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Claimed by culture: circumcision, cochlear implants and the ‘intact’ body
  1. Ylva Söderfeldt
  1. History of Science and Ideas, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden
  1. Correspondence to Dr Ylva Söderfeldt, History of Science and Ideas, Uppsala University, Uppsala 751 26, Sweden; ylva.soderfeldt{at}


This review essay discusses the debates on infant male circumcision and on paediatric cochlear implants, two instances of surgical interventions done on small children without there being any pressing life-threatening indication. Reviewing these two issues together—something that has not previously been done, although there is a vast scholarly debate on both issues separately—helps frame the medical humanities and the current turn in the field towards abandoning the nature/culture and science/humanities divides. The debates on these procedures are fraught with a distinction between medicine and culture which constructs a certain kind of body as ‘natural’ and seeks to defend that body against ‘cultural’ interventions while welcoming supposedly acultural ‘medical’ interventions on other bodies. In the scholarship in medical humanities and medical ethics on these topics, this implicit nature/culture divide and view on medicine as separate from culture is also evident. My contention is that the medical humanities have important work to do here, in particular regarding a critique of the notion of the ‘whole’ or ‘intact’ body.

  • medical humanities
  • disability
  • paediatrics
  • surgery

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  • Contributors YS is the sole author.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.