A group in San Francisco has collected enough signatures to get a proposal to ban circumcision included in their November ballot which would prohibit the circumcision of males under 18, even for religious reasons. Routine neonatal circumcision has been banned in South Africa and Finland. It’s also banned in Sweden but there’s an exception for religious reasons.
About 10-20% of newborn males are circumcised in New Zealand and Australia and it’s generally a safe procedure, “but there are risks of minor complications and some rare but serious complications” (Royal Australasian College of Physicians PDF).
The RACP continues: “the foreskin has a functional role, the operation is non-therapeutic and the infant is unable to consent” and that “the frequency of diseases modifiable by circumcision, the level of protection offered by circumcision and the complication rates of circumcision do not warrant routine infant circumcision in Australia and New Zealand.” However, unfortunately they still go on to say that circumcision should be the choice of the parents weighing up potential harms and potential benefits. “The potential benefits include connectedness for particular socio-cultural groups and decreased risk of some diseases. The potential harms include contravention of individual rights, loss of choice, loss of function, procedural and psychological complications.”
Circumcision reduces the risk of urinary tract infections, sexually transmitted infections, cancer of the penis and cervical cancer. However, UTIs only occur in up to 4% of boys and the prevalence of UTIs decreases “quite dramatically” after the first month of life, circumcisions do not make a significant difference when STIs are low in the population like in Australia and New Zealand (“…circumcision does not provide significant protection against STIs and HIV, and is less effective than safe sex practices.”), cancer of the penis is “extremely rare with an incidence of 1 in 250,000 Australian men” and the HPV vaccine (and I assume smear tests) overshadow circumcision as protective measures for HPV.
It’s important to remember that infants are not having sex and so circumcision would not have the chance to prevent the transmission of diseases for many years. The potential health benefits of circumcision (except for UTIs) could still largely be gained by postponing circumcision until adulthood.
Hygiene or appearance reasons seem like a moot point too. It does not take a rocket scientist to work out how to keep an uncircumcised penis clean. In countries with low circumcision rates it’s unlikely a partner will have a strong preference for a circumcised partner, so it could in fact be argued that there are social/relationship benefits in not circumcising.
Maybe I am biased by my lack of religion, but religion or culture shouldn’t be an excuse for chopping off body parts either. This is illustrated by New Zealand’s law banning “female circumcision” which makes performing “any medical or surgical procedure or mutilation of the vagina or clitoris of any person” for reasons of “culture, religion, custom or practice” illegal.
Also, circumcision is nothing like ear piercing. Foreskin doesn’t grow back, an infant can’t consent and in ear piercing body parts aren’t being removed.
Circumcision of infants doesn’t focus on the child’s needs and interests and puts the boy through avoidable and unnecessary harm. There are risks involved that are “low in frequency but high in impact (death, loss of penis)”.
Letting someone decide for themselves as an adult “respect[s] the child’s physical integrity, and capacity for autonomy by leaving the options open for him to make his own autonomous choice in the future” and reduces the risk that “children [will] grow up to disagree with decisions that parents have made for them when they were young.”
When you circumcise a baby, you’re taking that choice away from the adult he will become. For every day of his adult life, he will have been, and will continue to be, denied the right to choose for himself as a result of what was done to him as an infant. (Paraphrased via)
Obviously if there’s an immediate medical need or the guy in question is a consenting adult, snip away. However infants do not have religions, are not able to refuse the surgery and therefore it should be illegal for circumcisions to be performed on them. Freedom of religion needs to include freedom from religion. The protection the law gives to females should be equal to the protection given to males. Maybe we need a Ministry of Men’s Affairs*.
*To represent men on issues like: circumcision, depression, suicide, body image, school achievement and attendance, lifespan, domestic violence, drug use, unemployment and health research (totally unscientific experiment, but I thought this was interesting. There are 1217 results for men’s health in PubMed and 29464 for women’s health. 24900 results for men’s health in Google Scholar and 518000 for women’s health.)
Image credit: Brad Brundage