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Originally published January 26, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified January 26, 2008 at 12:40 AM

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Circumcision case: What does boy want?

The Oregon Supreme Court says the wishes of a 12-year-old boy must be determined in a dispute between his divorced parents over whether...

The Associated Press

PORTLAND — The Oregon Supreme Court says the wishes of a 12-year-old boy must be determined in a dispute between his divorced parents over whether he should be circumcised.

The father, who lives in Olympia, converted to Judaism in 2004 and wants the boy to be circumcised as part of the faith, saying the decision is best left to the custodial parent. Lower courts sided with the father.

The mother, who lives in Oregon, appealed to the high court, asking for custody and saying the operation could harm her son physically and psychologically.

The case has drawn attention from Jewish groups concerned that the Oregon court might restrict the practice and from Doctors Opposing Circumcision, backing the mother and saying there is "no more important decision to make for a male child."

More than a million U.S. infants are circumcised each year, but circumcising adults or teens remains relatively rare.

The decision Friday said lower courts failed to determine whether the boy wanted the circumcision, as his father contended, or opposed it, as his mother alleged.

The Supreme Court sent the case back to the trial court to answer that question.

If the trial court finds the child agrees to be circumcised, the Supreme Court said, it should deny the mother's requests. But if the trial court finds the child opposes the circumcision, the court has to determine if it will affect the father's ability to care for the child.

Attorneys for both sides declined to comment. The father, who is a lawyer, is representing himself.

One constitutional-law professor who has been following the case called it "a reasonable ruling."

"I think what may be delicate and tricky is ... how much we can trust what the 12-year-old says, given the circumstances," said Carl Tobias of the University of Richmond. "He likely feels some pressure from [his parents]."

A urologist who met with the boy submitted an affidavit that said the procedure would cause him minor discomfort for about three days but not interfere with his normal activities, the Supreme Court's decision said.

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The custody dispute began when the child was 4, and the circumcision issue began three years ago when he was 9.

The courts have steered clear of religious or medical issues, focusing on the questions of custody and care of the child.

Determining the youth's opinion is important, the Supreme Court said, because forcing him to undergo circumcision against his will at age 12 could affect his relationship with his father and his father's ability to care for him properly.

"We think that no decision should be made without some assessment of [the child's] true state of mind," the decision said.

It said a trial court could order independent physical or mental examinations or set up an independent panel of experts to gather information.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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