Want to see the paper?Here's what I've got (warning: long and intended to not draw off people who aren't so open-minded): (Edited to add: and the paragraphs didn't cut off right, so I'm putting them in now) (OH, and YOU GO SARAH)
Imagine: your baby boy has just been born. You have touched him for the first time, held him for the first time, looked into his eyes and connected with him. You slept an uneasy night in the hospital, excited and worried, ready for your new life with your new baby to begin. Hours before you leave the hospital, you hand over your new baby boy to be circumcised. You don’t really think much about it; after all, it is just something that we do for baby boys, right?
You don’t see what happens next, and perhaps it is better that you do not. Your son is strapped to a metal tray, arms and legs splayed looking for all the world like a frog prepared for dissection. But the subject in this case is wide awake, unsedated, alert. In strides the doctor. He will receive four hundred dollars for this procedure. It is just one of many that he will perform today (“First do no harm?” Not when there’s money involved, apparently). He leans over your baby, who is sprawled most unnaturally on cold metal, probably already crying because it is cold, and the position is so unlike the comfortable curl he assumed in the womb.
The doctor smears topical anesthetic (if your son is lucky) on the most sensitive area of the body, the portion of the body with the very densest concentration of nerve endings. He pulls foreskin away from the glans of the penis, ripping delicate tissues not meant to be parted until 3-8 years of age. By now your son is screaming, and perhaps has already passed out (what many parents think is “sleeping through circumcision” is actually passing out from the pain). A circular clamp is inserted and tightened, roughly chomping off skin, breaking nerves, bursting blood vessels. Your son’s nervous tissue is fully formed, the first system in the body to mature, and he experiences the full range of sensations as any adult would, but lacks the communicative ability to do anything but cry. Most of the remaining conscious babies pale, scream in high-pitch, try to tear themselves away; but they are small, helpless, new. The doctor makes a swift cut along the clamp, carefully (we should hope) snipping away the remaining connections to the glans of the penis.
When you next see your son, there are few indications of the horror that has just occurred. His body may still shake, and you may tell yourself that he is cold. He is bleeding, but you tell yourself that this is normal. Newborns lack tears, so his face is clean, and they lack the ability to talk, so he can’t tell you about it. Some infants actually suffer a form of post-traumatic stress disorder for months after the ordeal. You take your baby home, along with your package about what to do if the bleeding doesn’t stop (which is common, since newborns lack important blood clotting factors) or the open wound on your son’s genitalia becomes infected.
Shocking, isn’t it? But no, alas, this is not fiction. This is truly what happens; and that is for the fortunate infants who have smooth, uncomplicated circumcisions (this can be a far more hideous affair for the 9 percent of baby boys who have complications) (“Infant” 1268). The procedure in question is referred to as Routine Infant Circumcision. It is painful, unnecessary, and the risks clearly outweigh the benefits. And yet, the majority of baby boys in the United States are still subjected to this procedure. The continuation of the practice of routine infant circumcision is almost wholly the result of a lack of education on the part of the parents. We need to eliminate the practice of routine infant circumcision by educating parents and professionals, and by encouraging insurance companies to drop the procedure from their policies.
Since 1971 the American Academy of Pediatrics has held that “no absolute medical necessity existed to mandate circumcision” (“Infant” 1268). Since there is no medical necessity for circumcision, this means that Routine Infant Circumcision is essentially a cosmetic procedure. This classes circumcision with things like face-lifts, liposuction, breast reduction, and a litany of other procedures that may have more medical merit, but are still not covered by insurance carriers. Cosmetic procedures are performed for myriad non-medical reasons, but in this case the most common include such ridiculousness as looking like the father, fitting in at the locker room, and looking better. I am assuming, for those who want their baby’s genitalia to match his father’s genitalia, that if the unfortunate child is born black-haired to a blond father he will be promptly dunked head-first into a vat of bleach, or if the poor dear should chance to have grandma’s separated earlobes they will be promptly hacked off. Further, looking like his peers should no longer be a consideration. Whatever locker-room teasing intact men may have experienced in the past, they are almost certain not to experience it now; every year the rate of circumcision falls, and it is estimated that by the time a baby born this year reaches the high school locker room, 40% of his peers will be intact as well.
