The National Post, Thursday, October 21, 1999, pp. B1, B3Coming soon to a theatre near you The circumcision debate heats up with an explicit new video Adrian Humphreys National Post In a world of shocking images, it seems strange that an unedited video of the most common surgical procedure in North America would be taboo. However, when a 14-minute visual and audio recording of a baby boy's circumcision is splashed across a Toronto theatre's 27-foot-wide screen next week, it will represent the year-long efforts of an anti-circumcision activist to find a doctor willing to allow the procedure to be filmed. Lawrence Barichello said he contacted hundreds of doctors in Canada who perform the procedure before finding one who would consent to letting him come into the office with a camera. "I mailed letters to a couple of hundred doctors ... followed them up, phoned around, phoned around, phoned around. The doctors were saying, 'No, no, no, jeez, you can't take a picture of this,' " said Barichello. "Finally I found a doctor who said yes." The doctor performed the surgery in his own office. The parents consented to the camera being there for the three circumcisions videoed. The children are not identified. The end result is not pretty. Obviously, it is not meant to be. The video shows an infant being strapped to the board, called a Circumstraint, used to restrain the baby for the procedure, and then the baby's foreskin being cut and removed from the penis. "There are no special effects, no actors involved, it's just the baby being worked on," said Barichello. Barichello used a tripod when videoing, he says, because of his reaction to what he was seeing and hearing. "It took every ounce of my willpower to stop myself from jumping out from behind that camera and grabbing him and saying, 'Don't do this, this baby doesn't want it.' " The lobbying technique of raising awareness through trying to tell it like it is -- often called shock or scare tactics -- is one that has been controversial, and also successful, for some other groups in the past. Anti-abortion groups have been using still photographs of aborted foetuses and films of the procedure to show people the potential horrors of abortion. And animal rights activists have used gory photographs of animals caught in leghold traps and scenes of the baby seal hunt as a successful public relations tool. Barichello, however, said his inspiration came from more mainstream images. "I watch a lot of nature shows on TV, all during prime time, and I have seen knee surgery, brain surgery, eye surgery, reconstructive cosmetic surgery on someone who lost the bones in their face during a car accident. I have seen all this stuff on TV. "If circumcision is surgery just like any other surgery, how come you can't see it? What is the secret? Why is it that people are not allowed to see this? Doctors lock the door, they often keep the parents out. It seems you are not allowed to question it and not allowed to see what is really happening." (Barichello distinguishes between surgical circumcision and the various religious practices that involve cutting the penis; he does not involve himself in the religious end of the debate.) The issue of infant circumcision has been heating up in recent years. Once standard practice, for decades opponents have been debunking the perceived medical benefits of the surgery. In 1971 the American Academy of Pediatrics took a stand against the routine circumcision of newborns. In 1975, the Canadian Paediatric Society reached the same conclusion. These early studies were recently followed up. In 1996, the Canadian society published an extensive report in the Canadian Medical Association Journal recommending against it. This year, the American academy reiterated its stand. The trend is changing the look of men's locker rooms across the country. And yet, according to a handful of activists, such as Barichello -- who calls himself a human-rights activist for his role -- much remains to be done. A multimedia presentation, of which the graphic video is a part, on Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Toronto's Bloor Cinema, also marks the launch of Barichello's organization, cunningly called Intact, to bring about an end to the practice. The presentation will include anatomy slides, photos of botched circumcisions, a video clip of "heterosexual pornography that demonstrates the mechanical differences, for both partners, between the circumcised and the intact penis," and a short live drama.
The National Post, Friday, October 22, 1999, page A1, A9ANTI-CIRCUMCISION LAWSUIT SAYS 'NO DETAIL IS TOO SMALL' Adrian Humphreys National Post The leader of an anti-circumcision lobby group called "Intact" is organizing a class-action lawsuit on behalf of Canadian men who were circumcised as infants. Lawrence Barichello, of Toronto, is urging men who have been circumcised to start documenting emotional injuries that have arisen as a result of their circumcision. "No detail is too small. If someone taunts you in the locker room about your penis, write down what they said and how you felt about it," he says on his Internet site. Named in the suit, believed to be the first of its kind, will be doctors who performed the surgery, the nurses and staff who assisted, hospital administrators, the manufacturers of the specialized equipment used, and the participants' parents, said Mr. Barichello, executive director of Intact. Mr. Barichello plans to launch the suit once suitable candidates and a lawyer or legal team are finalized. Participants must be men circumcised in Canada as an infant by a doctor for non-religious reasons. The statute of limitations is problematic, meaning most candidates would have to be 17 or 18. Although initiated by Mr. Barichello, he will not be among the plaintiffs. He would not say whether he was circumcised or not. "When you read that people are winning damages for forced sterilization, for botched surgeries and unwanted treatments, and see how the courts treat these things, you realize there is a good avenue here for a lawsuit. You are getting a part of your body cut off that is very sexually important and it is done for no reason. It is malpractice, quite frankly," said Mr. Barichello. Dr. Christine Harrison, chairwoman of the Canadian Paediatric Society's bioethics committee and director of bioethics at Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children, said the lawsuit plans raise perplexing questions about the nature of consent and the changing norms within society. A lawsuit might be a few years before its time. Dr. Harrison suggested that in 18 years, those circumcised today might be in a better position to prove the surgery was not necessary. "We are talking about circumcision as it was performed between 17 and 20 years ago. At the time, it was a normal, acceptable, minor surgical procedure that was commonly done. It was such a normal thing for people to do, it probably would have been a highly unusual thing for a parent to decide to not circumcise their son." Circumcision was once routine in most North American hospitals -- it was believed to reduce the incidence of infection -- but the medical benefits of the procedure have come into question and the practice is in decline. A mounting body of medical evidence suggests the procedure, which remains the most common surgery in North America, is largely unnecessary. The American Academy of Paediatrics first took a stand against the routine circumcision of newborns in 1971 and the Canadian Paediatric Society reached the same conclusion in 1975. In 1996, the Canadian society published an extensive report in the Canadian Medical Association Journal that concluded, as an official stance, that routine circumcision was not recommended. Last March, the American academy also revisited the issue, concluding any benefit is not great enough for the academy to recommend it.
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