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IOTM – Holm Putzke

AUGUST 2012: Last month, a German court made headlines around the world when it ruled that non-medical infant circumcision constituted grievous bodily harm. A hospital in Berlin immediately stopped performing circumcisions, and in the following weeks, several Swiss and Austrian hospitals followed suit. The intactivist movement owes a huge debt of gratitude to the man whose research, courage, and outspokenness led directly to the German court’s decision: Holm Putzke, a criminal law professor at the University of Passau.

Professor Putzke’s role in the decision came to light soon after the news broke. When The New York Times hosted an online debate, it featured voices from both sides of the controversy, including a contribution from Putzke as well as from previous Intactivist of the Month John Geisheker. Putzke’s opinion is simple and straightforward: “Medically unnecessary operations should be delayed until a patient is capable of deciding for himself. That’s basic ethics.”

Putzke’s groundbreaking 2008 article Circumcision for boys unable to give consent: Criminal penalties also for religious reasons set the stage for Germany’s legal view of infant circumcision (English translation via Google). In the article, he stated, “There are no compelling arguments which can justify a religious circumcision of minors. Without effective consent, the assault is illegal. A physician should refuse to perform a circumcision if it is not medically indicated. Otherwise there is a danger that he is guilty of assault under Paragraph 223 of the Criminal Code.”

Four years later, in an interview with Bavarian Radio Network in June 2012, Putzke spoke favorably of the German court’s decision: “The court came to its conclusion, after an intensive analysis of the jurisprudential debate, that religious freedom ends where physical safety of children is irreparably impacted, in this case due to unnecessary and risky surgical procedures. It should be self-evident that we simply don’t allow this in a society that emphasizes the protection of children from forceful or violent acts.”

In the wake of Germany’s controversial ruling, Putzke has been forced into the media spotlight, receiving threats of drowning and forcible circumcision. But he’s not troubled: “Insults and threats don’t bother me really, if for no other reason than some people are simply hiding behind them when they can’t express their displeasure any differently.” His hope is that the ruling in Germany “could send a signal and – more importantly – finally lead to a long-overdue public discussion.”

And that’s precisely what happened. Within just three weeks of the ruling, several hospitals in Berlin, Switzerland, and Austria stopped performing non-medical and religious circumcisions on infant boys. Says Georganne Chapin, Executive Director of Intact America, “Due to the clear thinking, cogent analysis, and courage of this man, countless boys will begin their lives in peace, rather than agony, and will grow up able to enjoy the full functions and pleasures of the body that nature gave them. Thank you, Holm Putzke.”

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Marilyn Fayre Milos, multiple award winner for her humanitarian work to end routine infant circumcision in the United States and advocating for the rights of infants and children to genital autonomy, has written a warm and compelling memoir of her path to becoming “the founding mother of the intactivist movement.” Needing to support her family as a single mother in the early sixties, Milos taught banjo—having learned to play from Jerry Garcia (later of The Grateful Dead)—and worked as an assistant to comedian and social critic Lenny Bruce, typing out the content of his shows and transcribing court proceedings of his trials for obscenity. After Lenny’s death, she found her voice as an activist as part of the counterculture revolution, living in Haight Ashbury in San Francisco during the 1967 Summer of Love, and honed her organizational skills by creating an alternative education open classroom (still operating) in Marin County. 

After witnessing the pain and trauma of the circumcision of a newborn baby boy when she was a nursing student at Marin College, Milos learned everything she could about why infants were subjected to such brutal surgery. The more she read and discovered, the more convinced she became that circumcision had no medical benefits. As a nurse on the obstetrical unit at Marin General Hospital, she committed to making sure parents understood what circumcision entailed before signing a consent form. Considered an agitator and forced to resign in 1985, she co-founded NOCIRC (National Organization of Circumcision Information Resource Centers) and began organizing international symposia on circumcision, genital autonomy, and human rights. Milos edited and published the proceedings from the above-mentioned symposia and has written numerous articles in her quest to end circumcision and protect children’s bodily integrity. She currently serves on the board of directors of Intact America.


Georganne Chapin is a healthcare expert, attorney, social justice advocate, and founding executive director of Intact America, the nation’s most influential organization opposing the U.S. medical industry’s penchant for surgically altering the genitals of male children (“circumcision”). Under her leadership, Intact America has definitively documented tactics used by U.S. doctors and healthcare facilities to pathologize the male foreskin, pressure parents into circumcising their sons, and forcibly retract the foreskins of intact boys, creating potentially lifelong, iatrogenic harm. 

Chapin holds a BA in Anthropology from Barnard College, and a Master’s degree in Sociomedical Sciences from Columbia University. For 25 years, she served as president and chief executive officer of Hudson Health Plan, a nonprofit Medicaid insurer in New York’s Hudson Valley. Mid-career, she enrolled in an evening law program, where she explored the legal and ethical issues underlying routine male circumcision, a subject that had interested her since witnessing the aftermath of the surgery conducted on her younger brother. She received her Juris Doctor degree from Pace University School of Law in 2003, and was subsequently admitted to the New York Bar. As an adjunct professor, she taught Bioethics and Medicaid and Disability Law at Pace, and Bioethics in Dominican College’s doctoral program for advanced practice nurses.

In 2004, Chapin founded the nonprofit Hudson Center for Health Equity and Quality, a company that designs software and provides consulting services designed to reduce administrative complexities, streamline and integrate data collection and reporting, and enhance access to care for those in need. In 2008, she co-founded Intact America.

Chapin has published many articles and op-ed essays, and has been interviewed on local, national and international television, radio and podcasts about ways the U.S. healthcare system prioritizes profits over people’s basic needs. She cites routine (nontherapeutic) infant circumcision as a prime example of a practice that wastes money and harms boys and the men they will become. This Penis Business: A Memoir is her first book.