Today in the most recent issue of the journal Pediatrics, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released an updated recommendation for infant circumcision. As are other intactivists fighting for the bodily integrity of all children, I am appalled that a group that supposedly has the best interests of children at heart would even consider agreeing with the routine surgical amputation of a healthy, functioning body part on an unconsenting minor. The updated AAP circumcision policy statement and my outraged response follow.
2012 AAP Circumcision Policy Statement
Systematic evaluation of English-language peer-reviewed literature from 1995 through 2010 indicates that preventive health beneﬁts of elective circumcision of male newborns outweigh the risks of the procedure. Beneﬁts include signiﬁcant reductions in the risk of urinary tract infection in the ﬁrst year of life and, subsequently, in the risk of heterosexual acquisition of HIV and the transmission of other sexually transmitted infections.
The procedure is well tolerated when performed by trained professionals under sterile conditions with appropriate pain management. Complications are infrequent; most are minor, and severe complications are rare. Male circumcision performed during the newborn period has considerably lower complication rates than when performed later in life.
Although health beneﬁts are not great enough to recommend routine circumcision for all male newborns, the beneﬁts of circumcision are sufﬁcient to justify access to this procedure for families choosing it and to warrant third-party payment for circumcision of male newborns. It is important that clinicians routinely inform parents of the health beneﬁts and risks of male newborn circumcision in an unbiased and accurate manner.
Parents ultimately should decide whether circumcision is in the best interests of their male child. They will need to weigh medical information in the context of their own religious, ethical, and cultural beliefs and practices. The medical beneﬁts alone may not outweigh these other considerations for individual families.
Findings from the systematic evaluation are available in the accompanying technical report. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has endorsed this statement.
I think the AAP needs to stop bowing to outside pressure and say that routine circumcision is NEVER necessary and is NOT recommended. I also think that the US needs to ban routine (that is, not legitimately medical) circumcision of unconsenting minors. Circumcision is abuse, no ifs, ands, or buts. If the penis is not part of your body, then you do not get to decide to cut off any of the healthy, functioning foreskin.
When expressing my view that routine infant circumcision (RIC) is abuse, I have been accused that abuse is too hard of a word. I do not think that abuse is too harsh of a word. If I were to cut off my child’s healthy, functioning finger in the name of religion or disease prevention, everyone would cry abuse. Why is cutting off a child’s healthy, functioning foreskin any different. Unless there is a legitimate medical reason otherwise, then the owner of the penis and only the owner of the penis should be able to decide whether he wants to amputate his foreskin or not.
The AAP is being cowardly in its new recommendations for circumcision. Amputation should never be the first choice in disease prevention. HPV, which is one of the diseases that circumcision is said to prevent, causes cervical cancer in females. Why not have all little girls’ cervixes removed? Because that is crazy (and abusive), that’s why! Too extreme of a comparison? How about, having tonsils and an appendix increases a child’s risk of getting tonsillitis or appendicitis. Why not surgically remove all babies’ tonsils and appendixes at birth. Again, because that is crazy (and abusive). Routine removal of the foreskin is no different. If a man who is of legal age to consent wants to be circumcised, then that is his decision. Otherwise, only the owner of the penis should get a say in whether part of the organ should be surgically amputated. AAP, stop bowing to outside pressure and just say no to circumcision!
And, to the parents who have circumcised sons, I am not saying that parents who previously chose to circumcise are bad people. However, we must now accept the harm that circumcision does (regardless of what the AAP chooses to state) and put an end to the practice. If a man grows up and wishes to remove his foreskin, then that is his choice. We as parents must protect our children from harm and that includes not choosing an unnecessary surgery for them.
Even if circumcision does come with some benefits, the benefits DO NOT outweigh the risks. Using the same logic, one could argue that all teenaged girls should have mastectomies. Breast cancer as well as infections such as mastitis could be prevented through the surgical removal of breast tissue. Why not allow parents to choose to surgically remove their daughters’ breasts? Or how about female circumcision? The vagina has many more folds and crevasses than the penis. Removing the areas in which disease can hide and grow would further prevent the spread of STDs as well as would help girls keep their vaginas clean. In our culture, baby girls have the right to bodily integrity. Why do baby boys not?
Furthermore, addressing the religious reason for circumcision, the religious reasons argument is especially problematic. Newborn babies do not have religion. If a man grows up and chooses to be circumcised for religious reasons, that is his choice. But to foist religious amputation on a baby is just wrong. There are religions that believe in female circumcision, and the West gets all up in arms about that. But say you’re going to remove your son’s foreskin for religious reasons and somehow that is fine? Anyone who is against female circumcision (female genital mutilation or FGM) but who is for male circumcision is a hypocrite.
As for the claim that complications of RIC are usually minor and that major complications (such as complete amputation of the penis and even death) are rare, what happened to the Hippocratic Oath? Doctors are supposed to first do no harm. Both fatal and non-fatal injuries from circumcision are 100% preventable. As a cosmetic or religious procedure, circumcision should never be performed on an unconsenting minor. Only in the case of a legitimate medical problem should the foreskin be surgically removed. Surgery should be performed only for a legitimate medical reason. Religious, cultural, and social reasons should never sway doctors on the issue of RIC.
Again, however, I am not saying that parents who did circumcise are bad people. We all make mistakes. There, however, comes a point when ignorance can no longer be an excuse. The AAP, as much as I usually like the organization, is perpetuating ignorance. In endorsing the statement, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) is also perpetuating ignorance and furthering the harm of children. Circumcision is harmful to unconsenting babies. We now need to grow as a people, learn from our mistakes, and say no more! Say NO to routine infant circumcision.