Mostly carried out in Jewish and Muslim cultures, male circumcision is accepted without question as a religious rite.

The procedure involves removing a boy’s foreskin shortly after birth, seen in Judaism as a covenant between Man and God.

However, not everyone is convinced.

A doctor is among those calling for the practice, which he sees as an offence against the person, to be treated as such.

Here are his views:

Dr Antony Lempert, a GP who is the chairman of the Secular Medical Forum, gave a talk at a meeting of the East London Humanists in Wanstead on Monday.

The 53-year-old, who was born into a Jewish family but no longer identifies with the religion, said his main issues arose from the principle that patients needed to be able to consent to surgical procedures.

“I follow the basic principles of medical ethics and circumcision is given a free pass to bypass that,” he said.

When asked whether circumcision of a baby boy was comparable to piercing their ears, removing a birthmark or having skin grafts for a burn before they are old enough to consent, he said that some procedures but not non-therapeutic ones may be necessary where there is a medical reason.

He added: “People talk about parents’ rights and say things like – how dare you infringe on my religious freedom?

“They seem to forget the child has the right to their own beliefs, but is incapable of forming them.

“Yes, parents have the right to guide their children, but there are straightforward principles in the United Nations that says we have to protect children from harmful practices.

“Leave them alone - they are a baby. It’s the most heartrending sound when you hear a baby’s cry after circumcision.

“Child safeguarding means expanding their future, not restricting it.

“It is a highly sensitive part of the body. Let the person decide once they’ve hit puberty and know what it feels like.”

A ban has been discussed in Denmark and while Iceland had planned to outlaw the practice, a bill that initially drew support was not voted on by its parliament.

Dr Lempert claimed to know of a man who committed suicide because of the ritual circumcision that was forced on him as a baby and of others who have suffered depression because of it.

But aside from mental issues, he believed the physical repercussions of circumcision can be harmful.

He added: “I know a man who tried to sue doctors who circumcised him as a baby because it left him with pain and severe scarring.

“But a urologist told him there was no point because those kinds of adverse effects are common once you’ve been circumcised. Can you imagine?

“It’s unregulated and how many get hurt from being circumcised? That’s the side that doesn’t get talked about.”

Dr Lempert also disputed as "controversial" evidence that adult male circumcision in Africa reduced the risk of HIV infection for men in heterosexual sex.

The doctor also made reference to Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).

He added: “What difference does it make for people to say ‘oh I’ve been hurt more than a woman’ or vice versa?

“I’m not comparing the two but they are in the same category and need to be stopped.”

  • Editor's note: The above interview has been amended after Dr Lempert identified errors in its original wording. A full correction is here. We apologise to Dr Lempert for any embarassment or confusion.

Rabbi Ephraim Levine, who works at Watford Synagogue, disagrees with Dr Lempert’s views and has accused him of “scaremongering”.

Rabbi Levine pointed out that people had been circumcising their sons for thousands of years with little consequences. 

The Jewish religion requires parents to circumcise their boys on the 8th day of their birth and is known as a ‘Brit Millah’, or a ‘Bris’ for shirt.

“It’s a covenant between man and God,” he explains. “It’s an in integral part of the faith and even people who aren’t observant Jews get their sons circumcised.

“There are certain things we have to do for children whether they want it or not, it’s beyond logical reasoning and is part of the faith so consent doesn’t come into it.

“We believe a child is relying on their parents to do what is right for them.”

He rejects the idea that circumcised men are depressed over it.

“I know hundreds of people, myself included, who are circumcised and I can safely say, they are not depressed,” Rabbi Levine says.

“Sure it can go wrong but that doesn’t rule out the entire procedure of Brit Millah.

“All that’s happening is that excess skin is being removed, not flesh.

“It will continue to be acceptable as long as there is Jewish boys around.”