AAP 16/12/96 09:39

SYDNEY, Dec 16 AAP - For the first time the New South Wales Department of Health has today told doctors throughout the state to use anaesthesia for male circumcision.

The department, in a circular issued earlier this month, said: "It is unacceptable to perform this procedure without appropriate anaesthesia."

But department's policy does not affect those who carry out circumcision for religious reasons outside the hospital system, including people from the Jewish faith known as mohels.

The Better Future for Our Children MP in the NSW Upper House, Alan Corbett, welcomed the circular as the public health system's first statewide policy on circumcision.

"Newborns and infants feel pain and, in fact, may feel pain more intensely than adults ... hence, any circumcision is an act of extreme cruelty if it is not performed with appropriate pain relief before, during and after the procedure," Mr Corbett said in a statement.

He also called for the government to stop Medicare rebates for infant circumcisions unless performed for a medical reason.

Mr Corbett said the majority of the 5,300 circumcisions on children aged under six months were performed in NSW each year for no medical reason.

The department's circular of December 2 endorsed an earlier position paper from the Australian College of Paediatrics on circumcision.

The paper includes the Australasian Association of Paediatric Surgeons' views that circumcision has no medical basis and should not be performed before the age of six months.

The college's position paper said that the operation was generally performed with some sort of local or general anaesthesia.

On the question of the possible benefits of the operation, including reduced risks of urinary tract infections and later cancer of the penis, the paper said: "At the present time it would be wrong either to claim that there are definite health benefits or to deny that they exist."

AAP srw/dm/adh Copyright 1996 The Australian Associated Press.

(File revised 26 November 2003)