Peter Adler: Circumcision is illegal under any aspect of law

Peter Adler discusses the events that led to his Intactivism from the aspect of legality.

(slightly modified)

I have a master's degree in philosophy and a law degree from University of Virginia.

After my son was born, he was nursing with my wife, and a doctor came into the room and addressed me:

“Have you decided whether or not to circumcise your son?”

I was really taken aback because we had never even ever talked about it; I had never discussed circumcision with anybody. [NOTE: Why should a parent discuss performing destructive genital surgery on a completely healthy child?]

My wife is a doctor, so I wanted to involve her in the discussion; she said [to me]:

“Well, no, you are a man, you have a penis, you decide.”

That's exactly what she said.

Interestingly, being a doctor, she has made every medical decision in our family for our children [since that time]—I'm not even in the loop. So, [at the time], she was clearly distracted from having given birth, and I realized later that in the circumstances, she just wasn't thinking clearly, because that isn't like her at all. [NOTE: In many cases, doctors in the U.S. seek parental consent to perform circumcision by having the exhausted mother sign papers; currently, only one parent must consent.]

So, then [our] doctor continued to talk to me. He got my attention right away; I hadn't thought about it, so I was completely on the spot, but as a lawyer, I realized [that] I better really pay attention to him. Yet, at the same time, he's a doctor (he had the Harvard logo on and he looked impressive in his white coat), so I really wanted to listen to him.

“What's this all about?”

“Well, do you know what the foreskin is?”

“Not really.”

He described it a little bit to me, but he made it sound as if [foreskin is unimportant and circumcision is extremely minor]. You know, he certainly didn't tell me that the foreskin is fused to the glans [in infants and must therefore be ripped away before circumcision can even begin].

He [did say] that [the foreskin] has some protective functions, and [that] according to the [American Academy of Pediatricians (AAP)], it isn't necessary to circumcise a child, and that the AAP doesn't recommend it but that it's up to the parents to decide whether to circumcise a child or not; he gave what I later learned is the exact language of the AAP policy:

“It's up to parents to decide for religious, cultural, or personal reasons.”

“Well, I'm not religious.”

I should tell you [that] my grandmother was Jewish and, accordingly, my father was Jewish; he was born Jewish in Baltimore, but he was sent to England, went to private school, and was raised Anglican, and then he wasn't religious after that.

“What do you mean by cultural?”

“Well, in some cultures, it's common to circumcise children.”

and I was thinking: Well, I'm not sure what culture I'm part of, but it didn't seem like a good reason to me.

“What do you mean by personal reasons?”

“Well, some fathers want their children to look like them.”

and I was thinking: Well, those all seem like terrible reasons [to perform destructive genital surgery]; I didn't say that to him.

“Well, could this affect my son's sex life?”

I remember this from 1987; I can tell you exactly what he said:

“The studies are mixed as to that.”

“Couldn't my son decide for himself when he grows up?”

“Well, it's best done at birth.”

He started to explain why, but by that time, I hadn't heard any good reasons why to circumcise my child, [and] I had made my decision, so we decided to keep [our son] intact.

I really didn't think about the conversation until after the year 2000. Then, one day, I was thinking [about] how odd a conversation it had been, because as a lawyer, you're taught the first week of [studying torts (wrongful or injurious acts for which a victim may seek compensation)]—literally the first week, [and] perhaps the first day—that if you touch somebody without [his or her] consent, it's a battery under the law (not a trivial touching, but certainly a wounding).

The removal of a body part would certainly be a battery—unless it's made valid by parental consent; so, the doctor [had been] telling me that according to the AAP, it's legal for parents to decide for any reason to circumcise their children, [but] it just occurred to me that [such a stance makes] no sense whatsoever—[it just] couldn't be [valid] law! In other words, it seemed extremely unlikely that [parental consent could be] valid [in the case of circumcising a completely healthy child].

I thought about what [the doctor] had said about the studies being mixed as to whether it [affects a man's] sex life to remove a part of the penis. The presumption on my part is that it [does] have an effect, and it couldn't possibly be good; it could only do harm. So, I began to research both the legal side and the factual side.

