Man Receives $360,000 Compensation for Childhood Circumcision

SUNDAY TIMES, Perth, Western Australia, 26 December 1999, page 2.

The cruel cut that ruined a man's life

by Bruce Butler

A PERTH man has won a $360,000 damages payout after a WA doctor admitted he botched a circumcision operation which left the man with a badly deformed penis. [CIRP note: This is roughly equivalent to US$235,000.]

The man, 26, who was operated on at birth, has never had sexual intercourse.

Due to a lack of information on neonatal circumcision, he grew up believing he was deformed. He was unable to obtain an erection until he had corrective surgery at the age of 18.

The man, who wants to be known only as "John", said he has a permanent lack of sensation in his penis but has also suffered extreme pain.

He suffered severe psychological problems from his late teens which led to an attempted suicide at 18, six months after partially successful reconstructive surgery.

In January 1992 when his injuries were diagnosed as a bungled surgery, he turned against his parents, hating them for allowing the awful operation to be done.

In 1997 he sued the GP who circumcised him.

This month John received an out-of-court settlement after the doctor admitted liability for the injuries and agreed to the payout.

His lawyer Hayden Stephens, from law firm Slater and Gordon, said the payout was one of the biggest in Australia for that type of injury.

"This young man has suffered a horrific consequence as a result of this negligent procedure and he now has to live with the problem for the rest of his life," Mr Stephens said.

"I am really pleased for him, but no amount of money will ever truly compensate him for the injuries he has suffered."

Now completing a doctorate in medical science, John said he took legal action in a bid to draw attention to circumcision and to try to eradicate it in Australia, if not the world.

He said circumcision was a disgusting, unnecessary act of mutilation which the medical profession had forced on unsuspecting parents for years.

"For my whole life I've been imprisoned in pain and exiled from pleasure. I'm serving a prison sentence for a crime that someone else committed---that's the reality for me," he said.

In John's operation, still routinely performed without anaesthetic in Australian hospitals, almost all the penile skin was removed which prevented the penis from growing normally.

John said: "Parents want to see their children grow up to live healthy and happy lives and many parents have consented to circumcision because the Australian medical profession convinced them it was a quick and painless procedure that was essential to avoid health problems.

"Not only is the claim that it is beneficial wrong, the AMA has not adequately informed parents of the surgical risks involved.

"I took legal action against the doctor who circumcised me because I hate circumcision and I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I did nothing to stop other babies being injured and mutilated in the same way as me.

"I don't want to walk down the street and see a young mother with baby boys and wonder and worry whether they've had done to them what was done to me."

Born in 1973, John's "routine" operation became a nightmare he has had to cope with all his life.

The young GP who delivered him cut away far too much skin and had to stretch the remaining soft, scrotal tissue and stitch it in place.

The result was a mess.

"The shape isn't right, the length isn't right---it's shorter than it should be---and the glans (head) is actually twisted a bit," John said.

Believing he was deformed, he hid from embarrassing changeroom and shower situations at school.

Throughout adolescence---difficult enough years when all is well---the psychological harm matched his physical scars.

He was more interested in science than sport and became withdrawn and studious.

He prospered academically but psychologically was crying for help.

When he went to university, he realised he had a serious problem and the bungled circumcision was diagnosed.

He fought severe depression and contemplated suicide but opted for surgery, hoping it could save him.

"The pain involved in that was horrific and it lasted for years and still now I get aches and pains from time to time," he said.

"With all the pain, the psychological trauma and embarrassment that went with having that surgery, it wasn't worth it.

"But I was 18 years old, I had something very badly wrong with me and I was desperate.

"I had to try something."

Skin was taken from his upper thighs and grafted to his penis, but he was left with little real sensation.

The grafted skin had unsightly leg hairs growing from it, which required electrolysis and caused further scarring.

He remains angry that he was circumcised unnecessarily and that the medical profession continues to push the operation on unknowing parents. He is outraged that 12 per cent of Australian boys are still circumcised.

"Babies should never be circumcised," he said.

"My case was a totally unnecessary circumcision. Yet my mother and father were told it was essential for me to be circumcised to avoid health problems."

John said some medical authorities still claimed circumcision reduced the rate of HIV infection and sexually transmitted diseases---a claim he says has been proven wrong by medical data.

He said it was wrong that doctors, who charged about $200 to perform a circumcision, continued to make a small fortune from such a potentially harmful procedure.

"I have been assaulted and mutilated and for my whole life I am living with an injury," he said.

John said his injuries had made it almost impossible to contemplate a relationship with a woman and he found it hard to make friends.

He was angry with his parents but he now acknowledged the operation was not their fault.

His mother, a close and loving supporter who carries her own guilt over the surgery, said: "He's never had a relationship with a woman because of how he feels about his body.

"At the most important stage of his life when he should have been dating and girls were showing an interest in him, he withdrew."

She said they should have been told how to clean a boy's foreskin, not advised to have a circumcision.

His mother also regretted the blunder was not diagnosed earlier so he could have had corrective surgery at a younger age.

John said he would like to see a support group established in Australia for men who have problems due to circumcision.

Information on circumcision is available on the Internet. The address is

[Page 3]

Doctors divided over operation

By John Carey

THE medical profession remains divided over the issue of circumcision.

Only about 5 per cent of male babies born in WA in the past two years have undergone the procedure, suggesting that parents are less likely to want their sons circumcised.

But it is still common enough, its opponents say, that Princess Margaret Hospital for Children admits half a dozen baby boys each year suffering from infection or hemorrhaging because of it.

Princess Margaret Hospital specialist Dr Philip King said it was an unnecessary operation performed on babies when they were most vulnerable to infection and bleeding.

He said only 4 per cent of boys required circumcision for medical reasons---in cases of trauma or infection---but "every year we see babies coming in with circumcision who have nasty infections and require surgery".

"Foreskin is a very normal part of the human body," he said. "It is a very important part throughout life. It's the right of the child that he should keep his foreskin---it's not the right of the parents to chop it off."

In the US, he said, there had been six cases in which children successfully sued parents for choosing to circumcised when it was unnecessary.

But Dr King said he would perform the procedure, if necessary, to ensure the highest standards of safety.

"If parents are absolutely insistent that their child be circumcised, then I will provide them with the best possible environment to be circumcised," Dr King said.

"The message is: go to a pediatric surgeon who will do it in a respected hospital with a pediatric anaesthetist."

Another surgeon who regularly performs both ritual and routine circumcisions said the crucial issue was the technique used to perform the operation.

"I don't think it is barbaric if it is done quickly and properly," he said.

Different techniques provide different levels of discomfort for the baby."

The surgeon, who declined to be identified by name, said there was also some reason to be concerned that medical practitioners, who were opposed to circumcision, might inadvertently intimidate parents who wanted the procedure done on their sons in order to express their religious convictions.

"The should be able to practise the religious rights without feeling intimidated by society," he said.

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