The main pillar sustaining male infant circumcision in the West is the allegation of "potential medical benefits." While in any other case, standard medicine dictates that unnecessarily invasive procedures should not be used where alternative, less invasive treatment are equally efficient and available, male infant circumcision is the only instance in modern medicine where parents are asked to consent to surgery on a healthy, non-consenting child with no medical indication whatsoever.
The pretext is that male infant circumcision *could* have “potential medical benefits” or “preventative health benefits” that warrant doctors asking parents to make a “choice” as to whether they want their son circumcised or not, and then perform elective, non-medical surgery on the child based on that “choice,” of course, asking parents to absolve them by means of signing a parental consent form.
In the following paragraphs we will examine the religio-cultural roots of the practice of male circumcision, its entrenchment practice in American medicine, and the ongoing search for pseudo-medical alibis to justify the continuation of this non-essential surgical assault on healthy, non-consenting minors.
A Brief History of Male Circumcision
Whereas the practice of male infant circumcision as medical practice is a relatively recent phenomenon, only entrenching itself in modern medicine last century, the practice of male circumcision as a cultural and/or religious practice dates back millennia. Male circumcision can be seen depicted in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, suggesting it predates male infant circumcision as practiced by adherents of Judaism, where male infant circumcision is a divine commandment for all Jews in the book of Genesis.
Male adolescent circumcision has also been practiced among Muslims for centuries, and though it does not appear in the holy Muslim text, the Qur’an, it appears in Hadith, which are separate. Male circumcision is also an important rite of passage in several tribes in Africa, where it is seen as an indispensable token of manhood.
Male infant circumcision as a medical practice began in the last century, when physicians were looking for a way to prevent masturbation. The practice of male infant circumcision continues today under pretenses of “medical benefits” or “disease prevention.” The main takeaway from this section is that male circumcision as a religious or cultural practice far predates male infant circumcision as “medicine” by millennia, and that the latter is in fact a relatively recent phenomenon. Religious and cultural rationale for forcibly circumcising males came first; pseudo-medical justifications came much, much later.
The First Pseudo-Medical Claims
To begin to deconstruct the argument of “medical benefits” in favor of male infant circumcision, it’s important to highlight the practice’s pseudo-medical roots. In the Victorian West, circumcision was first presented as one of many solutions to the practice of masturbation. Masturbation was then seen as “immoral self-pollution,” and in itself, the cause of every disease under the sun.
Masturbation was said to be the cause of blindness, infertility, mental illness and physical weakness among other things. Sylvester Graham, the inventor of the Graham cracker, cited masturbation as the cause for tuberculosis, heart disease, epilepsy, and insanity. Men of his time began to latch onto the belief that masturbation causes “pollution of the mind,” which in some sort of magical transfiguration, equated to the “pollution of the body,” and thus the cause of all manner of physical disease. Graham and John Harvey Kellogg, founder of Kellogg’s cereals, would make the claim that circumcision was a cure for masturbation, and thus all the diseases caused by it. These were the beginnings of the claims that circumcision could somehow “prevent disease.”
"Hip trouble is from falling down, an accident that children with tight foreskins are especially liable to owing to the weakening of the muscles produced by the condition of the genitals." Lewis L. Sayer, Circumcision For the Cure of Enuresis, Journal of the American Medical Association, vol. 7 (1887): pp. 631-633.
"In consequence of circumcision the epithelial covering of the glans becomes dry, hard, less liable to excoriation and inflammation, and less pervious to venereal viruses. The sensitivity of the glans is diminished, but not sufficiently to interfere with the copulative function of the organ or to constitute an objection ... It is well authenticated that the foreskin ... is a fruitful cause of the habit of masturbation in children ... I conclude that the foreskin is detrimental to health, and that circumcision is a wise measure of hygiene." Jefferson C. Crossland, The Hygiene of Circumcision, NY Medical Journal, vol. 53 (1891): pp. 484-485.
"In all cases in which male children are suffering nerve tension, confirmed derangement of the digestive organs, restlessness, irritability, and other disturbances of the nervous system, even to chorea, convulsions, and paralysis, or where through nerve waste the nutritive facilities of the general system are below par and structural diseases are occurring, circumcision should be considered as among the lines of treatment to be pursued." Charles E. Fisher, Circumcision, in A Hand-Book On the Diseases of Children and Their Homeopathic Treatment. Chicago: Medical Century Co., 1895. p. 875.
"Local indications for circumcision: Hygienic, phimosis, paraphimosis, redundancy (where the prepuce more than covers the glans), adhesions, papillomata, eczema (acute and chronic), oedema, chancre, chancroid, cicatrices, inflammatory thickening, elephantiasis, naevus, epithelioma, gangrene, tuberculosis, preputial calculi, hip-joint disease, hernia. Systemic indications: Onanism [masturbation], seminal emissions, enuresis, dysuria, retention, general nervousness, impotence, convulsions, hystero-epilepsy." Editor, Medical Record, Circumscisus, Medical Record, vol. 49 (1896): p. 430.
"The prepuce is an important factor in the production of phthisis [tuberculosis]. This can be proven by the immunity of the *Jewish race* from tubercular affections." S. G. A. Brown, A Plea for Circumcision, Medical World, vol. 15 (1897): pp. 124-125.
"Not infrequently marital unhappiness would be better relieved by circumcising the husband than by suing for divorce." A. W. Taylor, Circumcision - Its Moral and Physical Necessities and Advantages, Medical Record, vol. 56 (1899): p. 174.
