Robert Darby, Rest in Peace

Robert DarbyRobert Darby has passed away. He was the author of A Surgical Temptation: The Demonization of the Foreskin and the Rise of Circumcision in Britain (1st Ed., 2005).

While I never met him personally, I knew him from his writings and collaborations with others, particularly Steven Svoboda (ARC Law) and Brian Earp.

Brian sent out this email (edited slightly to remove contact info) with details of their collaboration and Robert’s death.

Dear friends and colleagues,

It is with extreme sadness that I write to tell you that Robert Darby has died. Rob was a giant in the fight for children’s rights. He was a learned historian, a moral philosopher, a skeptic, a literary critic, and an activist in the cause of social justice (on so many fronts). Whatever area of scholarship he took up, his contributions were always brilliant, measured, and deeply-informed. He made important contributions in several fields, from medical history and sexuality studies to anthropology to bioethics. With J. Steven Svoboda, he wrote the landmark paper, “A Rose By Any Other Name: Rethinking the Similarities and Differences between Male and Female Genital Cutting,” published originally in Medical Anthropology Quarterly and later expanded and republished in an edited volume (here). This was a truly brave essay, shattering dogmas with impeccable erudition and a gentle touch, paving the way for future scholars to think the unthinkable and say the unsayable in the name of protecting all children from medically unnecessary genital cutting.

His book, A Surgical Temptation: the Demonization of the Foreskin and the Rise of Circumcision in Britain (Chicago University Press, 2013), is a modern classic: a disturbing, astonishing, and painstakingly researched account of the insidious power of cultural and sexual prejudice to undermine medical practice. Rob’s sparkling wit and vast understanding come through on every page.

He was a profoundly moral person, using his energy, skill, and intellect to advocate–day after day–for the most vulnerable among us. He lived his life with incredible wisdom and virtue, as a loyal friend, a patient colleague, a careful scholar, and tireless defender of human rights.

Rob’s work and spirit have touched the lives of so many. He was a kind and sensitive person. For me personally, he was a dear friend and constant mentor, through good times and bad. To say he will be missed is not enough.

There are two short notices of death published in local Australian newspapers. Please consider leaving a memory or condolence.

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Now is a time to grieve. We will look to ways of properly honoring Rob’s memory and celebrating his life and work in the coming months.

Brian D. Earp

New Haven, CT

April 23, 2019

Robert and his contributions will be missed.

About David Wilton

fronterizo, public defender, intactivist, gay
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