THE FORUM, Fargo, ND, 4 February 2003

Potential jurors quizzed in circumcision case

by Jeff Baird

The Forum - 02/04/2003

Potential jurors in a trial that could determine what hospitals must disclose about infant circumcision were quizzed Monday about the procedure.

Attorney Zenas Baer asked jury candidates to raise their hand if they consented to have their infant circumcised.

Of the 18 potential jurors, 12 responded.

Each of those candidates were then asked by Baer about the experience: How did they come to the conclusion to have their son circumcised? Did the doctor or nurse tell them about the procedure? Did the doctor give a medical reason for circumcision? Did they know the risks of circumcision?

And finally, "Is there anything about the subject matter that would make you squeamish?"

"No," a middle-aged woman responded. "It's 2003."

Anita Flatt of Hawley, Minn., is suing Dr. Sunita Kantak, Fargo-based MeritCare Hospital and the state of North Dakota claiming she and her husband, James, weren't told complete and accurate information about removing the foreskin from their son's penis.

Anita Flatt signed a circumcision consent form, but hospital staff didn't describe the benefits or risks of the procedure, the lawsuit says.

She wouldn't have consented to the procedure had she known what it entailed, Flatt said.

The trial opened Monday in Cass County District Court before Judge Cynthia Rothe-Seeger.

Flatt, now an attorney in Baer's law firm, and Kantak were present in the courtroom.

Most of the potential jurors told Baer the decision to circumcise their infant was made jointly with their spouse.

But one elderly woman said her son was circumcised because that's what was done to infant boys in her day.

"I'm from the old school," she said.

Another admitted she did it in part because of "locker room syndrome," or because she didn't want her son to be different from other boys.

"What I am getting at is most of these folks made the decision (to circumcise) without any information or very little information," Baer said after the trial recessed for the day.

Also, those who consented to the procedure could possibly interpret the lawsuit as a slam on their decision to circumcise, he said.

"Nobody wants to believe they did something to harm their newborn infant," he said.

Another of Baer's major points involved frivolous lawsuits.

Baer asked candidates whether they would feel pressure to rule a certain way because of the uniqueness of the case.

While most jurors indicated they felt there was too much litigation in America today, they said they could listen to the facts of the case without bias.

"One thing that is important to note is that most of the people that talk about frivolous lawsuits don't know the facts," Baer said after the hearing.

Baer said he will conclude his questioning of jury candidates today. The defense will then have an opportunity ask jurors questions.

Of the 18 candidates, eight will be dismissed. One person will be kept on as an alternate.

Baer expects opening statements to begin today. The trial is expected to last two weeks.

MeritCare officials left the courtroom without commenting.

"What has come through is most of the people that made the decision made it with very incomplete information," Baer said. "They made a decision that permanently altered their son's genitals, and they are thinking about that - and that is the best we can do."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Jeff Baird at (701) 241-5535

(File prepared 4 February 2003)