Antony Lempert is not your typical country doctor. The Bishop’s Castle-based GP is spearheading a national and international campaign on a very controversial issue – the circumcision of baby boys for religious reasons.
Antony, who works three days a week in a Knighton medical practice, is chair of the national Secular Medical Forum. He has taken part in several TV debates and interviews on the ethics of ritual circumcision and other sensitive issues such as doctors’ role in helping terminally ill people who want to die.
“The Secular Medical Forum is interested in protecting patients from the harm caused by the imposition of other people’s religious beliefs,” explains Antony.
The forum tries to influence the bodies that regulate medical care by lobbying and submitting evidence to their consultations.
“Religious traditions should not override individual human rights and yet those in authority in religious organisations claim special privileges to do just that. If we could stop the regulators from making exceptions for religion we would get rid of most of the problems immediately,” says Antony.
Infant male circumcision is a religious rite within the Jewish community, and a strong tradition among Muslims and some Christian groups. Antony himself was brought up in a religious family but prefers not to discuss his personal history.
He says, “Many people are unaware of the harm caused by ritual male circumcision. A normal child, with normal genitals and you take a knife to them – it goes against every concept of medical care and can result in physical, psychological and sexual harm. It’s basically an assault.”
“Research from Birmingham for example found that last year eleven baby boys under one were admitted to the paediatric intensive care unit of Birmingham Children’s Hospital with life-threatening complications such as infection or bleeding as a direct result of circumcision.”
On the subject of assisted dying he says, “If a patient tells me they want to die of course my first concern is to help them improve their lives. But when someone is terminally ill and suffering unbearably, or suffering unbearably even though they are not terminally ill, and they want to die, they should not be refused help just because someone else believes their life is sacred.”
He adds: “No doctor should break the law but there should be properly regulated procedures so people can be assisted to die with proper safeguards. At the moment there are no procedures, and no structure, and as a result there may be people who do not actually want to die who are murdered. Without regulation, patients are not protected.”
Antony and his family have lived in Bishop’s Castle for seven years. “I love it here. I love the people, and find an extraordinary open-mindedness that we are really lucky to have in a small town.”
“I expect there are people who know my views and disagree with them, but they probably avoid me!”
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