"Frequent micturition [urination], loss of flesh, convulsions, phosphatic calculus, hernia, nervous exhaustion, dyspepsia, diarrhea, prolapse of rectum, balanitis, acute phimosis and masturbation are all conditions induced by the constricted long prepuce, and all to be rapidly remedied by the simple operation of circumcision." H. G. H. Naylor, A Plea for Early Circumcision, Pediatrics, vol. 12 (1901): p. 231.
"I have repeatedly seen such cases as convulsions, constant crying in infants, simulated hip joint diseases, backwardness in studies, enuresis, marasmus, muscular inco-ordination, paralysis, masturbation, neurasthenia, and even epilepsy, cured or greatly benefited by the proper performance of circumcision." W. G. Steele, Importance of Circumcision, Medical World, vol. 20 (1902): pp. 518-519.
"The little sufferer lay in his mother's lap. The dropsy ... had taken the form of hydrocephalus ... I then circumcised the child ... The head diminished in size and in two weeks the condition of hydrocephalus had disappeared and the child was once more dismissed as cured." E. H. Pratt, Circumcision, Orificial Surgery: Its Philosophy, Application and Technique. Edited by B. E. Dawson. Newark: Physicians Drug News Co. 1912. pp. 396-398.
"It is generally accepted that irritation derived from a tight prepuce may be followed by nervous phenomena, among these being convulsions and epilepsy. It is therefore not at all improbable that in many infants who die in convulsions the real cause of death is a long or tight prepuce. The foreskin is a frequent factor in the causation of masturbation ... Circumcision offers a diminished tendency to masturbation, nocturnal pollutions, convulsions and other nervous results of local irritation. It is the moral duty of every physician to encourage circumcision in the young." Abraham L. Wolbarst, Universal Circumcision, Journal of the American Medical Association, vol. 62 (1914): pp. 92-97.
"Circumcision is an excellent thing to do; it helps to prevent hernia due to straining, and later it helps in preventing masturbation. The ordinary schoolboy is not taught to keep himself clean, and if he is taught he thinks too much about the matter." I. Solomons, For and Against Circumcision, British Medical Journal, 5 June 1920, p. 768.
"...with regard to circumcision, one of the reasons for it is... the wish to bring about a decrease in sexual intercourse and a weakening of the organ in question, so that this activity be diminished and the organ be in as quiet a state as possible...
The bodily pain caused to that member is the real purpose of circumcision...
...violent concupiscence and lust that goes beyond what is needed are diminished. The fact that circumcision weakens the faculty of sexual excitement and sometimes perhaps diminishes the pleasure is indubitable. For if at birth this member has been made to bleed and has had its covering taken away from it, it must indubitably be weakened."
~Rabbi Moses Maimonides
1871: 1% of the U.S. male population circumcised
"I refer to masturbation as one of the effects of a long prepuce; not that this vice is entirely absent in those who have undergone circumcision, though I never saw an instance in a Jewish child of very tender years, except as the result of association with children whose covered glans have naturally impelled them to the habit." M. J. Moses, The Value of Circumcision as a Hygienic and Therapeutic Measure, NY Medical Journal, vol. 14 (1871): pp. 368-374.
Circumcision “Medical Benefits” Treadmill
One by one, science has destroyed every claim of diseases circumcision was supposed to cure or prevent, and, like clockwork, "researchers" have scrambled to write new "studies" in order to keep propping up, in order to keep protecting the practice. I'll call it, the “circumcision medical benefits treadmill”, because new claims are always being made, as old claims get debunked.
At this point, I want to bring attention to the curious phenomenon going on. Usually, science strives to outdate itself; to make itself obsolete. As newer, better, more effective ways to treat or prevent disease are discovered, older methods are debunked, discarded and/or retired. Blood-letting was found to be inconsequential or even dangerous. The practice of head trepanning has since been abandoned.
Whereas usually, doctors and researchers seek out better, more effective, less invasive ways to treat or prevent disease, male infant circumcision is the only instance in modern medicine where the point of “research” and “studies” is to justify and protect a surgical procedure, which also happens to be a religious, historically embattled cultural practice. Ostensibly, “medical benefits” is the pretext, however, a feigned interest in “disease prevention,” “medical research” and “public health” may mask non-stated conflicts of interest that male infant circumcision advocates may be loathe to openly talk about, and the true reasons for keeping the circumcision medical benefits treadmill going.
Here's how it works; male circumcision has roots in culture and religion, but culture and religion alone are not enough reasons to justify medical practitioners cutting off healthy tissue from healthy, non-consenting minors. There has to be some sort of medical indication or justification, otherwise it's just charlatans charging parents to perform a purely cosmetic, cultural mutilation with no actual medical value. To conceal any conflicts of interest, advocates of male infant circumcision must maintain an appearance of interest in “disease prevention,” “medical benefits” and“public health.”
Any time a claim is debunked, advocates of male infant circumcision must scramble to find other claims that supports the circumcision of healthy, non-consenting male infants, in order to perpetuate the practice. Circumcision must constantly be “researched,” and new “studies” claiming “medical benefits” or the prevention of some disease must continue to be written to keep up with the circumcision medical benefits treadmill. It’s backwards ad-hoc/post-hoc pseudo-science, not unlike “research” used to prop up Creationism.
