Is the non-therapeutic circumcision of infant boys morally permissible?

On the ethics of non-therapeutic circumcision of minors, with a pre-script on the law

By Brian D. Earp (Follow Brian on Twitter by clicking here.)

PRE-SCRIPT AS OF 25 SEPTEMBER 2012: The following blog post includes material from an informal article I wrote many years ago, in high school, in fact, for a college essay competition. I would like to think that my views have gained some nuance since that time, and indeed with increasing speed, as I have researched the topic in more detail over the past several months–specifically during the period of a little over a year since the blog post first appeared online. Since quite a few (truthfully: many thousands of) people have come across my writings in this area, and since I am now being asked to speak about circumcision ethics in more formal academic company, I feel it is necessary to bring up some of the ways in which my thinking has evolved over those many months.

The most significant evolution is away from my original emphasis on banning circumcision. I do maintain that it should be considered morally questionable to remove healthy tissue from another person’s genitals without first asking for, and then actually receiving, that person’s informed permission; but I also recognize that bringing in the heavy hand of the law to stamp out morally questionable practices is not always the best idea. It is a long road indeed from getting one’s ethical principles in order, to determining which social and legal changes might most sensibly and effectively bring about the outcome one hopes for, with minimal collateral damage incurred along the way. Until enough hearts and minds are shifted on this issue, any strong-armed ban would be a mistake.

In the long term, however, I think the moral goal remains: that each male newborn should have the same legal protections enjoyed by his sisters, designed to preserve his sex organs in their healthy, intact form until such time as he is mentally competent to make a decision about altering them, surgically or otherwise.

The project for the meantime is to work on hearts and minds.

I am grateful to the many hundreds of individuals who have left thoughtful comments on my sequence of posts on the ethics of circumcision, and I look forward to developing my arguments in ever more sophisticated ways in the coming months and years as this important debate continues. I am especially grateful to those of my interlocutors who have disagreed with me on various points, but who have done so in a thoughtful and productive manner. May we all aim at mutual understanding, so that the best arguments may emerge from both sides, and so that the underlying points of genuine disagreement may be most clearly identified. — B.D.E.

* * *

Routine neonatal circumcision in boys is unethical, unnecessary, and should be made illegal in the United States. Or so I argue in this post.

Yet lawmakers in California, it is now being reported, have introduced a bill with the opposite end in mind. They wish to ban legislation that could forbid circumcision-without-consent. What could be going on?

The story begins in San Francisco earlier this year. Anti-circumcision advocates—“intactivists” as some evidently like to be called—collected more than 7,700 signatures to introduce a ballot initiative which, if passed, would outlaw needless, nonconsensual circumcision within city limits. The point of the initiative was that routine circumcision is a medically unnecessary act of surgical interference–one that removes healthy, functional genital tissue, and does so without the consent of the person whose body is being permanently modified. Since this action fits the definition of criminal bodily assault in most Western legal jurisdictions, it should not be allowed.

In July, however, a San Francisco Superior Court Judge ordered that the measure be struck from the ballot. The ruling held that only California State, as opposed to individual municipalities like San Francisco, could legally regulate “medical procedures.” The judge also said that such a measure would violate protections of religious freedom under the U.S. Constitution.

What should we make of this ruling? I will start with the “religious freedom” aspect, and simply point out that such arguments can be taken too far. What if my religion says I can punch you in the face? Or slice into your genitals without consent? Polygamist Warren Jeffs, leader of a notorious Mormon sect, was recently sentenced to life in prison for raping children in the name of God. So there is a line somewhere, and part of my argument will be that neonatal circumcision crosses that line. It’s not as bad as holy rape, but it crosses the line. I’ll come back to this later.

As for the legal calculus concerning state-level versus city-level lawmaking, I don’t have much to say. In my view, it is the ethical issue that has to be settled first; and the law must follow once the moral lines are drawn.

So why is medically elective circumcision, performed without consent, unethical? I’ll give you a succinct argument, courtesy of Georganne Chapin. Ms. Chapin is founder and director of the Hudson Center for Health Equity & Quality. She writes in the L.A. Times:

My argument against circumcision of children and infants is no more and no less than that it’s a human rights issue. All people, male as well as female, are entitled to bodily integrity, and nobody — for any reason — has the right to cut off part of another person’s body when that person is too young to understand and to consent.

Under bioethical principles, parental consent for medical treatment is permitted only if the treatment being considered will save the life or health of the child. Circumcision is not medically necessary, and so it violates those principles, as well as that child’s entitlement to a complete body, his own personal freedom and autonomy.

