In this St Cross Special Ethics Seminar, Dr Brian Earp argues that all medically unnecessary genital cutting of non-consenting persons should be opposed on moral and legal grounds.
Defenders of male circumcision increasingly argue that female ‘circumcision’ (ritual cutting of the clitoral hood or labia) should be legally allowed in Western liberal democracies even when non-consensual. In a recent article, Richard Shweder (2021) gives perhaps the most persuasive articulation of this argument to have so far appeared in the literature. In my own work, I argue that no person should be subjected to medically unnecessary genital cutting of any kind without their own informed consent, regardless of the sex characteristics with which they were born or the religious or cultural background of their parents. Professor Shweder and I agree that Western law and policy on child genital cutting is currently beset with cultural, religious, and sex-based double-standards. We disagree about what should be done about this. In this talk, I argue that ‘legalizing’ childhood female genital cutting so as to bring it into line with current treatment of childhood male genital cutting is not an acceptable solution to these problems. Instead, all medically unnecessary genital cutting of non-consenting persons should be opposed equally on moral and legal grounds and discouraged by all appropriate means.