“The Unspeakable Atrocity”


The title is from the late Prof. Mary Daly’s 1978 work Gyn/Ecology: The Meta-ethics of Radical Feminism. In it she describes in stomach-churning detail the mutilations and suffering inflicted on girls and women who undergo what she called African genital mutilation, performed almost exclusively in Muslim-majority countries, to keep women “pure” and “marriageable.” In essence, to make sex not only non-pleasureable, but for many women a horrifying ordeal; pregnancy and childbearing risky and subject to complications and infections; shortening life expectancy; and preoccupying women with pain and medical concerns they would otherwise not have.

According to Unicef, at least 200 million women and girls in 30 countries have been cut — 70 million more victims than previously thought.

On Monday, two American OB / GYNs published their paper “Female genital alteration: a compromise solution,” in the Journal of Medical Ethics. The authors, American OB-GYNs Kavita Shah Arora and Allan J. Jacobs, contend that a “compromise” should be reached with those in America who want their daughters cut. What’s the compromise?  Mutilate them just a little. So they won’t be taken abroad to suffer worse mutilation.

Arora and Jacobs contend that anti-FGM campaigns are seen as “culturally insensitive” and  “racist”. They therefore “drive the practice underground.” The authors suggest that “we must adopt a more nuanced position,” and allow a proceedure

 . . . that generally do[es] not carry long-term medical risks, is culturally sensitive, does not discriminate on the basis of gender, and does not violate human rights. More morbid procedures should not be performed. . . . Accepting de minimis non-therapeutic  FGA procedures enhances the effort of compassionate practitioners searching for a compromise position that respects cultural differences but protects the health of their patients.

Their compromise solution  allows a “nick” to the clitoral hood. And calling it “alteration” instead of “mutilation.”

But responses to the paper are at odds with those who believe cultural sensitivity is as important as the life and health of girls and women. Some argue that “not all cultural traditions deserve respect.

“There is no doubt that in whatever form, FGA has its origin and purpose in controlling women,” commented Ruth Macklin, a bioethicist at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

Brian Earp, a visiting scholar at the Hastings Center Bioethics Research Institute, said that changing laws to allow “minor” forms of female genital alteration would be “a fiasco” that raises questions of who could monitor and regulate such procedures.

The idea that American medicine should be in the business of performing non-therapeutic proceedures solely to accomodate the misogynistic preferences of a foreign belief system ought to be anathema to the medical profession. It certainly violates the first principles of the Hippocratic oath.

If the concern is that the practice will be “driven underground,” the solution must be law enforcement, prosecution of offenders, and loss of parental rights of those who torture their daughters. Sex trafficking of children has also been “driven underground.” But no one is suggesting a “compromise” of, say, establishing labor laws governing the sexual exploition of 11-year olds.

‘When in Rome, do as the Romans do,’ as the old saying goes. Those from elsewhere should respect our customs and laws. Immigrants to a culture adopt the language, customs and practices of that culture. Otherwise they are not immigrants, but colonists

Resisting the insistence of those from a foreign culture on maintaining their own barbaric traditions is not “insensitive”, let alone “racist”. FGM is practiced by peoples of several races today, though only one religion. The common denominator is Islam –though it is not, it is said, required by the Quran. It is the responsibility of the immigrant community to observe the laws of their adopted country, not the country’s responsibilty to change its laws to accomodate one immigrant community, particularly at the cost of the needless suffering of the most vulnerable.


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