The Latest Claims of Circumcision “Benefit” - "Reduction of STDs"
Male infant circumcision advocates want to make the claim that circumcised males have a lower transmission rate for sexually transmitted diseases sound like a recent, innovative discovery. However, as evidenced by medical literature, this claim isn’t that new; advocates of male circumcision have been claiming that circumcision prevents all manner of disease, including sexually transmitted diseases for at least a century (see references above).
Numerous "studies" are quoted, but the fact is that the results of these "studies" simply don't manifest in the real world. If, indeed, circumcised males had a lower transmission rate for sexually transmitted disease as the "studies show," then a lower transmission rate for these diseases would be observed in countries where circumcision is prevalent, and a higher transmission rate would be observed in countries where the majority of males are intact.
80% of males are circumcised from birth in the United States of America. The United States is the only country in the Western world where male newborns are circumcised routinely. Of all Western countries, lower rates of STDs should be observed here, while rates in non-circumcising countries should be soaring; the exact opposite is true. According to our very own Centers for Disease Control (the CDC), reported cases of STDs have been at an all-time high for 6th consecutive years.
A Feigned Concern for Preventing Penile Cancer
For a while, the biggest scare tactic that circumcision advocates were using to justify circumcision and push it on parents was the claim that circumcision prevented penile cancer. However the risk of penile cancer is infinitesimally small; according to the American Cancer Society, penile cancer is rare in North America and Europe. It's diagnosed in fewer than 1 man in 100,000 each year and accounts for fewer than 1% of cancers in men in the US. And circumcised men STILL GET penile cancer.
If one looks into other forms of cancer, this concern for penile cancer prevention is revealed to be disingenuous. Breast cancer is far more common and more deadly than penile cancer, and yet there seems to be no interest in removing the breast buds of baby girls "to prevent breast cancer when they get older." "But it's not the same thing," some might argue. If the argument is prophylaxis, then yes it is. But the argument is not prophylaxis, now, is it; it's finding an alibi for male infant circumcision.
Let's look at another form of cancer that hits closer to home; the American Cancer Society also says that in the United States, vulvar cancer accounts for nearly 6% of cancers of the female reproductive organs and 0.7% of all cancers in women. In the United States, women have a 1 in 333 chance of developing vulvar cancer at some point during their life.
This would mean that infant baby girls could benefit from a radical vulvectomy (otherwise known as "infibulation", or Type III female genital mutilation as per the WHO). Research shows that the majority of women who undergo a radical vulvectomy due to vulvar cancer are still able to function sexually. The prevention of cancer and the preservation of sexual function would sound like a win/win for girls and women.
Except this isn't actually about a genuine concern for the reduction of cancer, is it. Circumcision "research" isn't about looking for better, more effective ways to prevent disease; it's about protecting and preserving male infant circumcision as a pseudo-medical practice.
Decreased HPV Transmission
Another disease circumcision advocates have endeavored to connect with the presence anatomically correct male genitals is the transmission of the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). Circumcision, they claim, reduces transmission, which would, in turn, reduce the incidence of cancer of the cervix in women. This claim is preposterous in more ways than one, including the fact that circumcised men still contract and transmit the virus, and that, if the American Cancer Society is to be believed, HPV is not transmitted exclusively through sexual contact; it is transmitted via skin-to-skin contact with other parts of the body.
The "research," which is almost always performed by the same circumcision advocates, focuses only on penile contact, and while yes, if those studies are to be taken seriously, it would appear that HPV transmission is more prevalent in intact men, although the incidence of transmission to circumcised men is not zero, and the transmission of HPV by circumcised men to their female partners is not unheard of. Strangely enough, there doesn't seem to be converse studies to see if circumcised women are less likely to transmit the HPV virus to men.
Some studies show little to no association between male circumcision and reduced transmission, and, at least one study shows the opposite; that HPV transmission may in fact be more prevalent in circumcised men, twice as much, actually.
At any rate, there are now vaccines for HPV, rendering this conversation obsolete.
The Prevention of HIV Transmission
Right now, the biggest canard being used to promote male infant circumcision is the claim that HIV transmission is lower among circumcised men. The latest "research" claims that male circumcision "reduces the HIV transmission by 60%" in Africa. 80% of the American male population is circumcised from birth. The United States should have one of the lowest HIV prevalence rates in the world, and should be a model of reference in this regard. And yet, a quick look at HIV statistics reveals that the United States has a higher HIV prevalence rate than several non-circumcising countries. According to Wikipedia (accessed August 8, 2021), the United States has a higher HIV prevalence rate than the following 37 non-circumcising countries (e.g. where 30% to nearly 0% of men are circumcised*) :
Ecuador, Bolivia, France, Peru, Italy, Laos, Mexico, Spain, Vietnam, Armenia, India, Ireland, Lithuania, Nepal, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Canada, Bhutan, Greenland, Norway, Denmark, Australia, Fiji, Taiwan, Germany, Romania, Sri Lanka, Bulgaria, Serbia, Croatia, China, Malta, Czeck Republic, Montenegro
It should be noted that the US has a higher HIV prevalence rate than many countries south of the border, including Mexico, Ecuador, Bolivia and Nicaragua. HIV should be skyrocketing in countries like India and China, who have massive populations, but it's simply not.
Let's also look at countries higher up on the chart that have both higher HIV prevalence, AND male circumcision rates:
Equatorial Guinea, Tanzania, Kenya, Gabon, Guinea-Bissau, Cameroon, Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Cote d'Ivoire, Togo, The Gambia, Ghana, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Djibouti, Nigeria, Chad, Mali, Ethiopia, Benin, Burkina Faso, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eritrea, Mauritania, Niger, Malaysia, Indonesia, Somalia, Senegal
These are countries that, like the US, have circumcision rates upward from 70%, to nearly 100%*. If circumcision is so effective at "reducing HIV transmission," then lower HIV prevalence rates would be observed here. And yet, they're not; they have some of the highest rates of HIV prevalence in the world.
