Circumcision bans: Unwarranted and harmful?

Johns Hopkins infectious disease experts say the medical benefits for male circumcision are clear and that efforts in an increasing number of states (currently 18) to not provide Medicaid insurance coverage for male circumcision, as well as an attempted ballot initiative in San Francisco earlier this year to ban male circumcision in newborns and young boys, are unwarranted.

Click for the commentary.

20 thoughts on “Circumcision bans: Unwarranted and harmful?”

  1. I got an infection behind my ear one time due to a psoriasis rash and a failure as a young boy to properly wash behind my ears. This could have been prevented if only my parents had cut my ears off when I was a child. I would be able to hear just fine without them – they are essentially a worthless flap of skin.

    I wouldn’t ever have to worry about how unsanitary and gross the area under my fingernails is too, if my folks had just had my fingernails removed. Seriously, what purpose do they really fulfil other than being a place for all sorts of filth and germs to propogate in what are essentially my main eating utensils? While they were at it, they could have saved me from that nasty ingrown toenail that I got a few years back if they’d just taken them off while they were at it.

    Why don’t we take out everyone’s tonsils right after they are born, too? I mean, they serve no purpose and some people really have trouble with them. Might as well just do an pre-emptive appendicitis while you’re in there.

    I guess what I’m saying is that the “if we cut off the foreskin, there will never be any problem with infection of the foreskin in the patient” logic has some major flaws in it. I’m not sitting around every day lamenting the fact that I have none, but i can tell you right now that I am not going to cut off a perfectly harmless piece of my son’s skin simply because there is some outside risk that that skin could become infected (which, by the by, is the same with every piece of skin on his body!)

  2. You regard it as a “small piece of meaningless skin” because yours was probably cut off when you were a baby. It’s actually the most sensitive part of my penis by far. It’s not just there to protect the glans. People who cut girls tend to think they’re cutting off small pieces of meaningless skin too btw.

    What’s wrong with letting the person whose body it is decide for themselves when they’re old enough?

  3. I’m going to stand by Unpronouncable here. Small (or even significant) reductions over single sexual encounters aren’t going to make or break epidemics spread by long-term promiscuity, prostitution, and (most importantly) poor sanitization.

    Condom use is an order of magnitude more effective while being cheaper, pain-free, and risk-free.

    This health-benefit claptrap is ridiculous, and I’m not going to entertain this any further.

  4. That’s the way it should be. People should have the freedom to choose to practice their religion as you see fit as long as it harms no one. Removing a small piece of meaningless skin is perfectly acceptable.

    It’s your child, and if you wish the traditional dedication to the Almighty, then go in peace. If you do not wish, go in peace without it.

  5. I did read the commentary. There are several countries which don’t circumcise where the rates of all those things are lower than in the USA. Genital surgery doesn’t seem to be the answer. Would you be as keen to promote circumcision in Africa if it were females being cut? Read this before you decide:

    AIDS in Africa?

    “There appears no clear pattern of association between male circumcision and HIV prevalence—in 8 of 18 countries with data, HIV prevalence is lower among circumcised men, while in the remaining 10 countries it is higher.”

    The South African National Communication Survey on HIV/AIDS, 2009 found that 15% of adults across age groups “believe that circumcised men do not need to use condoms”.

    From the committee of the South African Medical Association Human Rights, Law & Ethics Committee :
    “the Committee expressed serious concern that not enough scientifically-based evidence was available to confirm that circumcisions prevented HIV contraction and that the public at large was influenced by incorrect and misrepresented information. The Committee reiterated its view that it did not support circumcision to prevent HIV transmission.”

    The one randomized controlled trial into male-to-female transmission showed a 54% higher rate in the group where the men had been circumcised btw:

    ABC (Abstinence, Being faithful, and especially Condoms) is the way forward. Promoting genital surgery will cost African lives, not save them.

  6. Read the commentary. Would you be interested in a vaccine that cut the risk of HIV infection by 60%, genital herpes by 35% and cancer causing HPV virus by 30% worthless?

    I personally don’t have much risk for those diseases, but there are millions of men and women, especially in Africa, who would have been spared the horrendous AIDS epidemic if the circumcision rate had been 50% or more.

    but dead folks don’t have much to say, do they?

  7. “And we like it that way, so please mind your own business.”

    Actually, the circumcision rate in the USA is down from about 90% to about 55%, and about 30% on the west coast.

    Drops in male circumcision since 1950:
    Canada: from 48% to 17%
    UK: from 35% to about 5% (about 1-2% among non-Muslims)
    Australia: 90% to 12.4% (“routine” circumcision has recently been *banned* in public hospitals in all states)
    New Zealand: 95% to below 3% (mostly Samoans and Tongans)
    South America and Europe: never above 5%

  8. “I’m astounded that anyone could even type that on the internet without breaking into peals of self-derisive laughter. Are you sane, sir?”

    Very much so. So were these people:

    C.F. McDonald, M.D. – Milwaukee, Wisconsin
    “If the male needs circumcision for cleanliness and hygiene, why not the female? I have operated on perhaps 40 patients who needed this attention.” (1958)

    W.G. Rathmann, M.D.
    “The value of this procedure [female circumcision] in improving function has been accepted by various cultures for the past 3,500 years.” (1959)

    AAP Bioethics Committee
    “Some forms of FGC are less extensive than the newborn male circumcision commonly performed in the West.” (2010)
    (this policy to allow minor forms of female cutting was withdrawn after just six weeks, but male circumcision continues)

    Talk to the some of the people that promote female cutting today, and try to tell them it’s different from male circumcision. Are you aware that the USA also used to practise female circumcision? Fortunately, it never caught on the same way as male circumcision, but there are middle-aged white US American women walking round today with no clitoris because it was removed. Some of them don’t even realise what has been done to them. There are frequent references to the practice in medical literature up until the late 1950’s. Most of them point out the similarity with male circumcision, and suggest that it should be performed for the same reasons. Blue Cross/Blue Shield had a code for clitoridectomy till 1977.

