Four-year-old Chase Ryan Nebus-Hironimus looks like a happy, healthy, normal kid in a playground photo published in the New York Daily News. One wonders how happy he is to find himself at the center of a court battle over whether or not doctors should cut off part of his penis. His parents, Heather Hironimus and Dennis Nebus, disagree on the question of circumcision.
Hironimus’s argument is simple: There’s no medical or religious reason for the procedure. It’s cosmetic, it entails risks, and she’s not interested in putting Chase through it.
Nebus’s argument is, likewise, simple: It’s “just the normal thing to do,” he says.
Palm Beach County, Florida Circuit Judge Jeffrey Dana Gillen agrees with Nebus. He’s threatened to jail Hironimus unless she signs a consent form for the procedure.
In Judaism, infant circumcision is a required religious practice.
In America among non-Jews, it’s become, as Nebus says, “just the normal thing to do” for several reasons. In the 19th century, quacks sold circumcision as a way to discourage masturbation, which was considered immoral and unhealthy. By the late 20th century, it had become just one more nearly automatic and usually unquestioned hospital procedure to charge new parents a few hundred bucks for.
And of course the patients can’t articulately object. They’re hours or days old. Sure, they scream as they’re physically restrained and have their foreskins torn away without benefit of anesthesia. Sure, some of them bleed to death from nicked arteries or sustain serious infections from the intentional creation of open wounds. But they didn’t — couldn’t — say “no.” So it’s all good, right?
The practice is common and accepted enough in America that even most libertarians don’t get too uptight about it. That apathy, in my opinion, bears re-thinking. But we don’t have to go there, here.
Chase Ryan Nebus-Hironimus is not an infant. He’s not an adult, but he’s probably old enough to have formed, and be able to express, an opinion on whether or not he’d like to be put under general anesthesia and have part of his penis cut off because it’s “just the normal thing to do.” Has Judge Gillen asked for and considered his opinion?
There’s an additional and dangerous secondary issue here: Gillen’s threat to jail Heather Hironimus unless she “consents” on her son’s behalf.
That threat is a grotesque abuse of power and a bizarre re-definition of the concept of “consent.” It’s one thing to order the procedure over Hironimus’s objection. It’s another thing entirely to require her, on pain of imprisonment, to pretend she approves.
Jeffrey Dana Gillen isn’t up for re-election until 2020*, but Florida’s legislature or Supreme Court can, and should, remove him from the bench.
Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.
* The original version of this op-ed listed 2021 as the date of Judge Gillen’s next election. It has been corrected to 2020 (his term expires in 2021, but he will be re-elected or defeated for re-election in 2020).