… Circumcision is a so-called cure that’s in search of a disease. The vast majority of men in the world are intact, and they are not suffering from illness or infection. There is no justification for cutting off a body part for a hypothetical future disease, especially ones like STDs that can be prevented in ways that don’t involve mutilation. It’s crazy that we don’t think it’s crazy.

Harvard’s Daniel Halperin, a lecturer in international health, disagrees. In the same article, he offers this riposte:

Circumcision provides a number of health benefits. It reduces the risk of HIV and penile cancer in men. It also reduces the risk of several other sexually transmitted infections in both men and women, including syphilis and herpes, and of cervical cancer in women. Urinary tract infections in infants are about 10 times less likely if the boy has been circumcised.

In Africa, there have been three randomized trials … demonstrating that circumcision reduces heterosexual HIV infection in men by at least 60%.

In countries where there is not good access to running water, another reason to circumcise is hygiene. And in a study of nurses in a U.S. geriatric unit, about 90% were strongly in favor of circumcision because it was difficult to bathe uncircumcised men in their 90s. When we look at a baby and we think about circumcision, we have to think not just about that baby but that he’s going to turn into a man and, eventually, an old man.

… If circumcision has health benefits, and the parents want to do it for medical or religious or other reasons, that should be allowed and the access should be there.

Hold on a minute. “Other reasons” … ? Including what? Does this mean that parents should be allowed to surgically modify their son’s genitals for any reason at all? What about sheer whim? It seems so. Dr. Halperin then summarizes his argument like this:

I’m not interested in pushing circumcision but in making the service readily available to everybody who wants it.

On this last point, actually, I agree. Wholeheartedly. Circumcision should be readily available to “everybody who wants it” – No questions asked. Everybody who wants it performed on himself, that is. Armed with this common sense ethical principle, let us now see if we can figure out whether any newborn baby has ever “wanted” to be circumcised. Actually, it’s hard to tell, since newborn babies can’t form sentences and hence can’t articulate their views. But they do seem to experience the procedure as painful, even traumatic, and they resist as much as they can. On this metric, we should cautiously conclude that they really, really don’t want to be circumcised.

Could we wait a bit, perhaps? And let the babies decide on such matters when they’re no longer babies? When they can do things like use words to express thoughts? Then they might tell us things like: “No, thank you; I like my penis just the way it is.” Or, “Please cut off my foreskin; I really don’t want it anymore.”

But it will reduce their risk of getting STIs! Will it? This is contested. But just for the sake of argument, let us grant that properly-performed circumcisions (i.e., in a hospital setting) may in fact cut down on STD receptivity, at least to some degree. OK then, why not pass this information on to males of our species when they’re actually starting to have sex, and see how many choose, at that time, to sign themselves up for your treatment? Show them your studies. Lay the evidence before them. Cajole, coax, convince—just don’t coerce. Let them decide about their own bodies when they have the mental capacity to process what you’re selling. Little babies simply aren’t the at-risk population when it comes to sex-related diseases.

Also, lots of things reduce the risk of getting STIs. Wearing a condom for instance. This procedure has triple benefits: it’s  undertaken by choice, it’s way more effective at preventing disease transmission than circumcision, and it doesn’t require the involuntary removal of a portion of a little boy’s penis.

But circumcision can reduce HIV infections in Africa! The evidence here does seem somewhat stronger (though it is not without its critics). Again, however, so can many other interventions. And insofar as those interventions happen to be consensual and non-violent, they too are to be vastly preferred on moral grounds. In any case, the three studies showing a partial effect of circumcision in reducing female-to-male transmission of HIV (but not the other way around) were performed on adult volunteers, not on infants – so there is much less to worry about ethically. Furthermore, there is little reason to think that the African findings would translate to developed nations, where patterns of HIV transmission (and access to basic hygiene) are very different.

Finally, what is this nonsense about bathing old men, and then asking their nurses what they think about circumcision? “We think it’d be jolly great. It would sure make our lives easier.” But what the nurses think is irrelevant. I suggest that we ask the old men how they would feel about being circumcised, and go from there.

Of course, that’s the whole point. Dr. Halperin wasn’t suggesting that we allow male human beings to decide, at each successive stage of their mentally mature lives, whether or not to keep their own foreskins. He was saying that we should decide for them, days after birth, just in case there are issues like awkward genital-soaping a full century later.

At this point, it occurs to me, you may have the idea that the foreskin of the penis is nothing but a disease-incubating, hard-to-clean nuisance, my moral points notwithstanding. But you’d be wrong. The foreskin serves more than one important function.

