COLUMN: Circumcision decisions should be left to those being circumcised
People weird me out.
There are endless examples of accepted cultural practices and traditions that confuse and concern me, but none more than male circumcision in the U.S. Even though it was done to me (without my consent) as an infant, I honestly can say that it never would occur to me to cut off a piece of a newborn baby boy.
The American Academy of Pediatrics released a report last week that found “the benefits outweigh the risks” of circumcising male children. To say the least, my eyebrows shot to my slowly receding hairline. According to the report, which was written for an American audience, circumcision helps prevent urinary tract infections and the spread of HIV. The catch?
The studies used to compile the report were conducted in Africa, on a population without universal access to anti-bacterial soap or condoms.
Let me state that I don’t doubt the biological conclusions that circumcision will help prevent the spread of HIV. Circumcision destroys a gland by scarification, and so closes off one potential path for HIV to enter the body. In a population terrifyingly saturated with cases of HIV, it makes sense.
Taking this information and trying to apply it to the U.S. population is downright insane. You don’t have to be a doctor to figure that out, but fortunately since the report came out, plenty of doctors have spoken up on the issue.
The group Doctors Opposing Circumcision states in its rebuttal to the American Academy of Pediatrics report, “It is clear that the members of the task force were chosen with a view to obtaining an outcome favorable for the continued practice of circumcision of male children and to provide for third-party payment to doctors.” They claim circumcision produces more than a billion dollars annually in medical costs, both from the procedure and from follow-up treatments to deal with complications. If correct, that’s quite a motive to push for circumcisions to continue.
I was able to find several peer-reviewed papers that directly debunk the findings of the report in advance, and those studies were done on the American population. In fact, in the U.S., more circumcised men have HIV or AIDS than non-circumcised men do. Plus, we have access to soap and condoms.
And the risks? Approximately 117 infants die annually from infection or other complications due to unnecessary circumcision in the U.S. Other risks include permanent damage to the reproductive system and urinary tract. And then there’s always the “whoops” factor — actually botched circumcisions. These risks, compared to a UTI, are severe.
So why would a group of doctors like the American Academy of Pediatrics, whose very title implies that the well-being of children is its primary concern, release a report recommending the unnecessary surgical alteration of a child’s genitals? Every one of the doctors on the “task force” has made it clear they harbor religious beliefs concerning circumcision.
That’s why they were chosen to compile the report, because they already had their minds made up about the issue and only needed to find data that would both be easy to manipulate and support their position. I’m sure the money was also a factor.
Circumcision should be the choice of the person being circumcised. Holding down a baby and slicing off a healthy, functioning part of him is unethical. If the reasons for the procedure are religious, then let him make that decision for himself. If the reason is to prevent HIV or UTIs, I suggest the teaching of very basic hygiene and condom use over surgery. If the reason is purely aesthetic, then you are performing plastic surgery on a baby. That’s just sick.
Many of us plan to start families when we graduate, and many of us already have. If and when you do, whether you adopt or have kids of your own, please think about the medical decisions you make on behalf of your child. Any surgery is potentially life threatening and dangerous, so please, don’t let someone perform a surgical procedure on your infant unless you really have given it a lot of thought.
I know I wish my parents had.
Trent Cason is a literature and cultural studies senior.