Routine infant circumcision (RIC) is the simplest issue burdened by cultural complexity I’ve encountered as a parent. A non-issue in societies that recognize people are entitled to their whole bodies, RIC is debated in the US as a parental right versus a human right and as a cosmetic procedure versus a therapeutic one. (The issue is further complicated by the tendency to jump into rabbit hole after rabbit hole comparing RIC to medical and cosmetic procedures and parental choices like vaccination or moving to the suburbs, which derails focus and undermines arguments.)
If we assume RIC is potentially therapeutic and a valid parental choice, as many claim, then we must weigh the risks and benefits to make an informed decision. RIC is always harmful. Even the best outcome–retaining the ability to urinate, orgasm, and procreate–involves the loss of healthy, functional tissue. The worst outcomes include psychological trauma, disfigurement beyond that inherent in the procedure, and death from its complications.
On the other hand, making this preemptive strike (indeed the only surgical one made against babies’ bodies) offers a potential decrease in UTIs, penile cancer, and, if the studies are valid, risk of female to male transmission of HIV.
Try as I might to be unemotional and even-tempered, and better yet, to not care at all, I cannot pretend that amputating a healthy body part without its owner’s consent could be a better course of action than bathing, antibiotics, condoms, abstinence, and the like. The idea is preposterous and insulting. Fortunately, there are American physicians who agree that RIC is not medically necessary:
Who are we trying to kid anyway? RIC is no more performed in the US as a therapeutic procedure than masturbation is a cause of blindness. Americans do not circumcise for the “benefits;” we circumcise out of custom. Steeped in religion and the belief held by puritanical doctors 150 years ago that it would prevent masturbation and therefore diseases thought to be associated with it, RIC continues today so sons can “look like” their fathers, because mothers have an aesthetic preference for circumcised penises, and because parents think it is cleaner or do not want their sons to be teased (for having more penis).
But mostly RIC continues out of ignorance. Because parents rely on doctors who are not formally educated on the foreskin (or have been just as culturally corrupted as anyone else) to provide information and/or make decisions for them, and because they fail to ask the question my three-year-old poses fifty times a day: Why? Why do we do this? Why is it “necessary?”
“Today’s mother does not make an intelligent decision to have her son’s foreskin amputated any more than she makes an intelligent, rational decision to have her own pubic hair shaved, an I.V. stuck in her arm, a fetal heart monitor wired to her body, or to be confined to a labor bed, to deliver on a delivery table, or to have her baby separated from her after birth. Circumcision is but one more routine, questionable hospital procedure to which she passively, unthinkingly agrees.” -peaceful beginnings from rosemary
It is only when the custom of circumcision is challenged that we clench our fists around its “medical benefits.” Otherwise, we remain baby boys undergoing pain and confusion, men occasionally wondering about a scar, women subtly sensing that something is not as it should be, and nothing more. We complacently accept it as “just what you do.”
This isn’t a disagreement over how steak should be cooked or federal spending or the cause of global warming. It’s far worse. It’s otherwise
loving mothers and fathers making a horrific, irreversible decision that will impact the sons they so adore for the rest of their lives.
Right are human rights, and wrong is routine infant circumcision.
Keep it simple. Don’t cut.