Sunday, October 18, 2015

Some Reflections on "With a Spate of New Laws, California May Be the Most Progressive State in the Nation," by Sonali Kolhatkar in Truthdig

by David Balashinsky

From Truthdig (Oct. 15, 2015) comes this interesting review of recently enacted legislation in the state of California.

http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/with_a_spate_of_new_laws_california_may_be_the_most_20151015

These are all great. Unfortunately, California also leads the nation in reactionary and regressive legislation when it comes to human rights and genital autonomy. To my knowledge, California is the only state in the union with a state-wide ban (signed by Governor Brown in 2011) on local ordinances that would regulate, restrict, or ban male genital mutilation (non-therapeutic infant circumcision). That would be like New York City banning female genital mutilation (if it weren't already banned by a federal law in 1996) and the State of New York saying, "No, you may not ban that ritual."
Let us take a moment to compare the progressive laws enumerated in this article with California's position regarding the right of infants not to be subjected to a permanent amputation of part of their genitals.
1)Abortion and the state's crackdown on phony abortion clinics: The right to obtain a safe and legal abortion rests on precisely the same legal and ethical foundation as the right of the individual to decide for himself what parts of his body he gets to keep. If denying a woman the right to control her own body violates her right of bodily autonomy, how does denying a male or intersex infant the same right constitute any less a violation of his rights?
2)The Right to Die: This is closely related to abortion rights: in other words, the right of bodily autonomy. What is more central to that right than being protected from a harmful and potentially lethal genital surgery imposed upon one without his consent?
3)Equal pay: Excellent, progressive legislation that rests on the principle of treating both sexes equally. Female genital mutilation is illegal in California not only under federal law but also under California law whereas male genital mutilation is not. And, as noted above, California law goes even farther in facilitating the human rights violation of infant circumcision by specifically and explicitly preventing localities within the state from protecting male and intersex infants from cosmetic, ritual, and customary genital surgery.
4)Environmental regulations: The reason we have environmental regulations is because history as demonstrated that, without them, polluters pollute even more than they do with them, while the epidemiological research as also shown, unambiguously, that pollution of the air, soil, and water harms human health.  So environmental regulations exist ultimately in order to protect our health.  The focus of the recently enacted environmental regulations cited in this article is clean- and renewable energy, but the goal of renewable energy, too, is ultimately to keep our planet hospitable to human (and other) life which, on the most basic level, is a public-health policy concern.  And yet, amputating a functional, sensitive, normal, and healthy body part is manifestly harmful to the individual subjected to the amputation. The male prepuce - like its homologous counterpart in females, the clitoral hood - has evolved over millions of years precisely because it is functional and anatomically important. The male prepuce is the most sensitive, hence erogenous tissue of the penis and its amputation unquestionably adversely affects the male's ability to experience normal and natural sensation as an adult. In addition, the male prepuce has many other functions, including protecting the infant from infection during early childhood, throughout which the prepuce remains fused to the glans. Thus, its removal, besides being a human rights violation, is harmful - just like exposing someone to air pollution or water pollution is harmful.
5)The ban on the routine use of antibiotics in animals: the rationale behind this important and overdue legislation is that the indiscriminate and routine use of antibiotics has led to the evolution of drug-resistant microorganisms which, in turn, has harmed human health. Non-therapeutic infant circumcision and "corrective" genital surgery on intersex infants also harms human health and far more seriously than drug-resistant strains of staph- or enterococcus do.
6)Legislation making undocumented children eligible for state-subsidized health insurance: This legislation is pro-child and pro-health. No child should be denied adequate health care simply because of the immigration status of her or his parents. This legislation, then, incorporates the principle that access to healthcare should not be denied on the basis of a child's legal status. But the very first principle of medicine is "Primum non nocere" - "First, do no harm." Thus, before California subsidizes healthcare for minors, ought it not to insure that the healthcare that they receive is in accordance with medical best practices and medical ethics? Routine infant circumcision - male genital cutting in the absence of a disease or other medical reason for it - violates the most basic principles of healthcare. Hence, it is not merely morally inconsistent but preposterous for the state of California to take steps promoting childhood wellness while simultaneously facilitating medical malpractice on 50% of its infant and child population.
7)Voting rights: the new motor voter law advances the laudable objective of increasing citizens' participation in government and thus aims to facilitate the actual practice of democracy. And what, after all, is more democratic - indeed, what is more directly democratic - than ballot initiatives and citizen-driven referenda? And yet California has explicitly banned such referenda when it comes to protecting infant boys and intersex infants from genital cutting. Hence, this legislation, which appears to be progressive and pro-democratic on its face, amounts to the state legislature saying to the residents of California: "You may participate in the democratic process but only up to a point - we will determine beforehand what laws we think you should have."  That's not democracy - that's sham democracy.
8)Gun control. This is simply another public health matter. Gun violence is epidemic in the U.S. and California is right to take this modest step toward curbing it. But genital mutilation is also a form of violence and it is also an epidemic, since more than one million infants are subjected to it annually in the United States (I was unable to locate statistics on the current rate of forced genital cutting on male and intersex infants in California). Why does the California state legislature regard the right not to be shot as somehow fundamentally different from the right not to have part of one's penis lopped off for reasons of custom? Both rights are, fundamentally, the same right: to be secure in one's person and free from harm and violence.
9)Ban on the offensive term "Redskins." Bravo! But what is the term "redskins" but a reflection of a type of bigotry based on ethnicity or "race"? And what is the practice of male genital mutilation and the state of California's statue forestalling citizen referenda to prevent it but a reflection of a form of cultural bias against male genitalia? - A bias that defines the natural penis as something innately disgusting, disease-prone, ugly, offensive, and urgently in need of surgical modification at birth.
10)Medical Marijuana regulation: The author of this article construes this legislation as being significant largely insofar as it may be a precursor to the eventual decriminalization of marijuana. To the extent that it is, it advances two important principles: the ability of citizens to have access to a valid pharmacological agent in order to alleviate suffering and the more basic right of citizens to be free to use psychoactive substances recreationally without an unwarranted governmental proscription against their doing so. The relevant principles behind these laudable objectives are that health, wellness, and freedom from needless suffering are positive goods to which people have an innate right and that people should be autonomous and retain absolute ownership of their bodies, including what they do to their own bodies and what substances they put into their own bodies. But routine infant circumcision violates both of these principles. It harms the individual and stands in opposition to medical ethics and best practices on the one hand while violating the principle of bodily autonomy on the other. Hence, while the California legislature is forward-looking when it comes to marijuana, it is backward-looking when it comes to routine infant circumcision and the more basic principle of the right of genital integrity.
That may be said of every one of the new statutes discussed in this article: they reveal a glaring moral inconsistency on the part of California's legislature. One can only hope that as the state government moves ever closer toward incorporating the principles of beneficence, democracy, and respect for human rights, the moral gravitational pull of such legislation will awaken in the hearts and minds of California's legislators the recognition that non-consensual genital surgery represents the moral antithesis of those principles and thus, like female genital mutilation, should be banned.