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The head to head debate on whether infant male circumcision is an abuse of the rights of the child provoked almost 100 responses,1,2,3,4 all forceful and emotive opinions on a custom whose foundations seem to be primarily sociocultural and religious. Respondents—most of them men—included a doctor who had never received any complaints from his circumcised patients in many years of practice and respondents reporting their own beneficial or adverse effects of the procedure; advocates of circumcision and adversaries who see it as an act of trauma, betrayal, or aggression, tantamount to amputation or mutilation.
Reasons for infant circumcision include medical indications and protective effects in the transmission of sexually transmitted infections (especially HIV/AIDS).
Reasons against include the lack of a medical indication, without which it is “cosmetic” surgery at best and abuse and mutilation at worst. The side effects can be serious, and deaths have been reported.
The foreskin has a role in male sexual health, and circumcision is more than merely another disagreeable experience like vaccination that infants are being subjected to. Were circumcision a new procedure, ethics approval, scientific support, cooperation from colleagues, trial participants, and government or charity funding would not be forthcoming. The costs to the NHS of an “unnecessary” procedure also need to be taken into consideration. In the United States reconstructive surgery is a lucrative industry.
Many respondents suggest postponing circumcision to adolescence or even adulthood to avoid conflict between the rights of the child and those of the parents. Others think that it is the parents’ right to decide to have their baby boy circumcised, in the same way that they decide what’s best for him in other respects.
Some call for studies of a cohort of circumcised men to establish how much they may have been harmed physically and psychologically from being circumcised as babies. Some think that stopping male circumcision world wide would end female genital mutilation too.
Competing interests: None declared.