November 14, 1996
Vol VIII, No 46
Greater Portland's Weekly Journal of News, Arts and Opinion
Page 5


Access TV Portland to air anti-circumcision film

Access TV's viewers may feel cut to the quick after watching the Portland
premiere of a graphic anti-circumcision documentary, "Whose Body, Whose
Rights?: Examining the Ethical and Human Rights Issues of Infant Male
Circumcision," Friday at 11 p.m. on Cable Channel 2.

At least that's what Suzanne Cook hopes.

Cook, founder and only member of the Maine chapter of the
anti-circumcision group National Organization of Circumcision Information
Resource Centers (NOCIRC), is on a one-woman crusade to prevent Maine
parents from circumcising their sons.  To that end, she is publicizing
the screening of "Whose Body, Whose Rights?" which disputes the health
benefits often associated with the procedure and shows a circumcision of
a baby boy.

"You have to look at all the issues involved: why the foreskin is there,
what its function is and the permanent harm that cannot be reversed,"
said Cook, who became Maine's only anti-circumcision activist after
researching the procedure while she was pregnant with her second child
and first son, Cody.  "I would have killed to have this information when
I was (first) pregnant," she said.

Some doctors are less sure that the case against circumcision is
airtight.  "I'm very cautious about information from groups for or
against something," said Dr. Paul Stern, chief of pediatrics at Maine
Medical Center.  "So far I don't think the information is conclusive." 
Stern is also neutral about the alleged health benefits that circumcision
advocates claim - better hygiene and a reduced risk of cancer.

Circumcision is the surgical removal of the foreskin, a fold of skin
covering the head of the penis.  During the surgery, the infant is
strapped to a board.  Then the foreskin is torn from the head of the
penis, slit lengthwise and removed.  Cook said most circumcisions are
performed without anesthetic, but Stern said doctors at Maine Medical
Center use a local anesthetic for the procedure, a practice he said is
almost universal.

The film comes to Portland TV at a time when circumcision has become
increasingly unpopular nationally.  Only 59.8 percent of men born in this
country are circumcised today, down from nearly 90 percent in the early
1980's.  American men only began to be routinely snipped in the late
1800's, when the practice was thought to prevent diseases caused by
masturbation.  The United States is the only nation where baby boys are
routinely circumcised for nonreligious reasons.

Parents can agonize over circumcision when their religious and political
beliefs clash.  Reza Jalali, a practicing Muslim who served on the
national board of Amnesty International until stepping down in October,
faced that conflict when it came time to decide whether to circumcise his
son, Azad.  After Jalali discussed the decision with his family, Azad was
circumcised under a local anesthetic.  "We (at Amnesty International)
look at (circumcision) as really a form of torture," Jalali said.  "At
the same time, as a practicing Muslim, that part of me wants the practice
to continue."

David Kociemba

Casco Bay Weekly welcomes you letters.  Please keep your thoughts to less
than 300 words (longer letters may be edited for space reasons), and
include your address and daytime phone number.  Letters, Casco Bay
Weekly, 561 Congress Street, Portland, ME 04101 or via e-mail:

Dr. Paul Stern
Maine Medical Center
Chief of Pediatrics
22 Bramhall Street
Portland, ME 04102