THE SPECTRUM, St. George, Southern Utah, 11 June 2003.

Circumcision is not the necessary procedure that many physicians think it is

By Sarah Sorensen


I have learned that the average pediatrician has much to learn about circumcision. It starts with pediatricians' own organization, the American Academy of Pediatrics. It stated in 1971 and 1975 "there are no valid medical indication for circumcision in the neonatal period."

Again in 1999, it said, "After looking at almost 40 years of research on the benefits and risks of circumcision, the AAP concluded that we cannot recommend a policy of routine newborn circumcision." For the first time, the AAP also recommends that pain relief be administered for the procedure.

Removing the foreskin for hygiene reasons is a very common myth. Just as the eyelid protects and cleanses the eye, the foreskin provides the same function in the intact male. "In Taking Care of Your Child," by Barton Schmitt, the author states, "The overwhelming majority of uncircumcised (intact) boys never develop medical problems."

There is a less than a 1 percent chance that circumcision will ever be medically necessary. Why is it more acceptable to surgically remove the foreskin than to teach proper hygiene to young boys?

Thomas Szasz, M.D., states, "I believe the time has come to acknowledge that the practice of routine infant circumcision rests on the absurd premise that the only mammal in creation born in the condition that requires immediate surgical correction is the human male."

There is a common opinion that circumcision later in life is more painful. When a newborn is circumcised the foreskin is forcibly separated, similar to the way a fingernail would have to be separated from the finger. As an adolescent or adult the foreskin has naturally detached, therefore requiring less cutting and trauma to delicate tissues.

James Rouch stated in his April 3 letter to the editor "... recipients (of circumcision) are also much less likely to contract AIDS or other sexually transmitted diseases." The American Academy of Pediatrics in 1999 stated, "Behavioral factors appear to be far more important risk factors in the acquisition of HIV infection than circumcision status."

In addition, the American Medical Association in 2000 stated, "Behavioral factors are far more important risk factors for acquisition of HIV and other sexually transmissible diseases than circumcision status, and circumcision cannot be responsibly viewed as "protecting" against such infections."

Mr. Rouch, I am not sure what you intended by your comment about female circumcision (clitorectomy). The Spectrum published an article on April 5 about a case in Georgia where a father is in jail for circumcising his 2-year-old daughter. Female circumcision is illegal in the United States and many other countries.

Nonreligious routine infant circumcision (RIC) persists in America because it has become part of our culture. It has evolved into a purely cosmetic procedure. As an infant, he is forced to experience the parents' preference. Upon maturity, the son may not share the same preference. He may later conclude that if it had been left up to him, he would have preferred to remain intact.

"The time has come to stop mutilating babies and to treat babies for what they are -- beings that are extremely precious and that should be treated with the same respect we give any person," said Paul Fleiss, a clinical professor of pediatrics at the University of Southern California Medical Center and co-author with Frederick Hodges of the new book, "What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Circumcision."

Circumcision violates the physicians golden rule: "First, do no harm." Circumcision is extremely painful for an infant. Tightening of the circumcision device puts crushing pressure on a large area of sensitive skin. Anesthesia to remove pain during circumcision is mostly a matter of guesswork. Lidocaine or Prilocaine is injected into the dorsal nerve. It is very difficult for a doctor to judge whether the anesthetic has been administered effectively as the patient is unable to effectively communicate or protect himself.

Circumcision also violates a basic human right, the right to an intact body. The infant has the right to not have normal body parts removed without his express consent. Circumcision is irreversible. Healthy, fully functional tissue is removed from a helpless baby. The question whether parents have the right to consent to this unnecessary procedure has been decided in a New York courtroom in the case of William Stowell. David J. Llewellyn, attorney for William Stowell, stated, "Never again can someone say that a young man who is dissatisfied with his circumcision as an infant is being frivolous when he objects to his mutilation and brings suit to obtain justice. This case should send a message to doctors that they run the risk of a lawsuit each time they circumcise an infant for non-therapeutic reasons." Let us begin every child's life free from unnecessary pain. It is their right.

Sarah Sorensen is a resident of St. George.

Originally published Wednesday, June 11, 2003

(File prepared 18 June 2003)