Obligation to Ethics

I can see both sides of the argument regarding the morality of FGM.  While I stand boldly on the side of vehemently opposing its practice, philosophical and ethical debates demand from us, both as nurses and as individuals, to seek to understand worldviews that differ from our own.  While we may still stand on opposite sides of an ethical dilemma, with our peers and patients, at least we may sharpen our minds through critical thinking, gain valuable self-awareness of our own biases and perhaps most importantly, be able to defend our position in an educated manner.

In provision 8 of the Guide to the Code of Ethics for Nurses with Interpretive Statements, we are called to protect human rights and reduce health disparities not only in our own communities but globally.   Therefore, female genitalia mutilation, or (FGM) is within our scope of concern and deserves our attention and whatever advocacy is deemed necessary.

Janie Butts and Karen Rich touch on the subject of FGM as an example of cultural relativism.  The problem with this worldview is that if culture is the determinant of morality, anything goes.  If you subscribe to cultural relativism than you are also subscribing to the belief that the holocaust was morally right because it was the culture at the time.

I believe people’s reasoning in support of cultural relativism is grounded in noble intent, which is to be accepting of different cultures and customs.  Brian Earp explores this very issue in his paper Between Moral Relativism and Moral Hypocrisy: Reframing the debate on FGM.  Earp explains that if we claim that FGM is wrong and its practice banned, (which it has been by the World Health Organization) whereby claiming that universal rights exist, we must also look at our own culture with the same degree of scrutiny.  Robert Darby responds to Earp in his paper Moral Hypocrisy or Intellectual Inconsistency?: A Historical Perspective on Our Habit of Placing Male and Female Genital Cutting in Separate Ethical Boxes, posing the question that male circumcision should be given the same degree of attention in reference to the moral justification for it.  As Westerners, we are accustomed to male circumcision and while there may be medical justifications for its common practice we must insist on consistency in our moral judgements and scrutiny.

Preston D. Mitchum’s 2013 publication draws the best conclusion I’ve seen thus far regarding FGM.  Mitchum states that while a resolution between cultural relativism and human rights activists may not exist, one cannot exclude cultural norms while attempting to fight for human rights.  While culture must be considered it does not justify health and human rights violations that occur with female genital mutilation.  While culture is important, human rights trumps any cultural customs or traditions.  Culture aside, female genital mutilation is morally wrong.


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