Friday, April 27, 2007

Divorced Parents Fight About Circumcising Their 12 Year Old

Via PZ Myers: Divorced parents clash over 12-year-old son's circumcision

A former Medford man who converted to Judaism wants his 12-year-old son to do the same. That requires circumcision -- something the mother adamantly opposes.

The divorced couple has been battling over the issue for three years, including whether the boy wants to undergo the procedure. So far, Oregon courts have squarely sided with the father, who has custody.

That doesn't surprise Kathy T. Graham, associate dean for academic affairs at Willamette University College of Law.

"The primary custodial parent is the one that makes the decisions about religion and education and about matters of child-rearing," Graham said.

Other family law experts agree, but say the courts should at least look into the situation to make sure the surgery is in the best interests of the child.

"You're talking about not just religious instruction or whether you're going to send the child to parochial school or public school," commented Lawrence D. Gorin, a Portland attorney. "This is a matter of permanent change of bodily structure. And it's irreversible."

The mother is running out of legal options.

The Oregon Supreme Court has been briefed, but has not decided whether to take the case.

Mark Johnson, a Portland lawyer commenting on the case, said the court shouldn't let the case be decided based only on the legal papers filed on behalf of the mother and father.

"Frankly, the child should have a lawyer," Johnson said...

The man started studying Judaism in 1999 and eventually converted. He now lives near Olympia . The child initially lived with his mother, but the father later gained custody.

In court papers, the father claims the boy gradually concluded that he also wanted to convert to Judaism and understood that this required circumcision.

The father also claims as the custodial parent he had a constitutional right to raise his son in his religion.

The father made an appointment for a circumcision in 2004.

The mother responded by going to court, saying her son told her that he was afraid to defy his father, but didn't want the procedure.

She asked for a hearing where she could present evidence that the circumcision would be dangerous. She also sought custody of her son.

But Jackson County Circuit Judge Rebecca G. Orf sided with the father.

"I am still of the opinion that the decision of whether or not a child has elective surgery, which this appears to be, is a call that should be made and is reserved to the custodial parent," Orf said in a hearing.


In court papers, the father claims the boy gradually concluded that he also wanted to convert to Judaism and understood that this required circumcision.

"Gradually concluded" indeed. I hope that if the courts don't prevent this, whatever Jewish figure is in charge of the conversion makes sure the boy isn't being unduly coerced. Although what does that even mean with regards to parents and religion? Weren't all of us coerced by our parents?

8 comments:

Orthoprax said...

The kid is 12 years old! At bar mitzvah a converted child is given the option of annuling his conversion, if he so chooses. I say that in any case they should wait until he reaches the age of Halachic majority when an act of conversion becomes Halachically meaningful and let the kid make his own decision.

It would be awfully silly if he had the operation and then decided he didn't want to be Jewish after all.

"Weren't all of us coerced by our parents?"

Yeah, regarding that and everything else about our childhood.

Skcorefil said...

It seems like it would be really scary having part of your privates cut off after you had gotten used to them and all.

Stephen said...

I'll set the circumcision issue to one side, since your final sentence carries the post into another orbit entirely.

If your parents are atheists, does that count as coersion, too? Don't parents have a responsibility to provide values and ethics for their children, and speak to some of the basic questions that every human being must confront?

How would you prevent parents from "coercing" their children in this way?

beepbeepitsme said...

RE: "If your parents are atheists, does that count as coersion, too?"

Only if atheists demand their children to have their tonsils removed because they believe that god lives in the tonsils.

Orthoprax said...

Beep Beep,

Sometimes _not_ doing something for your child can be as bad, or worse, than doing something.

Jewish Atheist said...

Stephen:

If your parents are atheists, does that count as coersion, too? Don't parents have a responsibility to provide values and ethics for their children, and speak to some of the basic questions that every human being must confront?

How would you prevent parents from "coercing" their children in this way?


That was kind of my point. All parenting is coercion, to an extent, so coercion itself isn't necessarily the problem. I think the question of religious indoctrination is something that isn't thought about enough. Parents force their kids to go to prayers, perform rituals, avoid talking to the opposite sex, avoid reading certain books or going to certain schools, etc., etc. Obviously, all parents do this to an extent, but I think we can all agree that the circumcision of an adolescent is a different question entirely than making a reluctant kid learn his Torah portion for a bar mitzvah, even though both fall under the umbrella of "coercion."

Of course there can be atheistic indoctrination as well, although that's more akin to Republican or Democratic indoctrination than forcing a whole bunch of rules and rituals (and surgery!) on a child. With regard to a 12 year old being circumcised, I think that if there is any reasonable question as to the freedom his consent is given under, we must err on the side of not performing irreversible surgery.

ADDeRabbi said...

my parents made me go to school. that sucked.

beepbeepitsme said...

RE: "Sometimes _not_ doing something for your child can be as bad, or worse, than doing something."

This depends on what the "something" is.