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September 17, 2014 / 22 Elul, 5774
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To Inform or Not to Inform – That is the Question

With all the bacteria a mouth is known to contain - and the possibility that it might contain bacteria or viruses that are very harmful to a vulnerable 8-day-old child while an adult carrier might not even be aware of it - it is not exactly rocket science to know that putting your mouth on an open wound is not a good idea.
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Photo Credit: Yaakov Naumi/Flash90

The Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) has just come out with a statement joining Agudah in opposition to the proposed NYC legislation requiring  “informed consent” before going ahead with Metzitza B’Peh (MbP). This is in spite of the fact that they do not recommend the procedure for their own constituents.

I assume the reason for this is that they believe this to be a church state issue. And that they believe that even signing a consent form about a religious practice is a violation of the constitutionally guaranteed right to practice one’s religion freely. And that it may be a slippery slope to further – more serious intervention in religious rights.

I don’t want to re-hash the whole argument here. But I have to admit being conflicted about it – because both sides have valid issues.

Every time an argument is made by one side which all seem like good arguments – the other side comes out with an equally good argument for their side. Here are the questions:

Where do you draw the line between protecting your citizens and freedom of religion?

On the other hand – how does signing a consent form interfere with religion?

On the other hand -when the risk is so low, is there really a need for a consent form?

On the other hand – why not inform even if the risk is low – if it is really there?

On the other hand – if informing the public about this is the main concern, why not simply require that parents be informed? Why require government documentation?

On the other hand –  will a policy of informing the public actually be implemented without the government requirement to document it?

On the other hand – if one segment feels that MbP is a religious requirement and the risk is so low, maybe those people should not be required to sign a consent form – since it might scare people away from it unnecessarily?

For me, preventing the mouth from coming into contact with an open wound makes a lot of sense. Even if there never was a single case of herpes ever reported – doing something like that seems like the height of folly!

With all the bacteria a mouth is known to contain – and the possibility that it might contain bacteria or viruses that are very harmful to a vulnerable 8-day-old child while an adult carrier might not even be aware of it – it is not exactly rocket science to know that putting your mouth on an open wound is not a good idea. Add to that the recent cases of Herpes that government health agencies like the CDC believe to be caused by MbP - opposition to it seems like a no brainer.

But then there are the arguments put forth by others based on different medical experts who say the statistical probability of contracting a disease from the mouth of a Mohel is so low and that reported cases of MbP infection by a Mohel remain unproven, that any regulation at all – even signing a consent form is an unnecessary infringement by the government on the religious rights of its citizens.Add to that the fear of the ‘slippery slope’ argument and all the tumult in the world about circumcision in general (e.g. the ban on it by a German court in Cologne until the age of consent) – and it seems like that is a good argument to fight that proposed legislation.

So after taking another look at it – at this point I am just not sure. I still tend to side with not opposing the legislation because I don’t think there is a slippery slope here. Nor do I think that interferes with the right of a parent to go ahead with MbP if he chooses to. All it does is inform him about the possible dangers.

Will it scare him away? If he is a Chasid, probably not. If he is not a Chasid, let it scare him away. What is lost if he does Metzitza in a more hygienic way without direct oral contact? [Note:  an overview of how metzitza b'peh is not halachically required previously on this blog].

I can actually hear both sides of the argument. But it may be a moot point. It appears the city of New York has just approved the legislation.

About the Author: Harry Maryles runs the blog "Emes Ve-Emunah" which focuses on current events and issues that effect the Jewish world in general and Orthodoxy in particular. It discuses Hashkafa and news events of the day - from a Centrist perspctive and a philosphy of Torah U'Mada. He can be reached at hmaryles@yahoo.com.


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One Response to “To Inform or Not to Inform – That is the Question”

  1. When public policy and religion clash it really becomes a question of who is doing the right thing.

    In Germany, all the studies in favor of circumcision were ignored, and only the pain of the child was considered.So this was an extreme ban motivated by ulterior motives.

    In America we would never allow an eight year old girl to marry and have sexual relations with her husband because some religion permitted it.

    We are lucky to have freedom of religion, but not without any limits.

    Agudah believes in several controversial policies that others believe harm people.

    In general it supports what everyone would agree is in the public welfare.

    I think this is the first time I have seen RCA oppose the public health side of things(although I believe they are opposed to the policy itself).

    Nevertheless, I hope everyone will obey the new law that requires informed consent on this issue.

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Binyamin and Chaya Maryles, uncle and aunt of Emes Ve-Emunah author Harry Maryles.
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