A trail-blazing legal ban on the circumcision of most baby boys is a step closer in Tasmania.

The Tasmanian Law Reform Institute today recommended the state impose a general prohibition on the circumcision of "incapable minors," except for well-established religious or ethnic reasons.

In a benchmark 101-page report, the institute also calls for legislation to clarify the legality of circumcisions done at the request of adults and "capable minors".

The institute's director, Kate Warner, said it was unclear whether non-therapeutic infant male circumcision was actually lawful. “In the interests of certainty, the institute recommends that the law be clarified,” Professor Warner said.

Circumcision is a permanent genital modification involving at least a partial excision of the male foreskin, according to the institute.

The report said there was rarely, if ever, a medical reason for the circumcision of a newborn boy.

Yet more than 19,000 Medicare claims were lodged nationally in 2010 for circumcisions on boys under six months of age. The statistics suggest about 13 per cent of newborn Australian boys are circumcised annually.

"Non-therapeutic circumcision is performed for a variety of reasons, including socio-cultural, religious, aesthetic and prophylactic reasons," it said.

Costs of the procedure included significant pain, and a potential reduction in sexual pleasure.

"Trauma from circumcision in childhood can also have a long lasting and significant effect on a person's mental health," the report said.

Benefits could include its cultural significance, particularly in Muslim and Jewish communities, and some reduced exposure to infectious disease.

But the report said the world's leading health policy organisations cautioned against attributing too much significance to circumcision's prophylactic effect for those who live in the developed world.

"No authoritative health policy maker in any jurisdiction with a frequency of relevant health conditions as low as that in Australia recommends circumcision as an individual or public health measure."

The report said the community was split over the merits of circumcising baby boys, but the institute concluded that for reasons of rational reform it should only be legal in the case of "widely and well-received" reasons.

"The law ought to condemn the waning tradition of circumcising incapable boys for secular non-ethnicity related social reasons."

A spokesman for the Attorney-General, Brian Wightman, said the state government was considering its response to the report.