Ethics

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Law and ethics of male circumcision

Circumcising male babies and children at a parent's request is an increasingly controversial area and there are strongly opposing views about circumcision in society and within the BMA membership. Medical evidence about its health impact is equivocal.

Our guidance outlines good practice and safeguards for doctors to follow in the circumcision of male babies and children.

 

Aim of the guidelines

One of the BMA’s roles is to issue guidance to doctors on ethical and medico-legal issues. Accordingly, this guidance addresses the queries medical practitioners raise with the BMA about both therapeutic and non-therapeutic1 male circumcision. The two procedures raise different issues. It does not cover circumcision carried out by non-medical practitioners, but we note that there may be no requirement in law for these practitioners to have proven expertise. Nor does the guidance address female genital mutilation, that is sometimes referred to as female circumcision.

As with any aspect of medical practice, doctors must use their skills in a way that promotes their patients’ interests. They must act within the boundaries of the law and their own conscience, and weigh the benefits and harms of circumcision for the particular child. This guidance outlines good practice and safeguards which the BMA believes doctors should follow in the circumcision of male babies and children.

The General Medical Council has also issued advice on circumcision, and advocates similar safeguards to those suggested here.

 

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The law and ethics of male circumcision (PDF)