oa South African Journal of Bioethics and Law - Neonatal circumcision - violation of children's rights or public health necessity?



There is a growing body of scientific evidence that medical male circumcision substantially reduces the risk of contracting HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. The procedure has been hailed as offering partial protection against HIV infection for men during sexual intercourse, raising the hope that widespread male circumcision could significantly reduce the incidence of HIV transmission in South Africa. The literature also suggests that this procedure may prevent transmission of the human papillomavirus to women. Neonatal circumcision, which is considered to carry the lowest risk, is viewed as a vital component of the goal of realising generalised circumcision in the population.

This paper investigates the ethical, legal and public health considerations underlying an HIV prevention strategy that includes neonatal circumcision. It reviews the impact of the practice on the rights of children to bodily integrity, and explores whether proxy consent by a parent or guardian on behalf of a child is appropriate and justifiable on grounds of parental preference, religion, culture or public health policy. This is a complex debate and transcends routine classifications when exploring ethical dilemmas. The article concludes that the rights of neonates to bodily integrity should not be tampered with lightly, and that only a severe public health hazard such as the HIV / AIDS pandemic may justify incursion into this constitutionally protected right.


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