The more I read, the more I found that circumcision is highly illegal under any aspect of law [at which] you might look, [and] as to the facts [that the doctor had given me], I would say that he had misled me, because he made [circumcision] sound like “a little snip”; he didn't say that there were any risks, whereas it turns out that [circumcision] can kill you (if I'd [consented], my son could've died during the operation). I learned that:

  • [Circumcision is] excruciatingly painful [for infants]—pain medications are not effective.

  • The complication rate is very high; the [American Medical Association] says [that] the complication rate is somewhere between 0.8 and 1.8 percent (something to that effect), but they're only talking about complications during the surgery—and I doubt that they're all reported. The general literature says the complication rate is perhaps 2 to 10 percent (that's the number that's often given); it seemed to me that [these figures are] probably low—that probably most people who are circumcised have complications and problems from the surgery. [Indeed], the more I learned, [the more it seemed that my assumption] is correct: Probably 50 percent or more [of circumcised men] have some kind of [unintended] damage.

I submitted two pages of testimony to the Massachusetts legislature arguing that circumcision is illegal on numerous grounds. After submitting that, I decided to [expand my testimony] into a law review article; I've been working on the article [from April] to the present in July, [and] I finished a draft of it. [Because I'm fairly new to the movement], I'm discussing it with other lawyers [who are affiliated with]:

  • Attorneys for the Rights of the Child
  • Doctors Opposing Circumcision

I hope to publish [the article] in a law review; the title is:

The Circumcision Debate is Over: It is illegal under common, civil, constitutional, statutory, criminal and international law

Blackstone was an English jurist, and he summarized law in Britain; he stated the common law of England at that time, [and] that [very] common law became the law of America. He essentially said that the primary purpose of law [is] to protect people and property—and of those, the more important [is] people.

He said that the law of England is that the body is sacred and that people have an inviolable right to their security of the person. So, that's really the origin of the concept that people have a right to genital integrity—[where] “people” means girls, boys, women, and men (without differentiation among them).

[Blackstone] also said that parents have duties toward their children; he did not talk about “parental rights”. There's a [nebulous] concept that [parents] have rights with respect to their children—as if [children are] chattels, as it's called in the law: cattle or things. [On the contrary], under the law, parents have duties, and the principal duty is to protect their children from harm.

The common law was adopted in the United States—and, actually, the common law was incorporated [into Massachusetts's] constitution, which I believe preceded the United States' Constitution. [In fact, Massachusetts's] constitution [adopts] the concept of security of the person and [says] that every person is entitled to:

  • Life
  • Liberty
  • The pursuit of happiness
  • Security of person
  • A right to property
  • A right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.

So, in the article, I argue that circumcision violates the common law, [and] that it violates the constitutional law (particularly the 5th and 14th [amendments'] right to security of the person and to the related concept of autonomy); you have a right to be left alone and your person to be left alone, so that you can make your own decisions about your own body as an adult when you're able to [do so with fully informed consent].

So, adults are free to make such decisions as they think are best, but there's an inviolable right that children [have] to security of the person. [The circumcision of a healthy child also violates] statutes in every state that prohibit child abuse.

  • Brigman wrote an article in the mid 1980s, saying that circumcision is child abuse.

  • Shea Lita Bond wrote an article in the late 1990s after female genital mutilation was banned, saying that under the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment, every person has a right to equal protection of the law; there's a law protecting women from female genital mutilation, [so] then boys [likewise] have a constitutional right to equal protection of the law—that's clearly the case, and if the matter came to the Supreme Court, they would have [to rule that] boys [do indeed have] similar rights, or [otherwise] strike down the female genital mutilation law as unconstitutional.

I argue, as others have, that circumcision is also a violation of the criminal law; it's plainly an assault and battery to hold an infant down on a circumstraint so that he can't move and then violate his body and wound it. It unquestionably qualifies as an assault and battery under the criminal law.


  1. Money to mutilate a boy, money made selling his
    foreskin and more money if he has a problem.

    Outlaw this sickning attack on boys.

  2. Worst part, it's the MOTHER mutilating her son! Someone who has never had to be concerned about having her OWN genitals mutilated.