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Berlin allows circumcision

The German city-state of Berlin has announced that circumcision there is legal, but only on religious grounds and other strict conditions. The announcement follows a June ruling in Cologne that banned the practice.

Berlin's state prosecutors have now been told not to charge doctors if the boy's parents proved the procedure was religiously motivated and of "religious necessity", and they had consented in writing. It was also a requirement for parents to be informed of the medical risks of circumcision.

This must be done before the child is old enough to take the decision himself. Only doctors will be legally allowed to perform the procedure, because the Berlin state does not have the power to authorize a Jewish person trained in circumcision to carry out the ritual.

The practice must be carried out in a sterile environment, with as little pain as possible, and care taken to stop bleeding.

"If these criteria are fulfilled, circumcision will remain immune from prosecution," said Berlin's Senator for Justice, Thomas Heilmann, on Wednesday.

"If medical standards are observed, circumcision at home or in a synagogue is also acceptable."

Heilmann said that Berlin explicitly welcomed Muslim and Jewish life. "That is only possible if freedom to practise religion is possible."

Kristof Graf, the medical director of the Jewish Hospital in Berlin, has told the AFP news agency that he was "satisfied with the solution" put forward by Heilmann. Kraf said that his facility normally performs 80 to 100 circumcisions a year, but had conducted none since June.

Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle has told the Jewish weekly newspaper Jüdische Allgemeine that federal legislation to ensure circumcision remains legal would be announced soon.

"It must be made clear that Jewish and Muslim traditions are protected in Germany," said Westerwelle.

Heated debate

The regional court in Cologne ruled in June that the practice of religious circumcision constituted "illegal bodily harm" even with parental consent. The ruling had widespread implications across Germany, with doctors refusing to practice the procedure for fear of prosecution.

It also ignited heated debate as to whether the Jewish and Muslim ritual was a crime or not. Though surveys showed the majority of Germans approved of the verdict, it was met with fury by Muslim and Jewish groups around the world, who labeled it an assault on religious freedom.

The ensuing controversy prompted Chancellor Angela Merkel to voice her support for the practice, warning her Christian Democratic Union party that Germany risked becoming a "laughing stock" over the issue.

jr/kms (dpa, AFP, Reuters)