Bodily integrity and male and female circumcision.

Med Health Care Philos. 2005;8(2):179-91.

Bodily integrity and male and female circumcision.

Dekkers W, Hoffer C, Wils JP.

Department of Ethics, Philosophy and History of Medicine, University Medical Centre, Nijmegen, The Netherlands.


This paper explores the ambiguous notion of bodily integrity, focusing on male and female circumcision. In the empirical part of the study we describe and analyse the various meanings that are given to the notion of bodily integrity by people in their daily lives. In the philosophical part we distinguish (1) between a person-oriented and a body-oriented approach and (2) between four levels of interpretation, i.e. bodily integrity conceived of as a biological wholeness, an experiential wholeness, an intact wholeness, and as an inviolable wholeness. We argue that bodily integrity is a prima facie principle in its own right, closely connected with, but still fundamentally different from, the principle of personal autonomy, that is, autonomy over the body.

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