Human rights panel voices concern over circumcision

News  National Post (Toronto). Wednesday, 17 January 2001.

Adrian Humphreys


Ontario Human Rights Commission Concerned About Male Non-therapeutic Circumcision


Most common surgery

National Post. Canadian anti-circumcision groups are claiming victory after a change in  External link policy by a human rights agency recognizes the possibility of harm from the procedure.

A doctor had asked the  External link Ontario Human Rights Commission to denounce male circumcision in the same way it condemns female genital mutilation.

I became aware that we had one standard for protecting the young women in our society and we had a different standard for protecting the young men in our society, said Dr. Arif Bhimji, a Toronto-area emergency room physician.

The commission rejected that position, but amended its policy to include a statement flagging concerns over the routine surgery on baby boys. Previously, the commission's policy said male circumcision caused no damage to the penis and presented minimal danger.

Dr. Bhimji said the change does not go far enough.

I think I would have liked to see it be more affirmative than it is, but I think it is a reasonable intermediate step to correct the misinformation, he said.

Anti-circumcision activists heralded the change as a win in their campaign to ban the procedure, which remains the most common surgery in North America.

The change was trumpeted by Lawrence Barichello, executive director of an organization called  External link Intact, and by John Antonopoulos, president of the  External link Circumcision Information Resource Centre.

Their removal of these inaccuracies implies that male infant circumcision is damaging in itself, has complications, and does impact on male sexuality, said Mr. Antonopoulos.

They are saying that the difference between male circumcision and [female genital mutilation] is only a matter of degree.

A spokeswoman for the commission, however, said the change is not as dramatic as the activists suggest.

We're a little surprised by the way the change has been characterized, said Pearl Eliadis, director of policy and education with the commission.

I don't want to dump on a group that, I'm sure, has legitimate concerns and really did bring it to our attention in good faith and we did change our research position on this as a result.

But it doesn't change the fact that [female genital mutilation] is a procedure used to subjugate women as a gender, Ms. Eliadis said. It is used to suppress women's sexuality, it is grossly violative, and it creates gender specific problems in a way that male circumcision has never been used. It has never been used as a social tool to subjugate men.

Intact came to public attention in October, 1999, when Mr. Barichello, of Toronto, announced he was organizing a class-action lawsuit on behalf of Canadian men who were circumcised as infants. The group is still working on the lawsuit.

Circumcision was once routine in most North American hospitals, but a mounting body of medical evidence suggests the procedure is largely unnecessary.

In 1996, the Canadian Paediatric Society published an  External link extensive report in the Canadian Medical Association Journal that concluded, as an official stance, that routine circumcision is not recommended.

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