9 Va. J. Soc. Pol'y & L. 497 (2001-2002)
Circumcision: Cultural-Legal Analysis

handle is hein.journals/vajsplw9 and id is 507 raw text is: CIRCUMCISION: CULTURAL-LEGAL ANALYSIS

Geoffrey P. Miller*
And ye shall be circumcised in the flesh of your fore-
skin; and it shall be a token of a covenant betwixt Me
and you.'
Every year, in hospitals across the United States, hundreds of thou-
sands of newborn boys are strapped naked to a board and assaulted in
their genitals by ritually attired practitioners known as physicians.2 Al-
though the operation is painful, it is performed without anesthetic; the
baby's cries are interpreted as signs of healthy lungs, and his subsequent
traumatized sleep explained as proof that the operation caused no dis-
comfort.3 Memories of the pain may impair his intellectual or emotional
development.4 And the procedure, although safe as surgeries go, is not
risk-free. Boys experience hemorrhage, infection, and ulceration; the
urethral opening narrows due to scarring; and the penis may be bent, de-
formed, split, perforated, amputated, or burned off.5 Even if the opera-
tion goes well, the boy ends up with genitals that are structurally altered.
Viewed from the perspective of normal human anatomy, he has been
* Professor of Law, New York University. For comment, criticism, and inspiration on
various aspects of this topic, I thank Amy Adler, Yochai Benkler, Mary Anne Case, Os-
car Chase, Mark Geistfeld, Helen Hershkoff, Larry Kramer, Thomas Franck, Clay
Gilette, Joy Medley, Eric Posner, Mindy Recht, David Richards, Ruti Teitel, Howard
Venable, and participants at the New York University Brown Bag workshop. The staff of
the New York University Law Library, and especially Jeanne Rehberg, provided out-
standing assistance in locating obscure sources. My debt to Mary Douglas should be evi-
dent throughout.
1 Genesis 17:11.
2  See sources cited infra notes 343-345 (circumcision rates); see infra note 487 and
accompanying text (description of circumcision procedure).
3 See infra notes 483-86 (studies of newborns' ability to feel pain).
4  See infra notes 402-03 (describing lasting effects of pain in circumcision).
5 See discussion infra notes 401-24 and accompanying text (complications resulting
from circumcision).

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