There’s a disturbing practice in the Ultra-Orthodox Jewish culture known as metzitzah b’peh in which a rabbi (mohel) sucks the blood from a baby boy who has just been circumcised. If that wasn’t disgusting enough, some of the mohels have had herpes simplex, passing the virus on to the children. Since 2000, more than a dozen infants have contracted herpes in this manner and at least two have died.
In some cases, parents weren’t even made aware the mohels were performing this ritual.
That’s why the New York City Board of Health decided a few years ago to make parents sign a consent form first. The thinking was: We can’t necessarily force the rabbis to stop the religious ritual, but we can at least make sure parents are aware of the potential health issues.
[Mayor Bill de Blasio] believes working closely with the community may be more effective at preventing babies from becoming infected with the virus than the consent form. Many ultra-Orthodox religious figures claim that the restrictions placed by the consent form, required under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration, have led to feelings of isolation in the community and noncompliance to the rule.
It’s a concession that should never have been made, even if it was pissing off the people it was supposed to be helping.
When a religious ritual puts innocent children in danger — like when Jehovah’s Witnesses refuse a blood transfusion for their dying kids — the government has every right to step in and do something about it. While the Board of Health says it has no legal authority, they’re opting instead for a brochure that few people will ever read. The Ultra-Orthodox community has shown repeatedly that they cannot reliably police themselves. If they can’t do it, who’s looking out for the best interest of these children? What is this administration willing to concede just to appease a powerful voting bloc?
The New York Times editorial board laments the state’s move:
The rabbis are exulting over a deal that doesn’t oblige them to do anything. No paperwork, no informed consent, no consequences. The administration is hoping that if a baby gets sick, the mohel will agree to be tested and, if there is a DNA match, stop doing circumcisions. It also argues that cracking down on mohels would drive the practice underground.
The decision to cave to the mohels is being spun by the administration as a win-win for everybody, but it seems to have closed its eyes to the newborn boys who will someday get sick.
Circumcision, sexual abuse, possible transmission of disease: All legal, with no obstacles whatsoever, all because they’re done in the name of religion.
(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to Brian for the link)