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A Case Against Circumcision

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A Case Against Circumcision

When I was an intern, just starting my OB/GYN residency, someone handed me a list with a dozen names on it and said, “Go. It’s your job to circumcise these babies.” My mouth flung open. Say what?

Do you know what you just made me do to your son?

Sure enough, as it turns out, it’s the intern’s responsibility to wake up sleeping newborns, strap them down to a board that looks not unlike the electric chair (called a “circumstraint”), clamp their unanesthetized foreskins with the sterilized Gomco or Mogen instrument, and cut away the foreskins from the tips of the poor baby penises while they scream bloody murder, turn beet red, and pee in your face. I hated it. It was just awful.

The nurses would line them up, one after the other — then, after wrapping their little post-operative pee-pees in Vaseline gauze, I would deliver them back to their Mommies. The whole time, I wanted to say, “Do you know what you just made me do to your son?”

Before doing the procedure, I always had the Mommy sign a consent form that basically says that this procedure is completely unnecessary, that it’s purely cosmetic, and that the baby might bleed, get infected, or have its penis accidentally lopped off. And they would sign away on the dotted line without blinking. It baffled me.

All in the family

During my residency, I performed at least a thousand circumcisions, many of which left me blubbering like a child because it just broke my heart to have to hurt these poor babies. When I complained about having to do them to my physician father, he said, “I’m so glad nobody ever did that to me.”

Until he said it, I had never thought about whether my father was circumcised. My family grew up pretty open about bodies and sexuality, so yes, I had seen my father naked. But I guess I’d never really scrutinized his genitalia. Then it occurred to me. I had also seen my brother naked — and he was circumcised. If Dad was happy to be uncut, why did he choose to circumcise his son?

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Lissa Rankin

Lissa Rankin, MD is a mind-body medicine physician, founder of the Whole Health Medicine Institute training program for physicians and other health care providers, and the New York Times bestselling author of Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself.  She is on a grassroots mission to heal health care, while empowering you to heal yourself.  Lissa blogs at LissaRankin.com and also created two online communities - HealHealthCareNow.com and OwningPink.com. She is also the author of two other books, a professional artist, an amateur ski bum, and an avid hiker. Lissa lives in the San Francisco Bay area with her husband and daughter.

421 comments

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4:01AM PST on Jan 13, 2014

thank you for sharing

3:09PM PST on Jan 2, 2014

Yes, it should. It's no different than female circumcision.

4:30AM PST on Nov 6, 2013

Thanks for sharing.

3:52PM PDT on Mar 27, 2013

there's NO evidence circumcision offers any protection against HIV. However, there IS evidence that having a foreskin does. Worldwide statistics certainly support the clinical evidence that circumcision increases the spread of HIV, just as it does for all infections which can afflict genitals. On top of that there are skin conditions which can only occur in circumcised penises. As far as health goes, circumcision is a disaster.

2:32PM PDT on May 16, 2012

Circumcision is wrong unless you are removing someone's foreskin 1) because of cancer or gangrene or 2) because they are an informed adult of sound mind who has decided he wants his foreskin removed.

10:32AM PST on Feb 2, 2012

Thanks.

1:57PM PDT on Aug 31, 2011

@Megan Z: "There is strong evidence that circumcision reduces HIV infections"

I read your article, Megan, and it hardly qualifies as "strong evidence". Nothing is said about the correlation of HIV to number of sexual partners for either circumcized or uncircumcized men, for example. But even if this is true, that doesn't mean that circumcision is a good or preferable way to avoid HIV. Abstinence is a FAR more effective way of avoiding HIV. As is amputating the entire penis. The end does not justify the means. Circumcision is mutilation of the human body. It's not necessary to avoid contracting HIV. There are better and more humane ways of doing so. That's where our efforts are best placed. NOT in promoting the mutilation of half the human population.

Even your "study" states that the HIV infection rate in uncirced men was less than 3%. So 97% of the men would be circed UNNECESSARILY! Not only that, but circing would not eliminate the risk of HIV, just reduce it. So half of that 3% would get HIV anyway. This "study" was pushed by people with a religiuos agenda, and was not scientific at all. If someone wants to circ their own body, fine. But no one should be allowed to circumcize another person without their consent. Period.

12:19PM PDT on Aug 31, 2011

Megan Zehnder, you state that there is "strong evidence" that circumcision protects against HIV, supporting your claim by referring to studies performed in Sub-Saharan Africa.
You are from the USA, right? Yet you use findings designed and performed in the Sub-Sahara as a reason to justify subjecting baby boys (who can't have sex!) in the USA!
Why do you think that findings from third world countries are projectable onto developed nations? Since the HIV pandemic is of 30 years' standing, why don't you have any evidence from your own country - or any developed nation - that circumcision offers some protection?
The AFAO of Australia (a branch of the Australian Public Health), following due research in Australia, stated in 2008: "Circumcision has no part in the Australian HIV epidemic". A similar position is taken by health authorities in Europe. As the AFAO mentioned in its report: The USA has the highest incidence of male circmcision in the industrialized world (about 80% of U.S. men are circumcised), yet ALSO has the highest incidence of HIV transmission in men!

Conversely, in Europe circmcision is very uncommon. Yet Europe has the LOWEST incidence of HIV! A large study on circumcision involving over 60,000 US men recruited from San Francisco STD clinics was undertaken by Mor et al. in 2008. It found NO DIFFERENCE in HIV infection between the circumcised and uncircumcised men

12:18PM PDT on Aug 31, 2011

Megan Zehnder, you state that there is "strong evidence" that circumcision protects against HIV, supporting your claim by referring to studies performed in Sub-Saharan Africa.
You are from the USA, right? Yet you use findings designed and performed in the Sub-Sahara as a reason to justify subjecting baby boys (who can't have sex!) in the USA!
Why do you think that findings from third world countries are projectable onto developed nations? Since the HIV pandemic is of 30 years' standing, why don't you have any evidence from your own country - or any developed nation - that circumcision offers some protection?
The AFAO of Australia (a branch of the Australian Public Health), following due research in Australia, stated in 2008: "Circumcision has no part in the Australian HIV epidemic". A similar position is taken by health authorities in Europe. As the AFAO mentioned in its report: The USA has the highest incidence of male circmcision in the industrialized world (about 80% of U.S. men are circumcised), yet ALSO has the highest incidence of HIV transmission in men!

Conversely, in Europe circmcision is very uncommon. Yet Europe has the LOWEST incidence of HIV! A large study on circumcision involving over 60,000 US men recruited from San Francisco STD clinics was undertaken by Mor et al. in 2008. It found NO DIFFERENCE in HIV infection between the circumcised and uncircumcised men

11:44AM PDT on Aug 31, 2011

There is strong evidence that circumcision reduces HIV infections: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-07-20/circumcision-reduces-hiv-infections-76-in-south-african-study.html

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