circumcision, infibulation, etc., of children What are parents and guardians entitled to do to their offspring and wards in ways that alter their natural bodies? As with the issue of the *age of consent, a useful *libertarian criterion might be that something is acceptable if it is likely that the *child would be grateful to have had it once he is clearly an adult. This sometimes leaves opposite possibilities open depending on the (sub)culture that the child is then to be raised within. In the UK, males that are not Jewish or Islamic but were circumcised might resent it. In the USA male circumcision remains the, declining, norm; possibly because doctors can claim the extra expense from *health insurance. *extreme interferences can appear normal in some cultures. Foot binding or infibulation can be not merely acceptable but socially required. Even if any of these practices can pass tests as libertarian, that does not imply that a libertarian must approve of them.
With the most extreme infibulation, this involves clitoridectomy, excision of the labia minora, and cutting and stitching together of the labia majora to form a cover over the vagina. So we have to be sure that the endorsements by the female children’s adult selves are genuine. Are they being frank or lying because of social pressure? Do they really prefer that their younger selves had their genitals severely mutilated without anesthetic while they screamed for mercy? Even if they appreciate the often high risk of death or disease that ensues with this in some parts of the world? The evidence is that women in such cultures are now, at least, increasingly seeing it as barbaric and saying so.
Can a parent or guardian therefore impose by not having some body-altering operation performed? No, because that is usually withholding a (possibly dubious) benefit, and not failing to perform a *contractual duty; though some conceivable special, social, circumstances just might make it a duty of care. And in some cases the child could simply opt for the operation when it is older; but not all, such as foot binding.
If the very young child is only a potential *person, how can any act by the parent conflict with its *liberty as a person? We have no obligation to conceive and raise children, but given that we do give them the gift of life we cannot set this gift against some mutilation and claim that they benefited overall. We have a libertarian duty not to *proactively impose on them, unless to protect them, even if the imposition causally antedates their becoming persons. By analogy, we ordinarily have no libertarian duty to save a drowning person. But if, ad arguendo, we were intentionally to mutilate him in the water (maybe while he is unconscious) and afterwards save him, then we are liable for *restitution or *retribution for the separate act of mutilation despite the overall benefit he receives from us.
See *acts and
A Dictionary of Libertarianism