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Monday, May 27, 2024 | Back issues
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Circumcision Consent Forms Kosher in NYC

MANHATTAN (CN) - Orthodox rabbis cannot perform a certain form of ritualistic circumcision without warning parents about the possibility of transmitting herpes, a federal judge ruled.

Metzitzah b'peh is the name given to a ritual involving oral suction of the blood from a circumcised penis.

City health officials estimate that 11 newborns contracted herpes from this practice since the department began tracking such cases in 2000.

Since infants have underdeveloped immune systems, herpes put 10 in the hospital, and killed one, the city says.

On Sept. 13, 2012, the New York City Board of Health amended its code to mandate the disclosure of health risks associated with the practice.

Shortly before the law took effect, it faced a lawsuit from the Central Rabbinical Congress of the USA & Canada, Agudath Israel of America, the International Bris Association, and several mohels, the Hebrew term for rabbis who perform circumcision.

They claim that the health code amendment violated their religious freedom.

On Thursday night, U.S. District Judge Naomi Buchwald denied their request for an injunction and indicated that they would likely lose their case.

Her 93-page ruling describes the health code amendment as serving the public interest.

"There is ample medical evidence that direct oral suction places infants at a serious risk of herpes infection, as well as evidence that parents are sometimes unaware in advance of a circumcision that [metzitzah b'peh] will occur, and the regulation plainly addresses these legitimate societal concerns," Buchwald wrote. "Additionally, the free exercise interest at stake - mohels' interest in performing MBP uninhibited - is inherently circumscribed because mohels have no right to perform MBP without parental consent. As enacted, the regulation does no more than ensure that parents can make an informed decision whether to grant or deny such consent."

City lawyer Michelle Goldberg-Cahn hailed the ruling for "allowing this significant public health rule to proceed unimpeded."

"Informing parents about the grave risks associated with this procedure is critical to safeguarding infants' health," Goldberg-Cahn said in a statement. "As the court recognized, the City carefully balanced the plaintiffs' religious rights with important public health concerns surrounding direct oral suction during circumcision."

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