover, will only be experienced during their first eighteen years, whereas the harm done by MGM is experienced for the entire lifetime of those who later decide that they are not part of that religion. Why should it be presumed that the child will want to be mutilated?

In addition, Con must either take the position that all of the legislation regarding FGM that has been made in developed nations [1] was unwarranted and that FGM should remain legal in any developed nations where it has not yet been outlawed, or explain why all of his arguments about why religious liberty justifies the continued legality of MGM do not apply to FGM (Remember, our definition of FGM refers to type 1 FGM, which involves only the removal of the clitoris and clitoral hood), including the argument explaining why the harm done to boys of a certain religion by keeping them intact for the first eighteen years of their life is greater than the harm done by mutilating them at birth, as many Muslims believe that FGM is important in Islam [2].

Some people believe that people should be able to do whatever they want as long as it is their religion. Others believe that religion should be abolished completely. I argue that religion should have no consideration in our lawmaking. If someone is doing something immoral, it shouldn't matter that they think their God wants them to. After all, someone can claim that they are part of a religion that requires them to do horrible things, such as cut of parts of their daughters' genitals (Islam), let their children die if they have a condition that requires them to get a blood transfusion (Jehovah's Witnesses), or require that all the meat they eat be slaughtered in a cruel way that involves slicing the animal's throat and bleeding it to death (Judaism).

Con argues that arguments from religious freedom should hold more weight when the religion has already been established and is practiced by people who settled in countries with the understanding that they would be free to practice their religion. But why should the fact that it is their religion affect this? That is to say, why does this argument apply specifically to religious issues? After all, doesn't making anything illegal disrupt the lives of people who had settled in the country with the understanding that they would be able to practice the thing being made illegal freely?

To conclude, in his next argument, Con needs to explain a few things. One of them is why it should be presumed that boys whose parents belong to a particular religion are going to remain that religion for the rest of their lives and why the same should not be presumed for girls, or why the harm caused by leaving boys intact until they turn 18 is greater than the harm caused by mutilating those who later do not wish to be mutilated and why this harm is lesser for girls. Con must also explain either why making something illegal that has been practiced in the name of religion should disturb people any more than making something illegal that has been practiced for any other reason and why this does not apply to female genital mutilation, letting children die when their lives could be saved by a blood transfusion, or ritual slaughtering involving animal cruelty, or why people should be allowed more freedom to do inhumane things when it is their religion to do so and why this does not apply to female genital mutilation, letting children die when their lives could be saved by a blood transfusion, or ritual slaughtering involving animal cruelty.

I rushed to post this a day early because I anticipate losing power in the next few hours, and I apologize in advance for any problems that stem from this. I look forward to seeing Con's argument.



magikkell forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 3


Since Con has not been online for five days and has forfeited a round in the other debate he is conducting, I assume his forfeit in Round Three was due to extenuating circumstances. He is welcome to continue the debate when he can.


magikkell forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 4


Spotchman forfeited this round.


magikkell forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 5
7 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 7 records.
Posted by Spotchman 5 years ago
Challenging Magikkell to the debate.
Posted by RationalMadman 5 years ago
Posted by Spotchman 5 years ago
Magikkell, the main reason I made it impossible to accept is to make sure I get a good debate, but you haven't really done any debates so far, so I have nothing to judge you on.

TheHunter, Why doesn't the consent argument hold water? To consent, a being must be conscious, well-informed, and positive in their stance. Infants are not well-informed and are unable to communicate their stance. Are you arguing that consent doesn't matter?
Posted by magikkell 5 years ago
I'd debate this, but it is not letting me accept because of age/rank criteria
Posted by TheHunter 5 years ago
The consent element within your first contention won't hold much water. You should modify it to mean that it's healthy functioning tissue that, if removed, gives no true advantage. Link it to cropping the ears of a dog. I have been saying circumcision should be illegal for years now, I'll be interested in seeing how you uphold the resolution.
Posted by Marauder 5 years ago
for a moment, I thought this was over neutering pedophiles and sex-offenders, but then I finished reading and saw your debating against circumcision.
Posted by yuiru 5 years ago
Newborns aren't people, so it's the parents choice.
No votes have been placed for this debate.