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The National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly

Volume 17, Issue 3, Autumn 2017

Lisa Gilbert
Pages 475-486

Female Genital Mutilation and the Natural Law

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is the removal or restructuring of healthy genital tissue. Under natural law, mutilation is an intrinsic evil and a grave violation of human dignity. If mutilation alleviates a threat to a person’s well-being, it may sometimes be permissible, but healthy genitals pose no such threat. The purported social benefits of FGM, such as decreased promiscuity, do not justify the practice, because there is no causal relationship between mutilation and virtue. In terms of autonomy, victims are usually children and unable to consent. Parental rights and the rights of religion do not override children’s inherent rights to physical integrity and safety. Current support for minimal forms of FGM in an attempt to reduce the incidence of severe forms will instead prolong the practice and increase the number of victims. Finally, FGM differs from male circumcision in that it destroys the function and integrity of the organs themselves and promotes profound gender inequality.