Female genital mutilation. Bioethical reflections on a growing phenomenon in Italy

  • Giovanni Del Missier


This article examines the subject of female genital mutilation (FGM) in order to formulate a precise moral judgment on this practice and offer some guidelines for the promotion of good and responsible social behaviors that fully respect the personal dignity of women.

The author begins with a comprehensive overview of the phenomenon, which is on the rise now in Italy. He discusses the historical background of FGM; the different ways of mutilations are done; the psychological and physical consequences for women; and the geographical distribution and quantitative aspects of the practice. The article next turns to the traditional reasons that supporters use to try to justify FGM as well as the modern social theories that have sought to interpret the meaning of sexual mutilations, especially within the context of human rights. The paper provides a critical analysis of the ethical arguments most often advanced in support of or against FGM, arguing that all of these attempts have suffered from internal inconsistencies. The author tries to overcome those shortcomings by framing his arguments within a personalistic anthropology, one that avoids the Scylla of ethnocentrism and the Charybdis of cultural relativism.

Starting from the perspective of the moral meaning of human body, the article shows that the practice of FGM is seriously unethical and examines in detail the ethical responsibility of the various people normally involved in the practice. The author applies some analogous arguments taken from the major moral theologians of the Catholic tradition to the subject at hand in order to establish the fundamental starting point for any intercultural dialogue, one that respects cultural diversity and avoids both paternalism and cultural imperialism. This firm foundation can provide the basis for the different communities that now comprise Italian society to overcome these practices by replacing them with bloodless rituals that do not jeopardize the values that their traditions would like to safeguard and to transmit. The exposition concludes with some concrete proposals aimed at guiding social structures to intervene effectively in modifying such harmful traditions in a way respectful of human dignity and cultural differences, paying particular attention to the problems of women, families, communities, physicians and to the introduction of specific criminal legislation against FGM.



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How to Cite
Del Missier, G. (2000). Female genital mutilation. Bioethical reflections on a growing phenomenon in Italy. Medicina E Morale, 49(6), 1097-1143. https://doi.org/10.4081/mem.2000.774

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