Tuesday, 3 September 2002.

Ending an unnecessary risk

Tuesday, September 03, 2002

Canada's doctors are becoming increasingly disenchanted with male circumcision. They think the health risks of the operation exceed its benefits.

That view was tragically reinforced by the death of a B.C. infant last week shortly after a circumcision. The death is under investigation by the coroner's office in Vancouver.

The College of Physicians and Surgeons in Saskatchewan -- where 27.6 per cent of male children are circumcised -- says research doesn't support the practice, and the B.C. College is reviewing the issue.

The doctors' Victorian predecessors would have been horrified. Circumcision of little boys was, like encasing them in plaster and castrating them, a standard cure for masturbation -- and that vile practice, as everyone knew, caused consumption, paralysis, heart disease, untidiness and sometimes suicide.

It was better if the operation were performed without anesthetic, because the pain had a salutary effect on the mind, becoming associated later with physical punishment, itself a major resource in child-rearing.

This medical justification for circumcision, of course, no longer applies now that masturbation is regarded as normal, even healthy, like jogging.

The other medical justification for the operation -- hygiene -- probably went out with the invention of soap. And the doctors today are warning that botched circumcisions can cause complications such as uncontrolled bleeding, amputation, renal failure, sepsis and even death.

In the United States -- where else? -- there are litigious concerns. In California, a court is deciding whether a baby who is circumcised can, upon reaching majority, secure damages from the doctors and hospital involved even when the parent has given consent that is "uninformed" -- that is, the parent didn't understand what was involved.

There are, still, religious reasons for parents to opt for circumcision.

Many parents will still seek the operation so their sons "look like daddy."

Whatever their reasons for subjecting their children to the operation, parents should be told the risks so they may make an informed judgment.

Circumcisions should no longer be regarded as routine and, one day, most daddies will look the same.

(File prepared 5 September 2002)