A Cologne district court in May opposed religious circumcision when a Muslim boy fell ill after having his foreskin removed. Muslim and Jewish leaders have denounced the ruling as an encroachment on freedom of religion.
German legislators on July 19 passed a resolution urging the government to draft a law explicitly permitting the practice.
While the debate rages on, evidence is mounting that circumcision eliminates a hiding place for bacteria and viruses.
A circumcision program in Orange Farm, South Africa, may have averted 536 infections last year among 52,000 men there, according to estimates presented at the International AIDS Conference last week. An earlier analysis showed that the program had reduced the rate of new HIV infections by 76 percent.
The practice also reduces the chance of getting genital herpes and human papillomavirus, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
The same study also showed that women may benefit from a man's circumcision. The circumcised men in the study were 35 percent less likely to get HPV, which causes genital warts and cervical cancer in women. About three-quarters of U.S. adults have had at least one HPV infection, according to the 2009 study.
Circumcision also may reduce the risk of prostate cancer, according to research published in the journal Cancer in March. There is also "substantial evidence" that the procedure protects against urinary tract infections, syphilis and invasive penile cancer, the World Health Organization said in a report.
Men shouldn't be denied circumcision if requested, as long as there is no medical reason to avoid it, the WHO has said. Removing the foreskin early in a child's life carries a lower risk of complications as well as lower costs compared with performing the procedure on adults, according to the United Nations health agency's manual on infant circumcision.
The WHO estimates that circumcision of newborns has a 0.2 percent to 0.4 percent rate of adverse events. When done in clinical settings, WHO says the procedures are generally risk-free. Religious circumcisions are sometimes performed in unhygienic conditions, which can result in serious complications and even death.
Two newborn boys died in New York between 2000 and 2011 after being infected with herpes simplex virus as a result of out-of-hospital ritual circumcisions, according to a June 8 report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
The American Academy of Pediatrics leaves the decision of circumcision up to the parents, neither endorsing nor opposing the practice, though its position statement does say that the procedure may reduce the risk of bladder infections and HIV.