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Circumcision Deaths

Some babies die of complications of circumcision.1 There has been a need to assemble information concerning death from complications of circumcision in one convenient location. This page is designed to fill that need.

Deaths occur secondary to loss of blood or systemic infection from the circumcision wound.

A few deaths are reported in the medical literature. Other medical literature discusses the frequency of those deaths. A few deaths are reported in the popular press.

There is reason to believe that many deaths from circumcision are attributed to other causes. For example, if a baby were to die of meningitis that was contracted through the circumcision wound, the death may be attributed to meningitis while ignoring the fact that the baby would not have had meningitis if he had not been circumcised.

Circumcision originated before the dawn of history. There was no knowledge of sanitation or the need for a sterile operating environment. Jews have traditionally performed circumcision on the eighth day after birth for many thousands of years. The medical literature was still reporting numerous deaths from ritual circumcision in the early twentieth century.2, 3 There must have been vast numbers of babies who died under those conditions through the centuries. Jewish law allows parents who have had three sons die from circumcision to leave the fourth son intact.6

Doctors are highly motivated to conceal the true cause of circumcision death. Neonatal circumcision has no medical indication and is now considered to be an unnecessary7 non-therapeutic8 operation. It is unethical to carry out such operations on minors who cannot consent for themselves.9 Consequently, most doctors who have a baby die after a circumcision would prefer to attribute the results of his unethical operation to secondary causes, such as infection or bleeding, while ignoring the primary cause, which is the circumcision that resulted in the infection or bleeding. It is, therefore, very hard to identify the total number of deaths that occur from circumcision. One senses that one may be seeing only the "tip of the iceberg," with the vast majority of deaths from circumcision being concealed. The deaths undoubtedly cause an increase in infant mortality. Male infant mortality is higher than female infant mortality. It is not known how much of this increased mortality is due to the practice of male circumcision.

Several doctors have given estimates of the number of deaths that occur each year. Douglas Gairdner reported 16-19 actual deaths a year in England and Wales from neonatal circumcisions in the 1940s.10 Sydney Gellis believed that "there are more deaths from complications of circumcision than from cancer of the penis.11 There are various figures for the number of deaths from penile cancer ranging from 200 to 480 deaths per year. Robert Baker estimated 229 deaths per year from circumcision in the United States.12

There are several case reports of death in the medical literature. These are deaths from various infections.2-5,13-15 Sauer reported the death of an 18-day-old infant from Staphylococcal bronco-pneumonia.5 Hiss et al. reported the death of an infant in Israel from haemorrhage and hypovolemic shock after ritual circumcision.21

There are several newspaper accounts of boys who have died after circumcision. These are from bleeding and from complications of anesthesia.16-17,19-21,22-36

Several coroner's reports of deaths from circumcision are known to exist.18 38 Demetrius Manker died from blood loss in Dade County, Florida on June 23, 1993.18 The coroner's report on the death of a previously healthy one-month-old infant, Ryleigh Roman Bryan McWillis, less that 48 hours after his circumcision,24 is available. Baby Ryleigh died of hypovolemic shock, after exsanguination caused by hemorrhage at the circumcision wound.38 39 Ryleigh's mother said, "I unplugged his life support at 5 a.m. on the 22nd of August, one month and one day after he was born."39

Despite the abundant evidence of death from circumcision-related-causes, the March 2009 Circumcision Policy Statement of the American Academy of Pediatrics omitted any mention of possible death from circumcision-related-causes, thereby helping to keep American parents uninformed of the possibility of death following circumcision.

Many African tribes have initation ceremonies in which a youth or young man is initiated into manhood. The youths are sent to a camp in a remote area where initiation ceremonies, including circumcision, take place. The circumcisions are carried out by persons without medical training. African tribal ritual circumcision produces reports of death or serious injury every year.28-36, 39,40 The Mail and Guardian reports seven dead in the Fall of 2003 and a total of 250 dead since 1995.36

Amitai Moshe, age 8 days, went into cardiac arrest after a ritual circumcision at Golder's Green Synagogue, London. He was taken from the synagogue directly to hospital and died eight days later.43-45

A family doctor in Ontario circumcised an unnamed healthy infant at seven days of age. The infant suffered multiple complications and died seven days later of hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy.46

Identified victims

Some victims of circumcision are known by name. They are:

See also:

