Despite widespread opposition to circumcising baby boys without a medical reason, Norwegian hospitals will all soon start offering the surgical procedure nationwide. A new law that took effect January 1 orders them to do so.
Doctors and professional organizations that warned against the new law have capitulated, reported newspaper Dagsavisen. All four of Norway’s regional state health agencies still have large numbers of physicians who have reserved the right to refuse to perform the surgery, but the regional agencies’ hospitals will solve any resulting capacity problems by purchasing the services of private health clinics or other state hospitals with available capacity. The two most likely are St Olavs Hospital in Trondheim and Oslo University Hospital-Rikshospitalet, which are the only two hospitals with dedicated pediatric surgery wards.
Setting age limits
At St Olavs, several doctors have refused to perform circumcision, arguing it it is not a necessary medical procedure for young boys. Hospital officials in Trondheim feel they have enough other doctors on staff to do the surgery, however, and the same is true in Oslo. Both also claim the new obligation to offer circumcision won’t be at the expense of other children with medical conditions who require surgery.
Neither St Olavs nor Rikshospitalet, however, will circumcise newborns. Full narcosis is considered the only adequate means of relieving the pain of circumcision, “so we have set an age limit of one year,” Dr Øystein Drivenes at St Olavs Hospital told Dagsavisen.
Parents who want to circumcise their sons are likely to face waiting lists at Akershus University Hospital (Ahus) northeast of Oslo, where 13 of 15 urologists have reserved themselves against the procedure unless there’s a medical need. The two urologists willing to circumcise have also set an age limit of one year.
Not a priority
“Circumcision is not a prioritized procedure, and children who need surgery for medical reasons must come first,” said Dr Anja Løvvik at Ahus. “Today we perform five to six operations on children every day. That means that boys who seek ritual circumcision will be at the back of the queue.”
Norwegian authorities estimate that around 2,000 boys were being circumcised annually in Norway outside the public health care system before the law went into effect. Most are Muslims whom politicians hope will now opt for circumcisions in a more professional medical environment. Drivenes said hospital officials think Jewish boys will likely continue to be circumcised in religious ceremonies on the eighth day after birth.
Sørlandet Hospital in Kristiansand appears to be the only hospital offering to circumcise newborns, using local anesthesia. All the other hospitals in Norway intend to use full narcosis and set age limits at one to two years.