In all actuality, a quick view of real-world data should put this claim that "circumcision prevents HIV" to rest. It does not, and it cannot, and spreading this lie that it could is a disservice, because more so than being inconsequential to HIV/STD transmission, it may actually result in an increased rate of transmission, as spreading the lie that circumcision "reduces the rate of HIV transmission" creates a false sense of security, which may cause people to forgo the use of condoms, which, even if we were to take the circumcision/HIV "research" at face value, would be more effective at preventing HIV transmission.
*Data for circumcision rates by country was taken from an estimation of country-specific and global prevalence of male circumcision, and can be accessed here.
Conflicts of Interest, Confirmation Bias and the Endless Search for “Medical Benefits”
Who are the perpetuators of male infant circumcision? Who are it’s defenders? Its advocates? Its “researchers”? Who are the doctors protecting male infant circumcision by codifying it in medical policy? Why would they be interested in exonerating the practice? Instead of finding ways to make the practice obsolete, why are they so intent in keeping it from being discontinued? Ostensibly “medical benefit” is the pretext, but are there unspoken biases and conflicts of interest at play?
It may sound “noble” for physicians to offer male infant circumcision as a “parental choice,” with an ostensive interest in “medical benefits,” “disease prevention,” but these stated pretexts may conceal conflicts of interest that may prevent them from giving parents complete and accurate information about the surgical procedure, and parents may not be making fully informed decisions. An honest physician would tell parents that the procedure is not medically necessary, and that unless there is a medical indication, they can’t be performing surgery on a healthy child. In this section, let’s explore a few conflicts of interest that may cloud a physician’s judgement in conveying full and accurate information to parents at best, and betray a feigned interest in “medical benefits” at worst.
The fact is that there is financial incentive to protect the practice of male infant circumcision. In the United States, an estimated 1.4 million male babies are circumcised annually, and at $100 per procedure, that’s already a $1,400,000 industry. It’s been reported in news outlets, and by individuals on Twitter, however, that hospitals can charge anywhere from $2,000 to $7,000 per procedure, and that’s not even taking into account all of the gear and accessories manufactured and sold for the sole purpose of male infant circumcision.
There is an entire industry in the production of circumstraint boards for restraining infants, circumcision kits, clamps, training equipment and so forth. Harvested foreskins are also sold to produce products like skin grafts and face creams. So while overtly, American physicians would like to allege the reasons they defend and perform male infant circumcision as having “medical benefits,” there are financial interests at stake.
Doctors, hospitals and medical organizations with money to lose, not to mention the impending threat of malpractice lawsuits to stave off, have financial incentive to insist that male infant circumcision has “medical benefits,” and to minimize, if not completely cover up the risks. Financial incentive compels those who profit from the practice of the circumcision of minors to look for and highlight only that “research” that confirms circumcision has “medical benefit,” and to ignore research that shows circumcision has little to no medical benefits, or that it has risks and harms.
“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” ~Upton Sinclair
Before I even begin to talk about this point, I'd like to precede with a disclaimer. It's politically incorrect to criticize Jews or Judaism and any criticism of gets you labeled an "anti-semite" or "Nazi. Criticism of male infant circumcision in itself is often considered "anti-Semitic" because it's a cherished tradition if not the very identity of Jews and the cornerstone of Judaism. (Genesis 11) I must stress that my criticism of Jews involved in circumcision advocacy and Judaism as a possible conflict of interest when it comes to the advocacy of male infant circumcision in medicine or scientific research does not come from a place of hate. Rather, it comes from a disdain for child abuse and the violation of basic human rights
The views I express in this blog are my own individual opinion, and they do not necessarily reflect the views of all intactivists. I am but an individual with one opinion, and I do not pretend to speak for the intactivist movement as a whole.
I speak out against the forced circumcision of healthy, non-consenting minors in any way, shape or form. I make no exception for "religion" nor "cultural practice" of any kind. Please do not conflate my disdain for the forced circumcision of minors with a belittlement of circumcised men, or a hate for Jews.
Male infant circumcision is not unique to Judaism; in the US, 80% of males are circumcised, only 0.6% or so who are Jews circumcised at a bris. It's disingenuous to paint criticism of male infant circumcision as "an attack on Jews and Judaism" when it has become such an ingrained part of American culture.
This day and age, not all Jewish men are circumcised, and not all Jewish families circumcise their children. Some of the most outspoken people in our movement happen to be Jewish. Alternative ceremonies exist, such as the Bris Shalom, for families choosing to forgo the ritual cutting. I myself am an appreciator of Jewish tradition, music and culture.
If I'm pointing something out, it's not out of hate for Jewish people, it's out of disdain for the forced genital cutting of minors and the violation of the most basic of human rights.
On with my point.
The next conflict of interest is that a stated interest in “medical benefits” is at odds with is religious conviction. Jewish doctors who promote or perform male infant circumcision allege “medical benefits,” but this is at odds with a personal conviction to their religious beliefs, where male infant circumcision is a divine commandment from God as stated in the Jewish holy text, the Torah.
