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chicagotribune.com >> Breaking news

Judge rules against boy’s circumcision


By Judy Peres
Tribune staff reporter
Published October 24, 2006, 5:27 PM CDT

In a case that has been closely watched by anti-circumcision groups nationwide, a Cook County judge ruled Tuesday that the medical benefits of the procedure are not clear enough to compel a 9-year-old Northbrook boy to be circumcised against his will.

The boy's mother and her new husband had claimed the operation was necessary to prevent recurrent episodes of redness and discomfort. The boy's father sought a court order barring the circumcision, which he called an "unnecessary amputation."

The mother has sole custody, but their 2003 parenting agreement gave her ex-husband a say in non-emergency medical decisions. The Tribune is not naming the parents in order to protect the boy's privacy.

In a written opinion handed down Tuesday, Circuit Court Judge Jordan Kaplan said, "The evidence was conflicting and inconclusive as to any past infections or irritations that may have been suffered by the child.

"Moreover," he continued, "this court also finds that the medical evidence as provided by the testimony of the expert witnesses ... is inconclusive as to the medical benefits or non-benefits of circumcision as it relates to the 9-year-old child."

Kaplan said the boy, as a minor, cannot make his own medical decisions but had indicated in a written statement that he does not want to be circumcised.

"The injury to the child as a result of an unnecessary circumcision would be irreversible," Kaplan wrote, adding that his order would remain in effect until the boy turns 18 and can decide for himself whether or not he wants to undergo the procedure.

Because there are no U.S. precedents, other courts could look to this ruling in future cases, said George Hill of Doctors Opposing Circumcision.

Geoffrey Miller, a law professor at New York University, called the ruling a "significant victory" for the growing "intactivist" movement, which has argued circumcision is harmful and violates the rights of children, who can't give informed consent.

Miller conceded Tuesday's decision was "limited by the facts of the case," including the agreement that gives the father the right to be consulted on medical care. Nevertheless, he said, "The fact that a non-custodial parent was able to prevent a custodial parent from having this procedure done is a sign that courts are more receptive to arguments against circumcision than they were in past years."

The father, a 50-year-old building manager from Arlington Heights, said he was relieved by the decision and "so happy."

His lawyer, Alan Toback, said, "We always thought it was not in the child's best interest to have a circumcision at age 9 that was not medically necessary, and the judge agreed."

The mother was not in court Tuesday, and her lawyer, Tracy Rizzo, also was not there because of the death of her father, famed Chicago private investigator Ernie Rizzo. The mother was represented instead by Gail O'Connor, who said, "We're disappointed, of course, but we will abide by the injunction."

Circumcision, in which the foreskin of the penis is surgically removed, usually before a newborn leaves the hospital, was extremely common in the U.S. during the last century. But the percentage of U.S. babies being circumcised has gone from an estimated 90 percent in 1970 to about 55 percent today. In most other countries, circumcision is performed only for religious reasons.

The boy, who never appeared in court, was represented by attorney David Pasulka, who recommended against circumcision at this time.

The eight-month dispute took some nasty turns. Rizzo charged that the father did not care about the boy's health but feared his ex-wife and her new husband were trying to convert the boy to Judaism.

The father's attorneys hinted that the mother's aim was to spite her ex-husband and please her current husband, who is Jewish.

The boy's stepfather and stepbrother are both circumcised, while the biological parents are Catholic immigrants from Eastern European countries where circumcision is rare.

But Kaplan said he did not address "issues of ethnicity or religious beliefs relative to circumcision" because the parents did not raise them in their legal pleadings.

Dan Strandjord, a self-proclaimed "intactivist" who attended every hearing in the case, was elated Tuesday. "I believe this is a human rights issue," said Strandjord.

jperes@tribune.com




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