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Charges Dismissed in Circumcision Case

The Helsinki Court of Appeal on Wednesday dismissed charges in a case involving the circumcision of a male infant that led to medical complications requiring hospitalization. A lower court had convicted the child's parents of incitement to assault and battery.

Lakikirja ja puheenjohtajan nuija.
Image: Arja Lento / Yle

The Court of Appeal struck down the lower court ruling and the fine that has been imposed on the child's parents. Also, following the decision, they are not required to pay compensation to their son for pain and discomfort, as ordered by the District Court.

According to Wednesday's decision, it has been difficult for the parents to perceive their behaviour as assault and battery or incitement because circumcisions have been long permitted, and their legal status has been unclear.

Finland has no legislation on male circumcision. The Helsinki Court of Appeal noted that at the time of the events under review, there was not even a precedent concerning legal proceedings concerning circumcision. Circumcisions have had a sort of approval by customary law as a long established tradition.

In this case, the circumcision was performed on the premises of Helsinki's Jewish congregation in the spring of 2008 by an English rabbi who was not a licensed medical practitioner in Finland. The week-old infant was hospitalized for treatment of excessive bleeding following the procedure.

This was apparently the first time that charges of assault and battery were filed in Finland in regard to the circumcision of a Jewish boy.

The Helsinki District Court's verdict was that the hallmarks of assault and battery had been fulfilled since no pain relief was used during the procedure. The actions of the parents were classed as incitement as they did not carry out the procedure themselves.

In the autumn of 2008, the Supreme Court ruled that a medically performed circumcision carried out for religious or social reasons is not a crime. In the case that led to that ruling, the procedure had been performed by a medical doctor and an anaesthetic was administered before the operation.

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