Doctors Against Circumcision



My husband and I are trying to decide whether our firstborn, if a
boy, should be circumcised.  We know that circumcision is
painful, medically unnecessary and occasionally risky.

My instinct is against it.

My husband, who is circumcised, is not so sure.  He worries about
whether the child would feel "different," even though he admits
that he wasn't bothered that his own father wasn't circumcised.

My doctor says it's up to us.  He also says most males in the
world are not circumcised and that the United States is the only
country left where the practice continues (except religiously). 
But he says circumcision is not as popular here as it once was--
it's about 50-50 in most areas.

I simply cannot imagine doing unnecessary surgery on an infant. 
How should my husband and I resolve this issue?


A few babies must be circumcised to cure a urological problem, and
others are circumcised because their parents are Moslems or Jews,
but the prevalence of this operation in the United States should
be seen for what it is: a tribal rite, and a fairly new one.

The Victorians started the custom in England in the 19th century
to cure masturbation, then considered a moral threat to the
empire.  Since they didn't Know the cause of most diseases, they
blamed it for everything from alcoholism to syphilis.

The operation spread to all the English-speaking countries (and
nowhere else), but it's very unpopular today - except in the
United States.  Although the overall figure is somewhat higher
than your obstetrician told you, it is very low among immigrants
and dropping fast among the more educated, upscale parents.

Conformity is one reason that parents - like your husband - often
want their sons circumcised, but it isn't a valid one.

Even though some boys are circumcised and some are not, they
seldom tease each other about the presence, or absence, of
foreskins.  And most are not bothered if they look different from
their dads.  It's true that a son wants to copy his father, but
it's his character and his interests and his behavior and his wit
he wants to copy, not his body.  Children are smarter than that.

There are a number of other arguments against circumcision and a
lot of information out there.  Much of it comes from -
organizations devoted just to the subject of circumcision, but
most of it has a hysterical edge.

If you dig into the medical reports, however, you'll find the same
basic information and a much calmer tone.

The American Academy of Pediatrics came out against routine
circumcision in 1971; the American College of Obstetricians and
Gynecologists added its opposition seven years later.  The AAP
expects to issue new guidelines in late September.

So far, studies have proved that the foreskin is not only safe to
keep, but it actually protects the penis throughout a man's life. 
They have also found that uncircumcised men are no more likely to
get cancer or venereal disease than those who are circumcised -
many doctors once thought they were - nor are their wives more
prone to cervical cancer.

Circumcision isn't good preventive medicine on any level.  It may
eventually be necessary - although rarely - but you wouldn't want
the doctor to cut out your baby's tonsils because he might need a
tonsillectomy someday.

Hygiene is another misplaced concern: The foreskin keeps itself
clean by shedding dead cells.

If none of this persuades your husband, money may talk.  Now that
most doctors think circumcision is unnecessary, more and more
insurance companies refuse to pay for it.  You may be charged $100
to  $200 for the procedure.

Your baby will pay a price too.

Circumcision is a minor operation, but it is usually done without
general anesthesia, since this can be dangerous to a baby.  Unless
a local anesthetic is used, the operation causes a child real pain
because it hurts anyone to be cut, and the body of a newborn is
exquisitely sensitive.  This sensitivity causes some discomfort
afterward, whether a local is used or not.

There are also some risks.

While circumcision is one of the safest operations, one in 500
babies still have significant ill effects, such as penile
infections, hemorrhaging and urinary problems.

For more information, you can get "The Circumcision Decision," a
pamphlet by Edward Wallerstein, by sending 50 cents to Pennypress,
23rd Ave. East, Seattle, Wash. 98112.  Or you may send a long,
stamped, self-addressed envelope to the AAP, Dept. C, Box -927,
Elk Grove Village, Illinois, 60009-27 for a copy of its free
pamphlet, "Care of the Uncircumcised Penis," which is basically no
special care at all.

If, however, you and your husband decide your son should be
circumcised, make sure your obstetrician does the job and not the
resident which is often the case - and that the operation doesn't
take place until after the baby's vital signs are stable.

The Family Almanac, by Marguerite Kelly
printed in Asbury Park Press newspaper, P.O. Box 15310,
Washington, D.C. 20003.
(August 7, 1988)

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