Historically, male infant circumcision has been a point of ridicule and disdain for Jews. Jewish people have been on the defensive about the ritual mutilation of
male infant babies since the time of the Maccabees. Among other things,
Antiochus IV prohibited male infant circumcision. Jews were mocked by the
Greeks, where Jewish men would attempt to regrow their foreskins by
stretching out the remnants. (The rabbis at the time looked down on this
and thus added the "peri'ah" procedure of ripping every last bit of the
foreskin from the penile shaft so as to prevent restoration; this alone
is why medicalized male infant circumcision, the complete removal of the foreskin leaving a bare shaft and completely exposed glans is what it is today.) Jews
were feared by Europeans, and stories of Jews using gentile baby blood
to make matzo were invented to slander them (blood libel). On top of all
of this, circumcision was prohibited by Nazi Germany and used as a
marker to find Jews during the Holocaust.
The Victorians looking to circumcision as a possible solution to masturbation was a game changer for Jews. Whereas in the past, male infant circumcision was something Jews were
ashamed about and didn't openly discuss, and circumcision in and of
itself wasn't openly discussed in general, save to disparage it, with the advent of the medicalization of it as a solution to masturbation and the prevention of many diseases, Jews no longer had to hide the practice and have even gained a sense of pride. Circumcision could now be talked about openly, and not merely as a religious ritual, but as a medical procedure with many “benefits.” Male infant circumcision went from a source of shame and ridicule, to one of newfound respect and prestige.
The medicalization of male infant circumcision as "preventative medicine" granted Jewish people redemption after having been disparaged for so long, so Jewish advocates of male infant circumcision are especially compelled to see to it that the practice of male infant circumcision as "medicine" continues to be protected and isn’t presented in anything other than a positive light. Having to present any risks or negative implications of male infant circumcision would surely put them in the awkward position of having to speak ill of their most cherished tradition to which they've held on for so long. The reversion of circumcision from revered medical intervention back to one of guilt and shame is not something Jewish advocates of circumcision would like to see happen.
It should be no surprise, then, that there is a disproportionate number of Jewish doctors promoting circumcision, and "researchers" writing literature saying that it is "beneficial." Look into medical literature, and you'll find that there is a disproportionate number of Jewish authors all purporting the "benefits" of male infant circumcision. Look throughout the history of male infant circumcision as medical panacea and you'll see many Jewish names.
Jewish people can hardly be asked to give an objective, neutral, unbiased, dispassionate opinion on the matter, and yet, at least in America, they are often found in influential positions, such as authors writing circumcision “research,” or at the helm of medical organizations, writing public health policy. In fact, it can be said that one of the main reason male infant circumcision continues today is due to the presence of influential Jews in high places at organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and Centers for Disease Control protecting the practice. It was Edgar Schoen who steered the AAP away from advising against the practice in the 1970s, and it was Andrew Freedman who helped author the AAP’s 2012 policy statement on circumcision.
"I circumcised [my son] myself on my parents’ kitchen table on the eighth day of his life. But I did it for religious, not medical reasons. I did it because I had 3,000 years of ancestors looking over my shoulder." ~Andrew Freedman
Susan Blank was the Chairwoman of the AAP Circumcision Task Force 2012, the same task force as Andrew Freedman above, and the same task force that released the AAP’s policy statement on circumcision in 2012 claiming "the benefits outweigh the risks."
Thomas R. Frieden was formerly the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Administrator of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). As Health Commissioner of New York City (2002-2009), he tried to promote circumcision as a way to prevent HIV in homosexual males.
Despite trying to argue from a "social justice" platform, Foster couldn’t seem to be able to keep her ulterior motives from spilling out. In the preliminary hearing for the bill, after getting served by her opposition, Foster felt the need to explain her conflict of interests:
"Let me clarify... I had my sons circumcised because it was a health issue and a religious issue."
In a news article, she was quoted saying:
"This bill will have absolutely nothing to do with the Jewish community of Colorado... [I am] most persuaded by the medical evidence." ("Evidence" that couldn't persuade respected medical organizations in and outside the US to endorse the practice?)
The Jewish Daily Forward betrayed her true motives for the Colorado bill, however:
Foster, the main backer of the Colorado bill, said she believes that cutting Medicaid coverage for circumcision sent a message of support to anti-circumcision activists who want see the procedure outlawed nationwide. She is determined to push back against that effort.
"Ultimately, I think when the anti-circumcision people begin to see so many states denying benefits... it will be easier for them now to make their case that circumcision should be banned altogether."
Above she is quoted the bill she pushed had nothing to do with the Jewish community in Colorado, however, it just so happens that Joyce Foster is married to a rabbi, Steven Foster.
So did Foster introduce Senate Bill 90 in true interest in public health? Or did she use her position of power and authority to help safe-guard a medical procedure that also just happens to be a religious rite particular to Judaism?
It should be obvious by now, that one of the biggest reasons the practice of male infant circumcision continues is because in the United States is because it is actively being protected and promoted by Jewish people in positions of medical authority and political power. Adherence to Judaism is a conflict of interest because of the historic and religious significance male infant circumcision has to people of the Jewish faith.
Another conflict of interest often unstated by circumcision advocates is merely cultural inertia. If circumcision is what one grew up with, if circumcision is ingrained in one’s culture, more than likely a person is going to want to defend it.
Being practiced for well over a century, male infant circumcision has become culturally ingrained in American society. For some, having been circumcised at an American hospital has become a token of being “American.” A person may be circumcised, a spouse or lover of a circumcised man, or a father or mother of circumcised children, so one may be compelled to justify the practice of male infant circumcision out of personal conviction. No one wants to think something is wrong with their penis, their lover’s penis, or the penises of their children, so someone who comes from such a background may have a cultural bias to present male infant circumcision as being “beneficial,” or to downplay or even deny any risks or negatives attending the procedure.
