Circumcision draws fire of student group

News  The Daily Iowan (University of Iowa). Thursday, 5 December 2002.

Paula Mavroudis

UI freshman Neil Peterson grew up convinced that he was no different from other boys even though he spent much of those years in excruciating pain.

The Missouri native experienced uncomfortable erections from early childhood until two years ago, when the 24-year-old anthropology student discovered that he suffered from a rare complication after being circumcised too tightly. Since then, he's spoken out about the procedure and formed a local chapter of Students for Genital Integrity, a nationwide support group.

I had to recognize that I was unhappy the way I was, he said. [Forming the group] was a very un-American thing for me to do, because society normalcy calls for circumcision in men. It has healed me to talk about it.

Peterson said his complication was healed after he learned to stretch his foreskin out to alleviate his condition. Although he no longer experiences pain, he is dedicated to speaking out against genital mutilation.

Circumcision and other types of bodily mutilation are crimes against human rights, Peterson said. His group contends that children should not be forcibly circumcised, as they now are as infants at their parents' request. The group is dedicated to educating the public and doctors that circumcision is not necessary, in addition to highlighting the dangers of sex-reassignnemt surgery to distinguish hermaphrodites as male or female.

The group will be formally recognized as a UI student organization next week, Peterson said.

Peterson is planning to hold fund-raisers and host speakers at the university and write to representatives, expressing the need for a law barring circumcision in the United States.

The Circumcision Information and Resource Pages reports that approximately 60 percent of American males are circumcised, down from nearly 90 percent in the 1960s.

Edward Bell, a UI professor of pediatrics, said complications such as Peterson's are extremely rare. The American Academy of Pediatrics says 0.2 to 0.6 percent of circumcisions end with complications. Bleeding and infection are two problems that can occur when a boy is circumcised, as well as scarring if the doctor removes too much foreskin, Bell said.

Jewish children are supposed to be circumcised for religious reasons, though Iowa City Rabbi Jeff Portman said he wouldn't regard an uncircumcised Jewish boy as any less Jewish.

I know parents who have refused to have their children circumcised because they've seen the studies, he said.

While Chicago medical researchers suggested in a study published in the American Journal of Pathology earlier this year that uncircumcised men are at a higher risk for contracting HIV, Bell said that circumcision has become an unnecessary procedure for most males.

Circumcision is more of a cultural issue than a medical one, he said. It would be nice if parents didn't insist upon having their boys circumcised.

Many parents don't want their boys to look different from their brothers, peers, or fathers, Bell said.

Peterson and Bell's stance on the issue got a small boost from the pediatrics academy in 1999, when it released a policy telling doctors that the benefits of circumcision are not strong enough to mandate it as necessary.

Circumcision has become cosmetic surgery, and it's really just a matter of personal preference, Bell said.

Leaving the foreskin, however, brings specific problems of its own. A rare condition known as phimosis, caused by the foreskin being too tight around the shaft of the penis, can occur in about 2 percent of men, reported the Circumcision Information and Resource Pages, and result in excruciating pain. More commonly, an uncircumcised man may experience bladder infections, Bell said.


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