American Academy of Pediatrics Retracts Statement, Had No Intention to Harm

Even though it’s Friday afternoon before Memorial Day weekend, Dr. Judy Palfrey, the president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, found time to call me back to discuss the press release that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) sent yesterday about their position on clitorial “nicks.”

In that release, the AAP made it absolutely clear that as an organization they are against any form of female genital mutilation and that they categorically retract the 2010 policy statement about female genital cutting.

In their own words:

“The AAP reaffirms its strong opposition to FGC and counsels its members not to perform such procedures. As typically practiced, FGC can be life-threatening. Little girls who escape death are still vulnerable to sterility, infection, and psychological trauma. The AAP does not endorse the practice of offering a ‘clitoral nick.’ This minimal pinprick is forbidden under federal law and the AAP does not recommend it to its members. The AAP is steadfast in its goal of protecting all young girls from the harms of FGC” (my emphasis).

On the phone, Dr. Palfrey reiterated that the original detailed statement came from the desire to help the millions of women and girls who are at risk of being genitally mutilated.

“The number one issue is that this is a harmful procedure,” she said. “We are all trying to protect youngsters and it is such a hard dilemma. We have realized that [the policy statement] caused a lot of confusion so we have put out the new statement to clarify our position. We are absolutely against any form of harming young girls.”

Why even suggest the possibility of a clitorial “nick” in the first place? The idea behind it was to find a way to try to protect baby girls from anything more drastic or more harmful. As Palfrey mentioned on the phone, our world is increasingly global, doctors in major cities around the United States are treating patients who come from a variety of cultural backgrounds and who bring myriad beliefs with them, and the AAP was trying to find a way to make a nod to that cultural diversity and also save baby girls from the possibility of more radical surgery.

That makes sense to me. As I mentioned in an earlier post this week, I can see both why the AAP would strive to find a way to offer families a non-harmful alternative to FGM and why there was outrage from the activist community and many others over the earlier statement.

Though I often find myself disagreeing with AAP policies, there are many reasons to applaud them this week. They did something that many of us have trouble doing: they admitted making a mistake. They clarified their position in no uncertain terms, spoke out strongly against genital mutilation, and retracted a policy that many construed as damaging if not dangerous.

Despite the reaction against the original policy, I think the AAP has been acting with the best intent.

Dr. Palfrey put it eloquently at the end of our conversation: “We had no intention to harm, every intention to protect.”

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