A bill in the Massachusetts Senate would ban the centuries-old practice of circumcision on infant boys, much to the dismay of religious leaders in the state.
State Sen. Michael Morrissey filed the bill on behalf of a Massachusetts man named Charles Antonelli, who is an opponent of the procedure. Morrissey's office said the Senator put forth the bill under a right to free petition statute in the state constitution. Morrissey is not planning on taking any action on the bill, and will not comment on it.
But Antonelli is doing plenty of talking. The Massachusetts chapter leader of a national group called the Bill to End Male Genital Mutilation said he was physically damaged by his own circumcision, and doesn't want other men to suffer.
“For some reason society feels fit to make surgical amputations to somebody’s body without their consent,” said Antonelli. “It’s really a personal choice. Most people think this is a harmless snip of useless tissue. It’s by far not."
Antonelli and his supporters claim circumcision is painful and unnecessary, violates a baby's human rights, and decreases sexual sensation when that baby grows up.
The bill would ban the procedure for males under the age of 18, unless it is medically necessary. There is no exemption for religious reasons, which has Jewish and Muslim leaders outraged. Both religions require circumcision.
"It’s a terrible idea,” said Rabbi Ronne Friedman of Temple Israel in Boston, who feels banning circumcision would trample on religious traditions. He doubted the bill would pass. “The only way something like this could go anywhere would be in a country very different than our own,” he said.
The rate of circumcision is dropping in the United States, down to 55% in 2005, compared to 60% in 1998, as parents question whether it is necessary.
The medical community is largely neutral on the issue. There is some evidence out of Africa that circumcision reduces the risk of transmitting STDs, including HIV. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expected to issue recommendations this summer on whether circumcision should be considered part of the strategy against STDs.
The anti-mutilation group tried to get similar bills introduced in 14 other states before Massachusetts signed on. So far, no Massachusetts lawmakers are backing the bill.