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Circumcision Consent Forms Approved in NYC

By Deanne Katz, Esq. on September 17, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Circumcision is both a traditional religious ceremony and a modern medical practice depending on who you ask.

The procedure is fairly mainstream in the U.S. and some health officials claim that it decreases the spread of STDs. But now parents in New York City will have to sign a consent form before their child can have a traditional Orthodox-Jewish circumcision.

The issue isn't the procedure itself. It's that the religious practice includes a step that could spread serious diseases to infants.

Among a minority of ultra-Orthodox Jews, circumcision or a bris includes a ritual called metzizah b'peh to draw blood away for the area where the foreskin was removed, reports The New York Times.

The practice involves the mohel - the one who performs the circumcision - using his mouth to draw out the blood. In a medical setting a pipette or gauze is used for this step. The mouth-to-skin contact is what's dangerous about the religious practice.

The problem is that the meitzizah b'peh has been linked to the spread of the herpes virus to the newly-circumcised infants, reports CBS. At least 11 infants have had confirmed cases of herpes in New York City since 2004 that likely involved this practice.

Two of those infants died from the disease.

In response the New York City Board of Health voted to require a consent form for any circumcision that involves the meitzizah b'peh. Religious Jews who practice the ritual said they won't submit to the rule and they're considering suing the city for discrimination.

For the government to pass laws that disproportionately affect a protected group, like a religion, they must show the law is narrowly tailored to a compelling government interest.

In this case, the health and safety of infants seems pretty compelling and it is something the state should try protect. The fact that the rule only requires a waiver and doesn't ban the practice makes it likely that it would survive a lawsuit.

Not all Jews are upset by the new rule. The Rabbinical Assembly, an association of Conservative rabbis, applauded the Board of Health's decision, according to CBS. They stated that it is consistent with Judaism's concern for human life and health.

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