  9. “There are only two countries in the world where more than 50% of baby boys are circumcised – the USA and Israel.”

    And we like it that way, so please mind your own business.

  10. “cutting parts off a boy’s genitals isn’t really that different from cutting parts off a girl’s genitals.”

    I’m astounded that anyone could even type that on the internet without breaking into peals of self-derisive laughter. Are you sane, sir?

  11. The only people that think there’s a fundamental difference between cutting parts off male genitals and cutting parts off female genitals are the people that practise one, but not the other. People in countries that cut both or neither don’t see a difference, and neither did the US doctors who were still promoting extreme forms of female circumcision up until the 1960’s.

    There are forms of female cutting that are worse than male circumcision (though over 100 young men died of circumcision in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa last year), but cutting parts off a boy’s genitals isn’t really that different from cutting parts off a girl’s genitals. Many forms of female cutting don’t touch the clitoris, and do considerably less damage than the usual form of male circumcision. One form just removes the female prepuce (the clitoral hood or female foreskin), so is the exact equivalent of US-style male circumcision. Even a pinprick or a symbolic nick of the clitoral hood is banned in the US though, and I think boys should get the same protection.

    It’s not like it has to be done. The only two countries in the world that circumcise more than 50% of baby boys are the USA and Israel.

  12. Kuhnkat, the medical benefits are neglible at best. If you were to promote circumcision to reduce AIDs, then you would be several orders of magnitude greater cost (both in money and suffering) than just using condoms. Let’s not let ourselves get carried away by stereotyping and extolling on meaninglessly small benefits.

  13. I object to the ludicrous comparison between circumcision, which is a removal of a small amount of skin, and the barbaric practice of clitoral amputation (or in certain regions, even worse). If the procedures were equivalent (such as removing a section of the clitoral hood), then there would be no objection for the female variant.

    Don’t throw up straw demons here.

  14. There are countries where men find the thought of sex with an uncut woman repellent, but that doesn’t make it acceptable to cut parts off baby girls (though the people in those countries have 101 ways to justify it).

    Most of the world’s men are intact, and the seem to manage juuust fine.

    It’s worth remembering that no-one except for Jewish people and Muslims would even be having this discussion if it weren’t for the fact that 19th century doctors thought that :
    a) masturbation caused various physical and mental problems (including epilepsy, convulsions, paralysis, tuberculosis etc), and
    b) circumcision stopped masturbation.

    Both of those sound ridiculous today I know, but how that’s how they thought back then, and that’s how non-religious circumcision got started. If you don’t believe me, then google “A Short History of Circumcision in North America In the Physicians’ Own Words”.

    Heck, they even passed laws against “self-pollution” as it was called.

    Over a hundred years later, circumcised men keep looking for new ways to defend the practice.

  15. Why is it so easy to find circumcised doctors who are against circumcision, but so hard to find male doctors in favor of it who weren’t circumcised themselves as children?

    Canadian Paediatric Society
    “Recommendation: Circumcision of newborns should not be routinely performed.”
    “Circumcision is a ‘non-therapeutic’ procedure, which means it is not medically necessary.”
    “After reviewing the scientific evidence for and against circumcision, the CPS does not recommend routine circumcision for newborn boys. Many paediatricians no longer perform circumcisions.”

    British Medical Association
    “to circumcise for therapeutic reasons where medical research has shown other techniques to be at least as effective and less invasive would be unethical and inappropriate.”

    The Royal Dutch Medical Association
    “The official viewpoint of KNMG and other related medical/scientific organisations is that non-therapeutic circumcision of male minors is a violation of children’s rights to autonomy and physical integrity. Contrary to popular belief, circumcision can cause complications – bleeding, infection, urethral stricture and panic attacks are particularly common. KNMG is therefore urging a strong policy of deterrence. KNMG is calling upon doctors to actively and insistently inform parents who are considering the procedure of the absence of medical benefits and the danger of complications.”

    There are only two countries in the world where more than 50% of baby boys are circumcised – the USA and Israel.

  16. Ben, circumcision is an order of magnitude more extensive than an ear piercing. The prepuce has been shown to contain a high level of innervation and specialization, so there is clearly some sort of sexual loss involved.

    We go to great length to shelter our children’s developing sexuality, and I don’t see why (male) children shouldn’t be protected from elective genital surgery under the same auspice.

  17. scizzorbill,

    it isn’t the foreskin getting infected that is the problem. It is the fact that the foreskin increases the chances of picking up diseases from partners. I get a real kick out of the fact that San Francisco, a city with a large Homosexual population, is pushing this. Statistics would seem to show that Circumcised males are less likely to catch AIDS!!!

  18. Scizzor, while there is no need to circumcise a male. There is no need to ban it either.

    I never had the procedure, but I would have no objections if that bit of skin was missing. This is a lot of hullaballoo over nothing.

    If you look at it. This is on the same magnitude as piercing the ears. It’s harmless if done correctly, and some find it aesthetically preferable or religiously required. Would you consider banning ear piercings for children under 18? That would be absurd. Why would you object to a religious ceremony that does no harm to the child?

  19. This makes about as much sense as chopping off your ears, and plugging the holes to prevent an ear infection. The foreskin is there to protect the head of the penis. Human males are not born defective, and require no surgery after birth.

    There will be no infection if the man keeps himself clean. I know of, nor have I ever heard of any male who neglects this simple step while bathing. All men, and women wash their genitals.

    Most of the planet’s male population is uncircumcised. Infected foreskins is not a burning issue anywhere.

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