You have perhaps been told that the foreskin is just useless tissue, so why not get rid of it? The fact of the matter is that this is a lie. The foreskin has a function. It is first of all the site of the second-densest concentration of nerve endings in the body, second only to the glans. This greatly heightens sensation. How can we possibly argue that we do no harm by cutting off nearly half of penile sensation? The foreskin also contains an abundance of glandular tissue. This tissue secretes a substance which is commonly known as smegma and is thought to be a rather dirty thing. It is not. It lubricates the area and provides protection for the glans. The glans of an intact male is in much better shape than that of a circumcised male, which has scar tissue and cornifications that both lessen sensitivity and make the glans slightly rougher, more skin-like than in the intact male. Smegma is an important part of this protection process. In fact, the foreskin of males is physically incapable of retraction until ages 3-8 for most boys, and puberty for some. This is not abnormal or dirty. In fact, it is highly healthy. The glans and foreskin as a combination is a self-cleaning apparatus. You should no more be trying to scour under a foreskin of a baby boy than you should be trying to clean out the vagina of a baby girl, or sterilize the earwax from your baby’s ears. It is not until a more mature state is reached, when the body is more sexually ready and is producing higher amounts of secretions and perhaps engaging in intercourse that this area needs cleaning, and then the foreskin will pull back on its own anyway. At this point, a simple retraction and wash with water during a daily shower will keep an intact man as clean as any of his circumcised counterparts.
The most frequent excuse to circumcise a healthy newborn boy comes from the fact that circumcised men suffer fewer infections and penile cancers. But there is doubt even in this well-established line of reasoning. In the words of the American Academy of Pediatrics: “In the absence of well-designed prospective studies, conclusions regarding the relationship of urinary tract infection to circumcision are tentative” (“AAP” 383). Recent press has given much credence to circumcision as a method for STD prevention, but seriously, STDs are NOT prevented by circumcision; their rates are merely lowered. I would much rather see my child practicing safe sex than relying on the statistically dubious value of chopping off a protective portion of his penis. Further, the American Academy of Pediatrics still stands by their 1989 statement regarding studies on STDs and circumcision: “The evidence is conflicting and methodologic problems render these reports inconclusive” (“AAP” 382). Finally, in the risk/benefit analysis, the risks clearly outweigh the benefits. It is estimated that nearly 1:10 circumcisions result in complications (which can range from fairly mild problems, like excessive bleeding, to mistakes serious enough cause death or to warrant recommendation of a sex change – resulting in lifelong physical and psychological damage), while penile cancer (a very treatable cancer) strikes just 1:100000 intact males, and UTIs (extremely treatable, with extremely rare instances of permanent damage) are estimated to increase approximately tenfold. While some parents are comfortable throwing the odds out the window and circumcising despite the fact that the risks clearly outweigh the benefits, I refuse to face even the slightest chance that a choice I make may result in death or lifelong damage to my son when the alternative is so simple; don’t circumcise. This is a choice my son can make for himself in the future, anyway. While a circumcision cannot be undone, a man unhappy with being intact can opt for a circumcision later in life. It is unlikely, however; 99.9% of uncircumcised males report being happy with their intact genitals. And in the exceedingly rare event that my son should need a circumcision for medical reasons later on in life, his genitals will be larger, giving more space for error; he will be able to report discomfort, heading off infection sooner; and he will be able to keep infection-causing feces and urine off the open wound, something not possible for a diapered newborn.
We are lucky we live in America, a country of free choice. So why, when this procedure is not necessary, are we taking that right from our sons? Why do we assume that we can authorize this elective procedure when really, it can wait until they can make the decision for themselves? And why, in this country that purports to be about free choice, do we have the highest rate of circumcision in the first world? The AAP statement, that “the procedure has potential medical benefits and advantages as well as disadvantages and risks,” is by far the wimpiest of all these first-world countries (“AAP” 382). The Canadian Medical Association flat-out says that “circumcision of newborns should not be routinely performed,” the Australian College of Paediatrics says that it will “continue to discourage the practice of circumcision in newborns,” and infant circumcision is so rare in Europe that no such recommendation exists (“Circumcision” 687). In any other context, tattooing for example, we would find the idea that we would make a permanent decision for a child without medical need absolutely preposterous. Many other countries see it this way. We need to leave the idea of this being a matter of parental choice behind and let the decision be one made by our sons, and only considered by ourselves if serious medical conditions arise.
Routine Infant Circumcision is an idea whose time has long passed. It has been tried and tested on millions and millions of men, and yet no significant evidence of medical benefit has ever been found. It maims thousands of babies every year, some of them severely disabled for life. And it is so, so simple to stop this. Don’t circumcise your babies. Tell your friends, if they will listen, not to circumcise theirs (or at least to take a fresh look at the evidence). Tell your insurance company that if it must fund cosmetic procedures, the hundreds of millions of dollars it would save every year would better spent fixing faces of severely injured children (currently not covered by many providers!) or perhaps on outreach to poorer countries. Routine Infant Circumcision is a problem that we can solve, and we can solve it quickly and easily by the simple act of NOT doing.