Austrian Governor Bans Religious Circumcision

A ban on non-medical circumcision by a regional court in Germany, has prompted a governor in western Austria to follow suit.

Gabe Kahn ,

Circumcision for Jewish baby saved from Arabs
Circumcision for Jewish baby saved from Arabs
Photo: Yad L'Achim

The governor of Voralberg province in Austria has instructed hospitals to halt non-medical circumcisions until the "legal situation is clarified" in his country.

The decision by Gov. Markus Wallner came after a German regional court ruled ritual circumcision amounted to criminal bodily harm.

Two hospitals in Switzerland last week also cited the German ruling when then announced that they would temporarily stop performing circumcisions.

Administrators at the Children's Hospital in Zurich and the Hospital of St. Gaulle in northeast Switzerland explained to AFP that that the decision was taken in order to "review the ethical and legal implications of non-medical circumcisions."

For his part, Wallner says he sees the German court's decision, which rose from a case where the religious circumcision of a child led to medical complications, as "precedence-setting judgment."

However, the Bundesverfassungsgericht, Berlin's Federal Constitutional Court, has yet to rule on whether ritual circumcision is protected under the principal of religious freedom in Germany. 

Critics of Wallner's decision say that even if the Bundesverfassungsgericht were to uphold the ban on non-medical circumcisions, Austria's own courts could well issue a divergent ruling.

The present ban on non-medical circumcisions in Voralberg does not apply to physicians in private practice, or lay-experts within the Jewish community.

According to local health officials, only one of two circumcisions are performed for religious in Voralberg's hospitals each month.