Library holdings

  1. Williams N, Kapila L. Complications of circumcision. Brit J Surg 1993;80:1231-6.
  2. Holt LE. Tuberculosis acquired through ritual circumcision. JAMA 1913;LXI(2):99-102.
  3. Reuben MS. Tuberculosis from ritual circumcision. Proceedings of the New York Academy of Medicine 1916; (December 15): 333-334.
  4. Rosenstein JL. Wound diphtheria in the newborn infant following circumcision: report of a case. J Pediatr 1941;18:657-8.
  5. Sauer LW. Fatal staphylococcus bronchopneumonia following ritual circumcision. Am J Obstetr Gynecol 1943;46:583.
  6. The Talmud of Babylonia: An American Translation. Translated by Jacob Neusner. Number 251. Volume XIII.B: Tractate Yebamot, Chapters 4-6. Program in Judaic Studies Brown University. Atlanta: Scholars Press. 1992.
  7. Denniston GC. Unnecessary Circumcision. The Female Patient 1992: 17: 13-14.
  8. Council on Scientific Affairs, American Medical Association. Report 10: Neonatal circumcision. Chicago: American Medical Association, 1999.
  9. Hodges FM, Svoboda JS, Van Howe RS. Prophylactic interventions on children: balancing human rights with public health. J Med Ethics 2002;28(1):10-16.
  10. Gairdner D. The fate of the foreskin: a study of circumcision. Br Med J 1949; 2:1433-1437.
  11. Gellis SS. Circumcision. Am J Dis Child 1978;132:1168.
  12. Baker RL. Newborn male circumcision: needless and dangerous. Sexual Medicine Today 1979;3(11):35-36.
  13. Scurlock JM, Pemberton PJ. Neonatal meningitis and circumcision. Med J Aust 1977;1(10):332-
  14. Cleary TG, Kohl S. Overwhelming infection with group B beta-hemolytic streptococcus associated with circumcision. Pediatrics 1979;64(3):301-303.
  15. Peter Rachter. Grand jury to probe death of baby after circumcision. The Des Moines Register, Des Moines, Saturday, November 20, 1982.
  16. Boy in coma most of his 6 years dies. The State, Columbia South Carolina, July 10, 1992: F21.
  17. Baby bleeds to death after circumcision. Miami Herald, Miami, Florida, June 26, 1993.
  18. Wetli CV. Case 93-1711. Autopsy of Demetrius Manker. Miami: Dade County Medical Examiner Department, June 23, 1993.
  19. Lyndia Lum, Ruth Sorelle. Boy's death to be probed. Houston Chronicle, Houston, Texas, Friday, July 28, 1995, page 28A.
  20. Circumcision That Didn't Heal Kills Boy, NewsNet5, Cleveland, OH, October 20, 1998.
  21. Hiss J, Horowitz A, Kahana T. Fatal haemorrhage following male ritual circumcision. J Clin Forensic Med 2000;7:32-4.
  22. Omskuren treåring dog av bedövning [Circumcised three-year-old died from anaesthesia]. Aftonbladet, Stockholm, Sweden, Friday, 9 February 2001.
  23. Paul Stokes. Patient died 'because surgeon guessed dose'. Daily Telegraph, Friday, November 30, 2001.
  24. Sandra Vogel-Hockley. Death of local baby subject of investigation. The Penticton Western, Penticton, B.C., Volume 36, Issue 69, 31 August 2002.
  25. Man hunted after death of circumcision baby. Online.ie, Dublin, 20 August 2003.
  26. Infant dies after home circumcision. Munster Express, Munster, Southeathern Ireland, Friday, 22 August 2003.
  27. Initiation Horror as Four Dead. Eastern Province Herald, Port Elizabeth, South Africa, Friday, July 19, 1996.
  28. Chris McGreal. Botched circumcision kills boys. The Guardian, London, 7 January 2000.
  29. Dumisane Lubisi, African Eye News Service. Boy bleeds to death after circumcision. News24, South Africa, 26 June 2001.
  30. Steven Kretzmann. Hospitals Struggle Against Odds to Treat Septic Initiates. East Cape News, Grahamtown, Eastern Cape, South Africa, 01 August 2001.
  31. Dumisane Lubisi. 11-year-old dies after botched circumcision. Daily Mail and Guardian, South Africa, Thursday, 16 August 2001.
  32. Sarie Van Niekerk. Five teens die during initiation. Natal Witness, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, Wednesday, 26 June 2002.
  33. Fourteen dead after initiation rituals in S.Africa. The Times of India, 5 July 2002.
  34. Circumcision leaves 24 dead, 100 in hospital. The Star, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Tuesday, 17 July 2002.
  35. Madoda Dyonana. 'Errant surgeon will be found'. Business Day, Saturday, 7 December 2002.
  36. Law vs tradition in circumcision debacle. The Mail and Guardian. Johannesburg, South Africa, Monday, 8 December 2003.
  37. Newell TEC. Judgement of inquiry into the death of McWillis, Ryleigh Roman Bryan. Burnaby, B.C.: British Columbia Coroner's Service, Monday, 19 January 2004. [HTML file]
  38. Newell TEC. Judgement of inquiry into the death of McWillis, Ryleigh Roman Bryan. Burnaby, B.C.: British Columbia Coroner's Service, Monday, 19 January 2004. [PDF file]
  39. Suzanne Fournier. Lack of post-surgery info angers grieving parents. The Province, Vancouver, B.C., Friday, 13 February 2004.
  40. Circumcision school initiate dies. South African Press Association (SAPA), 8 July 2004.
  41. Lulamile Feni. 10 die in botched circumcisions, 32 fight for lives. Daily Dispatch, East London, Eastern Cape Province, South Africa, Tuesday, 13 December 2005.
  42. Bollinger D. Death and the new penis. International Coalition for Genital Integrity, 2006. [Full Text]
  43. Stephen Moyes. 7-day old dies after circumcision. The Mirror, London, Thursday, 15 February 2007.
  44. Martin Beckford. Police investigate baby's death after circumcision. Daily Telegraph, London, Friday, 16 February 2007.
  45. Polly Curtis. Police probe death of baby after circumcision. The Guardian, London, Saturday, February 17, 2007.
  46. Paediatric Death Review Committee: Office of the Chief Coroner of Ontario. Circumcision: a minor procedure? Paediatr Child Health 2007;12(4):311-2.
  47. Boy, 4, dies after circumcision. Electric New Paper, Singapore, 25 June 2007.
  48. Unjha doctors strike work. Express India, Tuesday, 20 November 2007.
  49. Edward Koech. Boy bleeds to death after 'cut'. The Nation, Nairobi, Friday, December 14, 2007.
  50. Cynthia R. Fagen. Tot's shock hosp death: Tragic circumcision. New York Post, Thursday, May 5, 2011.
  51. Liz Robbins. Baby's Death Renews Debate Over a Circumcision Ritual. New York Times, Wednesday, March 7, 2012.

(File revised 16 August 2013)

http://www.cirp.org/library/death/