Bill Banning Circumcision in Iceland Alarms Religious Groups

Ms. Gunnarsdottir insisted that the bill was not “against religion.” She and her colleagues chose to focus on circumcision, she said, because the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states that children who are capable of forming their own views have the right to “express those views freely.”It also says that countries should ban practices prejudicial to the health of children, she said.

“In my opinion, we should never ever violate the human right of a child or cause a child an unnecessary harm, doesn’t matter what the intentions are,” Ms. Gunnarsdottir said.

But organizations representing Muslims and Jews, which practice male circumcision as a matter of religious tradition, are questioning the lawmakers’ motives. The Roman Catholic Church in the European Union has also objected that the legislation is an attack on religious freedom. Most Icelanders who profess a religious faith identify themselves as Lutherans.

Bill Banning Circumcision in Iceland Alarms Religious Groups
Bill Banning Circumcision in Iceland Alarms Religious Groups

The bill is perceived as an anti-immigration issue directed against Muslims, Rabbi Goldschmidt said, and “we the Jews are the collateral damage.”

It is “basically saying that Jews are not anymore welcome in Iceland,” he said.

At least 400 doctors — about a quarter of the practicing doctors in Iceland — have signed a petition in support of the bill and, according to news reports, more than 1,000 nurses and midwives have also endorsed it.

“Every medical intervention must be weighed against its complications,” said Dr. Eyjolfur Thorkelsson, who wrote the petition. “In our opinion it’s a fundamental question about what the doctor-patient relationship really means. As a doctor you must treat everybody equally, regardless of class, religion, gender, gender preference or ethnic descent.”

Part of that, he added, is the first rule of medicine: Do no harm.

Circumcision is a surgical procedure, he said, and surgical procedures are never without risk.

“You have to weigh the costs,” he said.

Kjartan Njalsson, an editor at the Icelandic news organization Frettabladid who wrote an editorial opposing the bill, said that while he didn’t agree with circumcision, the idea of throwing people in prison was “barbaric” and “completely absurd.”

“I have no confidence that this bill will be passed the way it looks right now,” he said.

If a version of the bill does pass, Iceland will become the first European country to ban male circumcision.

And activists in Denmark are hoping to follow suit.

As of Wednesday, the organization Intact Denmark had gathered nearly half of the required 50,000 signatures to create a bill that would ban medically unnecessary male circumcision before the age of 18.

In Iceland, there are about 250 Jewish citizens and about 2,000 Muslims, religious leaders said.

By contrast, there are hundreds of thousands of Muslims in Denmark, according to the Danish government, and more than 20 recognized Islamic communities.

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The push to curb circumcision has been brewing in parts of Europe for several years. In 2012, a regional court in Germany started an uproar after ruling that circumcising young boys represents grievous bodily harm in a case that centered on a 4-year-old who had complications from the procedure. (Later that year German lawmakers passed legislation ensuring the right to circumcision.)

In 2013, representatives from Finland, Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Greenland released a joint resolution urging their governments to ban circumcision in young boys when there is no medical reason for it.

And more recently, the Danish Medical Association issued a recommendation in 2016 that no boy under the age of 18 should be circumcised and cited a poll indicating that as many as 87 percent of Danes agree.

Circumcision is rare in Iceland, as in much of Europe. It is difficult to find a doctor who is willing to perform one for religious reasons, said Imam Seddeeq, forcing Muslims to travel out of Iceland to uphold the tradition.

In the United States, the latest numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show circumcision is on the decline, from about 64 percent of boys born in hospital settings in 1979 to 58 percent in 2010.

A study published in 2014 in JAMA Pediatrics, an American Medical Association journal, approximated that there were still 1.4 million circumcisions a year in medical settings.

The American Academy of Pediatrics said in a 2012 statement that the health benefits of circumcision outweighed the risks, but stopped short of recommending that the procedure be performed routinely. It was promptly criticized by a group of European doctors, who said the organization’s recommendation was influenced by cultural bias.

Dr. Douglas Diekema, a pediatrician who helped draft the American academy’s policy, said the data was clear. “You don’t know that the individual child getting the circumcision will be the one that benefits, but some of those kids will,” he said.

Clinical trials conducted in Africa have demonstrated that adult circumcision can play a role in preventing H.I.V., genital herpes and certain strains of human papilloma virus, or H.P.V., the C.D.C. reported.

Circumcision can also help prevent urinary tract infections in infants, Dr. Diekema said, avoiding hospitalizations and the use of intravenous antibiotics.

“It’s a big deal in a newborn,” he added.

The most common problems arising from circumcision are bleeding and infection, he said, but serious complications are “exceedingly rare.”

The JAMA Pediatrics study found few adverse events if the procedure was performed during the first year of life — that number increased tenfold to twentyfold when circumcision was performed after infancy.

Circumcisions not performed in a medical setting, however, have raised concerns in the United States. New York City has tried to regulate a method of circumcision performed by the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community that has infected infants with herpes and caused deaths. The rule was challenged in court by Orthodox leaders and has seldom been followed.

The Icelandic Medical Association has yet to weigh in on the current bill. That will not happen until after the bill is debated by Parliament.

What the politicians should work on, Imam Seddeeq said, is how to make society “stronger and more cohesive” rather than making people feel that they are “not welcome.”

A version of this article appears in print on March 1, 2018, on Page A6 of the New York edition with the headline: Iceland Considers a Circumcision Ban, Alarming Religious Groups. Order Reprints|Today’s Paper|Subscribe

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