THE FORUM, Fargo, North Dakota,
February 6, 2003.

Circumcision trial continues after ruling bars photos, videos

By Jeff Baird

The Forum - 02/06/2003

Attorney Zenas Baer had unsuccessfully requested the jury hearing his client’s case be shown video and photos of circumcision. He said the pictures were worth a thousand words.

So, Wednesday, Baer used all 1,000 words and more as he had one of his witnesses describe every detail of the circumcision process.

East Central District Court Judge Cynthia Rothe-Seeger has ruled Baer can’t use videos of circumcision, tools used in the procedure and pictures of uncircumcised penises in his client’s case against MeritCare Hospital and one of its doctors because they are not relevant to the lawsuit.

Rothe-Seeger also ruled Wednesday Baer’s expert witness, Dr. Christopher Cold of Marshfield, Wis., couldn’t use a slide presentation that shows the anatomy of a penis.

So, using a magic marker to draw pictures, Cold and Baer launched into nearly three hours of testimony describing penile anatomy, circumcision and the tools involved to do it.

“It may be uncomfortable to look at these areas, but it is something that is important to know,” Cold told the jury at the start of his testimony.

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, now an attorney at Baer’s law firm, 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.

She is asking for an unspecified amount in damages.

Cold, an anatomic pathologist, talked Wednesday about how circumcision has become an engrained part of American culture though it serves no necessary medical purpose.

He told the jury circumcision is lucrative for hospitals because it is a relatively minor procedure.

He also said because the foreskin contains many nerves, its removal is painful, even with anesthetic, and the effects of diminished sexual sensation will last throughout the child’s life.

Baer will bring Cold to the stand again today.

Attorneys spent Wednesday morning presenting their opening statements to the jury.

Baer told the jury that just because Flatt signed a consent form doesn’t mean the hospital and doctor fulfilled their duty of informing Flatt of the risks and benefits involved in circumcision.

He said the defense will rely on MeritCare’s records and procedure to prove they did nothing wrong.

He then laid out examples of record and procedure omissions.

Baer also said his client was not given a required booklet on circumcision and only met with Dr. Kantak briefly before the procedure.

MeritCare attorney Jane Voglewede said the case is about a husband and wife that decided to have their son circumcised, and a hospital that respected their wishes.

She told the jury there is no expert testimony that shows anything went wrong with the procedure - a claim Flatt contests - and that all required steps were taken in informing the Flatt’s.

“(Anita) is a lawyer,” Voglewede told the jury of six women and four men. “She was a lawyer at that time, and she understood what a consent form was.”

She told the jury to pay attention to the qualifications of the plaintiff’s witnesses “or the lack of.”

None of them are qualified to perform circumcisions, she said.

Voglewede ended her opening statement by saying Flatt’s son was born a healthy baby and still is a healthy boy.

The trial, which opened Monday, is expected to last two weeks.

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

(File prepared 6 February 2003)