Tuesday, June 18, 2013

"I Did My Research" - The Quest for Scientific Vindication

The battle for genital integrity and basic human rights for boys has come a long way. Advocates of circumcision have come to realize that appeals to antiquity, tradition and religion simply aren't enough to justify the forced genital mutilation of healthy, non-consenting minors. They now call and plead with the gods of science and research to vindicate male infant circumcision, and to placate human rights activists, such as myself, as if science and research could be used to make an ethically repugnant practice morally acceptable.

While in the past, most parents confronted about the issue made appeals to their religion, or the fact that "this is what's been done in our family for generations," today, no circumcision apology is complete without appeals to knowledge and scientific research.

"Don't you insult us by posting links to studies and papers," retorts many a parent defensively; "We've done our research."

There are a few things wrong with this type of reasoning, beginning with the notion that an ethically repugnant practice can be made justifiable with "the right amount of research."

The second thing I find wrong with this kind of reasoning is the delusion that parents can demand procedures for their children as long as they can dig up the "research" that suits them, and that doctors are obliged to comply, like servants at their beck and call. For any other medical treatment and procedure, it is usually the doctor's professional responsibility to "do the research," and determine the medical validity of a procedure. Only after a doctor has issued a diagnosis and prescribed treatment can a parent be asked to consent to treatment. Circumcision seems to be the only instance in American medicine where it is lay parents, not doctors, who are expected to determine the medical validity of a surgical procedure, and then doctors are expected to act on this judgement, whether it be consistent or inconsistent with the medical trends of the time.

But thirdly, what I find particularly disconcerting about about "we've done our research" is the fact that, if current position statements from the most respected medical authorities in the world are correct, this is simply not possible.

The fact is that the trend of opinion on routine male circumcision is overwhelmingly negative in industrialized nations. No respected medical board in the world, not even the AAP, recommends circumcision for infants. All of them, including the AAP in their latest statement, state that there isn't sufficient evidence to warrant this endorsement, much to the chagrin of circumcision advocates.

It is simply not possible, then, that parents who defend their decision to have their male children circumcised "did their research."

Parents who claim having "done their research" and choose in favor of circumcision take an unfounded position against the best medical authorities of the West.

"We've done our research" is, then, a poor attempt at sounding intelligent, that human rights activists in the know will see through rather quickly.

Let it be clear...
No respected medical organization endorses male infant circumcision, not even the AAP. The most respected medical organizations in the West have weighed the current body of evidence, and have found it to be insufficient to recommend the circumcision of infants.

It is simply not possible, then, that parents who choose in favor of circumcision "did their research."

It is fallacious to expect lay parents to examine the same body of evidence, and come up with a more reasonable conclusion than that of entire organizations of medical professionals.

It is medically fraudulent that parents are being allowed to make a "choice" that is inconsistent with the conclusions of entire organizations of medical professionals, that doctors pretend that they can comply with such a "choice," and that public coffers are expected to reimburse them.

Without medical or clinical indication doctors have no business performing surgery on healthy, non-consenting minors, let alone be giving parents any kind of a “choice.”

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.

Related Posts:
Politically Correct Research: When Science, Morals and Political Agendas Collide

AAP: Around the Bush and Closer to Nowhere
OUT OF LINE: AAP Circumcision Policy Statement Formally Rejected

TU QUOQUE: The AAP Fends Off Accusations of Bias

The Circumcision Blame Game


  1. The AAP Policy of August 2012 was presented with a huge media display of propaganda and pretty much everyone heard that "the benefits outweigh the risks" which is repeated over and over through the Policy and the accompanying Technical Report.

    That's pretty much all the information that most Americans will need. However, if some of them would bother to actually read the technical report (what a concept! whew!), they would find a (poorly written) paragraph repeated 4 times:

    "Parents should weigh the health
    benefits and risks in light of their
    own religious, cultural, and personal
    preferences, as the medical
    benefits alone may not outweigh
    these other considerations for individual

    This sounds like some families may not circumcise for religious, cultural or preference reasons, when it's actually quite the opposite. What the paragraph really, REALLY means (even if written to sound like the opposite) is that the "benefits" alone are not enough, but that the AAP justifies parents circumcising because of religious, cultural, or (gasp!) parental preference.

    The other interesting thing is that the AAP reduced the equation to RISK and BENEFITS. They did not consider the actual HARM. Removing the frenulum is harm. Removing the mobility of the skin is harm. Removing the nerve endings of the ridged band is harm. Exposing the glans to damage is harm. Harm that always occurs by the very nature of the procedure. Harm that cannot be discounted because a number of volunteers in Africa considered that their sexual function was fine within 2 years of the procedure - as Dr. Ronald Gray would like us to discount.

    Circumcision advocates would like parents to think that circumcision is another decision just like vaccination, given that vaccines also carry some risks. What can't be said of vaccines is that they carry specific harm 100% guaranteed like circumcision does.

    Gray, Morris and the other usual suspects in "A snip in time" state that "While these various psychological problems should be mitigated by making MC normative in a community, just as with most fears and anxieties, the prospect of
    such concerns would be largely eliminated if MC were performed in infancy". This is a terribly Machiavellian scheme. Make circumcision normative in a community, perform it in infancy, and nobody will complain!

    That paper is particularly Machiavellian, how about this: "Other desirable features of infant MC are the surgical ease of performing a circumcision on an immobile new-born, the speed of the operation, absence of any need to use sutures, quick healing, and good cosmetic outcome".

    The big mistake of parents is to search for "benefits of circumcision". Of course this will lead them to the AAP's propaganda or to Brian Morris' website or one of the many clinics that promote the procedure. In general, if you start out by believing that circumcision is beneficial, you will find benefits to justify your preconception within seconds, and if you don't look any deeper or read the small letter then you just act like they want you to act.

  2. What I encounter more often is "We've made our minds up, don't confuse us with the facts." The AAP proved what can be done with a selective bibliography. There are enough poorly done studies to support circumcision to make circumcised men feel better about themselves.

    What was most telling about the AAP position is that they were not able to come to a definitive position, but rather pushed the decision off on to the parents. This was quite the cowardly thing to do. Rather than review all of the literature, not just the studies that made them feel better about being circumcised, and take a position based on the science and the ethics, the AAP showed that they don't want to take responsibility for infant circumcision, but they do want their members to be paid for performing them.

  3. What I took from the AAP position was "The benefits of us getting reimbursed for performing this procedure outweigh the risks to the subject of the procedure." If parents are more than happy to pay big bucks to have their sons mutilated, if Medicare reimburses for circumcision, what would be the AAP's motivation to discourage parents from seeking it? That would be like a car salesman promoting bike paths or a realtor telling people to sell their homes FSBO. Not going to happen!

    In spite of the fact that we like to believe we have the most advanced medical system in the world, ever, we're really no different from the times when it was considered ethically sound to perform medical experimentation on minorities and the mentally disabled.

  4. Oh, and in practice it's often pushed on the parents or at least assumed to be the norm, with parents who want to leave their child's genitals alone being treated as abusive freaks. When I had my oldest, we repeatedly declined circ but they were so keen on circumcising him that when I went to the bathroom, I took him with me to keep them from taking him against my will. My husband and I had to take turns staying awake and watching him because they tried to get him in the middle of the night when we were asleep. That's hardly leaving it up to parental preference.

  5. What was the name of the hospital, Karen? These unscrupulous rogues, child snatchers and mutilators do not deserve the benefit of anonymity. Please post it here and on Facebook as well as Intactivist websites that may catch your attention. Get your story out there. It's one that needs be told.