Cultural inertia wouldn’t be limited to the United States; while circumcision is performed routinely in male infants in American hospitals, circumcision is also practiced as an initiation rite in various countries in Africa, and it is performed on prepubescent minors in Muslim countries, such as Turkey, Malaysia and Indonesia. Physicians from a background where circumcision is either a cultural norm or religious practice may be at odds in presenting full or accurate information, and may actually attempt to gear parents in favor of the practice.
Biased Researchers Produce Biased Research
As I've demonstrated, there is an inherent bias in doctors who defend or perform male infant circumcision. Reaping profit from it, having a religious conviction, or merely coming from a culture where circumcision is seen as a norm may already compel doctors to only present “research” or “evidence” that confirms their allegations of “medical benefit,” while downplaying or even denying research showing the risks and detriments of male infant circumcision. But what about the research used to support the practice of male infant circumcision itself? Who is writing it? Who is publishing it?
"I suspect that men in the United States, who, as compared with those in Africa and elsewhere, have had less acquisition of AIDS, have benefited from the high rate of newborn circumcision in the United States… this is nothing I can prove." ~Aaron J. Fink
No. At least it didn't during the first couple of years I was doing research. I didn't think about the Jewish part at all. I'd vaguely heard about a guy in Boston who does a non-cutting ritual bris, and maybe that would have appealed to me, if I had a boy someday. But in recent years the Judaism aspect has crept in now and then. Some doctors, for example, an oncologist in northeastern Brazil who has to amputate cancerous penises every week, would tell me not knowing that I was Jewish, 'Those Jews were so smart; thousands of years ago they figured out this way to prevent health problems.' That was one of the things that began to spin my head around from thinking of this as a savage ritual from the dark past to thinking of it as maybe a kind of health/cultural innovation ahead of its time... So I guess it has made me appreciate my own heritage more. And who knows, maybe finding out to my surprise that my own granddad was an occasional mohel was a weird kind of confirmation that I'm maybe in some small way 'destined' to help pass along this health benefit to people in parts of the world where it could really make a difference and perhaps save many lives. ~Daniel Halperin
Daniel Halperin works together with other circumcision “researchers” to promote male infant circumcision as disease prophylaxis. One of the prominent figures in that group is Robert Bailey, who wrote one the papers being used by the WHO to promote male circumcision in Africa.
Bailey is an example of a circumcision “researcher” that promotes male circumcision who is not Jewish, but he is American, where 80% of all males are circumcised. There is no doubt he himself is circumcised and comes from a culture where circumcision is culturally ingrained, so his bias comes into question.
Another prominent circumcision advocate who is in that circle of circumcision promoters is Brian Morris.
He’s not Jewish or American, but he’s Australian and he comes from a generation where circumcision was practiced routinely in Australia. In addition to trying to promote circumcision in Australia and to convince the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) to make male infant circumcision mandatory for all boys born in Australia, where circumcision has long since stopped being routine, he’s part of that group of “researchers” that is constantly publishing works in hopes that medical organizations around the world would promote male infant circumcision as a universal, compulsory practice.
To conclude this section, it ought to be obvious by now, that circumcision advocated and performed by, "research" that shows circumcision is "beneficial" is written and published by people with the unstated interests of financial gain, religious or personal conviction, for which "medical benefits" is a superficial pretext.
No Medical Basis
Few people are aware, but the medical case for male infant circumcision, the one pillar on which it all is supposed to rest, has but long collapsed. The problem with the argument of “potential medical benefits” for circumcision is that even if we take these claims and the studies that support them at face-value, they aren’t even enough for medical organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) to recommend for all males. In fact, not a single respected medical organization in the world does.
In 2012, the American Academy of Pediatrics released their then-latest policy statement on male infant circumcision. The AAP’s so-called “circumcision taskforce” took upon themselves the arduous task of reviewing the entirety of medical literature revolving around male infant circumcision, this would include all the works published by “researchers” mentioned above, and much to the chagrin of many a male infant circumcision advocate, stopped short of the one thing they were hoping the AAP would do; issue a recommendation that male infant circumcision be universally recommended for all male children.
Though the AAP littered their policy statement with the mantra "the benefits of male infant circumcision outweigh the risks," in the end, the AAP circumcision taskforce couldn’t commit to a recommendation based on all the medical literature. Indeed, they couldn’t and they can’t. The trend of opinion on routine male circumcision is overwhelmingly negative in industrialized nations. No respected medical board recommends the circumcision of infants, not even in the name of HIV prevention. They must all point to the risks, and they must all state that there is no convincing evidence that the benefits outweigh these risks. To do otherwise would be to take an unfounded position against the best medical authorities of the West.
"The benefits of male infant circumcision outweigh the risks" was repeated enough times that it was the only part of the 2012 policy statement male infant circumcision advocates could remember. Drowned out by this mantra was the conclusion that "the benefits of male infant circumcision aren’t great enough to recommend it," and overlooked remains the admission that "the true incidence of complications after circumcision remain unknown." The mantra that "the benefits of male infant circumcision outweigh the risks" collapses at the foot of these clauses alone, for "benefits", that aren’t enough to recommend male infant circumcision mind you, can’t "outweigh the risks" if those risks remain unknown.
