Tuesday, May 6, 2003.

Tuesday, May 6, 2003

To cut, or not to cut.


That was the question anti-circumcision activists posed to passers-by and convention-goers outside the Pediatric Academic Societies' convention meeting yesterday in Seattle.

The protesters, buoyed by the settlement last month of a landmark New York case by a man who sued the physician who circumcised him as an infant, buttonholed anyone who would listen to get them to reconsider their positions on circumcision.

"Most parents do it out of misinformation and ignorance," said John Mark, founder of Seattle-based Doctors Opposing Circumcision, as he handed out leaflets that asked: "Does being born a healthy male require surgical correction?"

Many doctors attending the convention walked on by, apparently uninterested in a street-corner debate.

"There are more important social issues," said one doctor, shaking his head. "This is a waste of paper."

Some pedestrians heckled the protesters. And a few seemed befuddled.

"It's done for health reasons, right?" said one man.

Although, originally touted as necessary for "hygiene" and to prevent certain cancers, the procedure has become a rite of birth in the United States.

In recent years, however, the American Academy of Pediatrics, has backed away from routine circumcisions.

"Circumcision is not essential to a child's wellbeing at birth, even though it does have some potential medical benefits," the AAP said in a policy statement posted on its Web site.

The AAP did acknowledge that cultural, religious and ethnic traditions also play a role in making circumcision decisions.

"I've never pushed it," said Dr. Sheldon Korones, a neonatologist from Memphis who was attending the meeting. "But if the parents want it, I don't oppose it either."

At Seattle's Swedish Medical Center, about 60 percent of newborn boys are circumcised at their parents' request, said spokesman Ed Boyle. John Geisheker, a Seattle attorney who specializes in botched circumcision cases, is hoping for a new wave of cases based on the success of the New York case. In December, 2000, then 18-year-old William Stowell filed suit against the hospital where he was circumcised and the doctor who did it. His attorneys sued for fraud and battery, arguing that he didn't consent to the procedure, which was done for "non-therapeutic reasons."

Terms of the settlement two weeks ago were not disclosed, but other attorneys viewed it as validation that such claims would be considered seriously.

In Washington men have a three-year window beginning at age 18 during which they can sue for what Geisheker calls a "prophylactic amputation." No such suits have been filed yet.

The graphic posters of infants being circumcised and other protest literature did make an impression on some men.

"What they need to do is wait until you're 13 and let them make the choice themselves," said Charles McAteer, 44, who was walking by and said he hadn't given the issue much consideration before.

But Adam Kriston, 35, wasn't so sure circumcision was all bad. "I've been told by women the appearance is better without it," he said.

P-I reporter Carol Smith can be reached at 206-448-8070 or

(File prepared 6 May 2003)