New York Times, Letters to the Editor Section, Saturday, May 25, 1996

Circumcision is a Human Rights Issue (Title of Letters sub section)

To the Editor:

Re "The Unkindest Cut? How Circumcision Came Full Circle" (Week in Review,
May 19):  There are millions of species of mammals, reptiles and birds.  All
- male and female - have a foreskin, or prepuce.  What Dr. Edgar Schoen,
chairman of the American Academy of Pediatrics' 1989 task force on
circumcision, and others would have you believe is that out of all those
species, only one - the North American male human - needs to undergo
amputative surgery to be healthy and clean.

In my opinion, circumcision is not a medical issue; it is a human rights

RICH ANGELL, Palo Alto, Calif., May 19, 1996.

To the Editor:

You note that many physicians like Dr. Terry W. Hensle believe that mohels,
or ritual circumcisers, are "probably the best" (Week in Review, May 19).

In the Jewish faith, ritual circumcision is usually performed outside the
hospital and can be carried out by any observant Jew knowlegeable in Jewish
law.  The mohel can train an apprentice, who becomes proficient in his
religious and surgical skills and then can become a mohel in his own right.

It is unsettling that with today's global blood-borne epidemics of H.I.V. and
hepititis B, there is no public health regulation of the skills, training,
infectious disease control and adherance to universal precautions of
circumcisers outside the hospital in the United States, Britain, Israel, and
other countries where ritual circumcision is carried out.

There is a clear bridge between religious law and invasive health care
procedures in ritual circumcision, and education and medical regulation of
this procedure are now appropriate.

Palm Beach, FLa., May 19, 1996

The Writer is chairman, Kuvin Center for the Study of Infectious and Tropical
Diseases at Hebrew University.

To the Editor:

Your article on Circumcision (Week in Review, May 19) reffered to urinary
tract infection, but didn't mention a study of 219,755 boys born in United
States Armed Forces hospitals that found a tenfold increase in the incidence
of urinary tract infections among uncircumcised boys.

Neurologists have assured us that because a baby's nervous system in
undeveloped at the time of circumcision, he cannot feel pain.  To further
assure that pain is eliminated, a 30 percent lidocaine cream is applied 30
minutes before the procedure.


Pres., Brith Milah Board of New York
New York, May 20, 1996

To the Editor:

Re your May 19 Week in Review article about Circumcision: We lack information
about the risk-benefit ratio of the procedure.

Setting aside ritual circumcision, this procedure is recomended for many
"health reasons."  The arguments in its favor and supported by some data have
been that those circumcised do not suffer an inability to retract the
foreskin, do not cause cancer of the cervix in their sexual partners, are
less likely to get urinary tract infections and are less likely to catch

On the other hand, complications include uncontrollable bleeding, local
infection, generalized infection, gangrene of the penis, and surgical
correction if the procedure is botched.  We know nothing about possible
consequences of pain in this sensitive organ as one of the earliest
experiences of the infant.

Without the knowlege of the risk-benefit ratio, the prudent course is to

New York, May 23, 1996

The writer is an emeritus professor of pediatrics at Columbia University.

(end of letters)

(The New York Times often publishes second rounds of letters and rebuttals to
published letters)

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[Transcribed by Barry Ellsworth]

(File created 23 January 2008)