Still, the 2012 taskforce on male infant circumcision dared to conclude the AAP Policy Statement on male infant circumcision with the suggestion that "Parents ultimately should decide whether circumcision is in the best interests of their male child. They will need to weigh medical information in the context of their own religious, ethical, and cultural beliefs and practices."
In other words, while experts at the AAP couldn’t recommend male infant circumcision based on their review of the entirety of medical literature, parents are expected to weigh the same evidence, and somehow come to a more reasonable conclusion. How this conclusion can be considered "reasonable," "in the context of their own religious, ethical and cultural beliefs and practices," and how American physicians are expected to perform non-medical surgery on healthy minors based on said conclusion is beyond me. By definition, religious and cultural beliefs are beyond reason.
If the medical benefits of male infant circumcision aren’t enough to recommend the circumcision of healthy, non-consenting minors, that is pretty much where the purview of medical experts should end. If the 2012 AAP circumcision policy statement is supposed to mean anything, then where "medical benefits" aren't enough, "religious and cultural beliefs" are supposed to take over, and this simply doesn't make any sense. A doctor’s duty is to medicine, not "religious, cultural beliefs and practices."
If a doctor is expected to perform elective, cosmetic surgery on healthy, non-consenting minors based purely on "religious beliefs," "cultural considerations" and a conclusion contrary to their own, can they be expected to perform other kinds of surgery? If doctors are expected to circumcise a baby boy based on "religious and cultural beliefs" and a parents' conclusion on medical benefits, why couldn't they be expected to circumcise a baby girl?
The logic falls apart.
It falls apart, and this reveals a glaringly obvious, self-serving double standard; "religious and cultural beliefs", at least in the West, justify male infant circumcision only. The authors of the 2012 AAP statement are banking on male infant circumcision being a cultural norm that a majority of parents already agree with, and that many physicians already reap profit from performing. Without "religious and cultural beliefs" to carry them through, "experts" at the American Academy of Pediatrics have absolutely no medical basis to stand on.
"The benefits of male infant circumcision are not great enough to recommend male infant circumcision."
End of story.
US Circumcision Arguments Hinge on "Religious Freedom" and "Parental Choice"
As I have just demonstrated, there is no medical basis for American physicians, or any physician whatever, performing male infant circumcision on healthy newborns. The medical basis fails, which is why experts at the AAP aim to transform the argument, shifting the onus of professional responsibility away from themselves, and onto parents, making it about "religious freedom and parental choice," as opposed to "medical necessity and professional responsibility." In essence, the argument is "I am blameless; the parents made me do it. Who am I to judge religious belief?"
Parental Choice is Not Absolute
Circumcision advocates will have you believe that “parental choice” justifies male infant circumcision. After all, parents can pierce their daughter’s ears can they not? And they decide what clothes they wear, what food they eat, what school they go to and what religion they’ll follow. If parents can decide to cut off a child’s hair, it only follows they can decide to cut off their male children’s foreskin. The parents decide. It’s how it works, right? But does that work in any case? Is “parental choice” absolute?
First, while it is true that parents make all decisions concerning a child's well-being, it is also true that being a parent is not the end-all/be-all on whether or not decisions concerning them are justified. A parent will go to jail if he or she decides to tattoo their child, for example. This has already happened multiple times. There is one instance in Fresno, CA, and another in Alabama, where the mother not only tattooed her son, she also tried trading him for drugs.
One mother lost custody of her daughter for deciding to inject botox into her face for a beauty pageant. In Las Vegas, a couple got in trouble for modifying their child’s ears to look like a member of the fictitious Hylia people in the Legend of Zelda video game series.
In some states, parents will face prison if they deny urgent medical care to a child. Parents in the United States cannot get away with performing any form of genital cutting on their daughters, and there is no exempt for religious or cultural practice.
There is also long-standing legal precedent that says parents are not free to do whatever it is with their child by mere virtue that they are parents.
The Prince vs. Massachusetts court decision states:
"The family itself is not beyond regulation in the public interest, as against a claim of religious liberty. And neither the rights of religion nor the rights of parenthood are beyond limitation…The right to practice religion freely does not include the right to expose the community or the child to communicable disease or the latter to ill-health or death...
Parents may be free to become martyrs themselves. But it does not follow they are free, in identical circumstances, to make martyrs of their children before they have reached the age of full and legal discretion when they can make that choice for themselves. Massachusetts has determined that an absolute prohibition, though one limited to streets and public places and to the incidental uses proscribed, is necessary to accomplish its legitimate objectives. Its power to attain them is broad enough to reach these peripheral instances in which the parent's supervision may reduce but cannot eliminate entirely the ill effects of the prohibited conduct. We think that with reference to the public proclaiming of religion, upon the streets and in other similar public places, the power of the state to control the conduct of children reaches beyond the scope of its authority over adults, as is true in the case of other freedoms, and the rightful boundary of its power has not been crossed in this case."
“It’s The Parent’s Choice”
Physicians who perform male infant circumcision are talking from both sides of their mouths. On the one hand, they claim to be experts in their field, demanding they be called by their title of “doctor” by others, often flaunting the fact that they went to school for years to earn it. On the other hand, simultaneously, they want to make it appear as if they are obedient slaves to parents who demand that their male children be circumcised. And yet this delusion falls apart if the same logic is applied to other cases.
If a parent could ask a doctor to cut off part of a boy's penis, then doesn’t it follow that parents can ask the doctor to cut off part of a girl's vulva “just because they are the parent and they make the decisions?” If a parent asks the doctor to do any of the things mentioned above, why shouldn’t they comply?
