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.”