I think that we can agree, we ought to agree, that “parental choice” is not absolute, and crossing that line constitutes abuse. But where is that line?
My take is that, parents should have “parental choice” as much as they’re not violating that child’s basic human rights. A parent has no right to demand a doctor administer non-medical treatment or surgery to a healthy, non-consenting child. And a doctor has every duty to reject such demands.
Circumcision is an exception. An anomaly. It is the only instance in medicine where a doctor is allowed to perform surgery on a healthy, non-consenting child based purely on the whims of the parents, without any medical diagnosis. All other surgery demands there be a medical indication, and surgery is usually a last resort, where all other methods of treatment have failed.
The bottom line is that a doctor's professional duty is to medicine, not parental whim. Without medical or clinical indication, doctors have no business performing surgery on healthy, non-consenting minors, let alone be offering parents any kind of "choice" in the matter.
In 2012, the AAP cited a parent’s “religious, ethical ad cultural beliefs and practices” as considerations for doctors circumcising healthy, non-consenting children.
“Parents ultimately should decide whether circumcision is in the best interests of their male child. They will need to weigh medical information in the context of their own religious, ethical, and cultural beliefs and practices. The medical benefits alone may not outweigh these other considerations for individual families.” ~AAP 2012
The very AAP concluded that the “benefits” of circumcision were “not enough to recommend the procedure.” In the same 2012 policy statement, they said that “the true incidence of complications after newborn circumcision is unknown.” How parents who never went to medical school are suddenly more qualified than physicians who went to school for years to earn the title of “Doctor” to decide whether or not surgery on a healthy, non-consenting child is needed or not, and how doctors are expected or even allowed to comply escapes me.
Doctors are physicians who deal in MEDICINE, not religious belief or superstition. There is no medical indication to circumcise a healthy, non-consenting child, full stop. How far are doctors expected to comply with a parent’s request for surgery based on their “Religious, ethical and cultural beliefs and practices?”
A child being prepared to get "sunat," as her Muslim parents have chosen
For better or for worse, it is seen as a religious requirement, a cultural tradition, and a "parental choice."
"Sunat" is often performed by physicians, and consented to by parents. When it comes to male infant circumcision, "religion" and "parental choice" are cited as alibis by American doctors who perform it. So how far are doctors expected to comply with a parent’s request for surgery based on their “Religious, ethical and cultural beliefs and practices?”
If a doctor can circumcise a boy, not based on any “medical evidence” that it’s necessary, but based on non-medical arguments of “religious practice,” “cultural custom” and/or “parental choice”, then does it not follow that a doctor can, and is obliged to circumcise a girl, because for better or for worse, it’s part of a few million parents’ cultural beliefs, religious customs, they’re the parents, and they decide?
Or does this only apply to male infant circumcision?
The bottom line is that a doctor's duty is to medicine. Without medical or clinical indication, doctors have no business performing surgery on healthy, non-consenting individuals, let alone giving parents any kind of “choice”. “Religious, ethical and cultural beliefs and practices” are immaterial.
The foreskin is not a birth defect. Neither is it a congenital deformity or genetic anomaly akin to a 6th finger or a cleft. Neither is it a medical condition like a ruptured appendix or diseased gall bladder. Neither is it a dead part of the body, like the umbilical cord, hair, or fingernails.
The foreskin is not "extra skin." The foreskin is normal, natural, healthy, functioning tissue, present in all males at birth; it is as intrinsic to male genitalia as labia are to female genitalia.
Unless there is a medical or clinical indication, the circumcision of a healthy, non-consenting individual is a deliberate wound; it is the destruction of normal, healthy tissue, the permanent disfigurement of normal, healthy organs, and by very definition, infant genital mutilation, and a violation of the most basic of human rights.
Without medical or clinical indication, doctors have absolutely no business performing surgery in healthy, non-consenting individuals, much less be eliciting any kind of "decision" from parents.
In any other case, reaping profit from non-medical procedures on non-consenting individuals constitutes medical fraud.
Genital integrity, autonomy and self-determination are inalienable human rights. I am against the forced circumcision of healthy, non-consenting minors because it violates these rights.
Genital mutilation, whether it be wrapped in culture, religion or “research” is still genital mutilation.
It is mistaken, the belief that the right amount of “science” can be used to legitimize the deliberate violation of basic human rights.
I speak out against the forced circumcision of healthy, non-consenting minors in any way, shape or form. I make no exception for "religion" nor "cultural practice" of any kind. Please do not conflate my disdain for the forced circumcision of minors with a belittlement of circumcised men, or a hate for Jews.
In this blog I criticize circumcision advocates and expose information about them that is not always revealed to the public. Some may argue that I am engaging in ad hominem. However, I'm only pointing out conflicts of interest, and this is not ad hominem. The following is an excerpt from Wikipedia's entry on ad hominem (4/22/2012):
Conflict of Interest: Where a source seeks to convince by a claim of authority or by personal observation, identification of conflicts of interest are not ad hominem – it is generally well accepted that an "authority" needs to be objective and impartial, and that an audience can only evaluate information from a source if they know about conflicts of interest that may affect the objectivity of the source. Identification of a conflict of interest is appropriate, and concealment of a conflict of interest is a problem.
The views I express in this blog are my own individual opinion, and they do not necessarily reflect the views of all intactivists. I am but an individual with one opinion, and I do not pretend to speak for the intactivist movement as a whole, thank you.