First, it protects the soft, moist, and sexually-sensitive glans penis from environmental irritation. The “head” of a circumcised penis, in contrast, can become dried out and tough, as well as desensitized, as it rubs against clothing and other foreign elements year after year. Second, it serves a sexual function as well. The nerve endings on a foreskin’s inner surface become exposed when the penis is engorged—while the foreskin glides over the glans during intercourse—potentially increasing pleasure for both partners and making vaginal dryness less likely a problem.

In fact, circumcision first became a standard medical practice in the US, and subsequently a mindless cultural habit, specifically as a means to combat masturbation. The aim, that is, was to reduce the sexual functions of the penis:

In cases of masturbation we must, I believe, break the habit by inducing such a condition of the parts as will cause too much local suffering to allow of the practice being continued. For this purpose, if the prepuce [foreskin] is long, we may circumcise the male patient with present and probably with future advantage; the operation, too, should not be performed under chloroform, so that the pain experienced may be associated with the habit we wish to eradicate. (“On An Injurious Habit Occasionally Met with in Infancy and Early Childhood.” The Lancet, Vol. 1; 7 April 1860.)

We’ve moved past the folly of anti-masturbationism; we should move past the habit of circumcision as well.

Just one more point before I close. I want to address the “religious” issue head on—not the puritanical one about masturbation, but rather the matter of circumcision’s being a rite for Jews and Muslims. Some say that cutting off foreskins is sacred to members of these faiths, and that no one has a right to criticize the religious and cultural traditions of other groups. I simply disagree. If secular circumcision is unethical for the reasons I have described; then religious circumcision is  unethical for similar reasons (as some religious circumcisers will freely admit). The problematic aspects of involuntary genital surgery don’t simply go away when you cloak them in tradition.

I know that some will find this view offensive. Consider this message from a man named Steve:

Circumcision is the basic covenant between God and a Jewish male. It is non-negotiable for Jews. Sorry Brian, you’re entitled to your non-Jewish opinion, but we’ve been doing very nicely for 5,771 years with this ancient tradition of our people. And I don’t even know who the hell you are, but this kind of nonsense just pisses me off.

To Steve, and to others who push this line of thought, here is my reply. I understand that circumcision has been going on for a long time. And I know it’s a very important custom for many people. I don’t think that those considerations on their own, however, can in general justify a given ritual or action. After all, our species has engaged, in the past, in many rituals and behaviors that we now consider cruel. I won’t list examples.

With respect to circumcision’s being a covenant between God and a Jewish male, that is certainly a further point to consider. I do understand that that’s how very many people, especially more traditional or literal-minded Jews, interpret certain passages within the Hebrew Bible (never mind that more than 50% of American Jews may be atheists). But there are very many explicitly God-endorsed customs and rituals in the same text that are no longer followed, even by the most devout of the devout. This makes me think that we have an evolving practical and moral sense by which we, as a rational beings, over time, re-interperet and re-consider old customs. I submit that circumcision should be re-considered along these lines. You might be interested to know that there are a growing number of Jews who believe that circumcision is barbaric, its long pedigree notwithstanding. And some moderate Muslims reject the practice as well.

Implicit in my response to all this is the following. I don’t think that the creator of the universe, if there is such a thing, really wants anyone to shear off little babies’ foreskins. On the evidence available for such a view, that very same creator wants all manner of problematic things that no one takes seriously today. So at least be consistent. In any case, even if I sincerely believed that God said to me, “As part of our covenant, you must cut off part of your child’s genitals without asking his consent,” I would have to decline on moral grounds.

I leave you with a quote from the anthropologist Donald Symons. He refers in this passage to female genital cutting, some forms of which, of course, are more invasive and can be much more harmful than male circumcision. But other forms, including ‘ritual nicking’ of the clitoris or clitoral hood, are actually less invasive (but are nevertheless prohibited in the West). Either way, it is the underlying point about culture as a motivation for violence that I want to draw attention to:

If only one person in the world held down a terrified, struggling, screaming little girl, cut off her genitals with a septic blade, and sewed her back up … the only question would be how severely that person should be punished, and whether the death penalty would be a sufficiently severe sanction. But when millions of people do this, instead of the enormity being magnified millions-fold, suddenly it becomes “culture,” and thereby magically becomes less, rather than more, horrible…

Magically indeed. And in 2011, we have California lawmakers trying to outlaw the banning of “culture” such as this. You know how I feel about it. What say you?

 

Cruel.

 


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125 Responses to Is the non-therapeutic circumcision of infant boys morally permissible?

  • D.P. O'Connell says:

    This argument would be a lot stronger if you actually explored the numbers and statistics that Prof. Halperin alludes to, and could show to your reader that the risk-reduction does not, in fact (in light of the violence done to the baby during male circumcision), make circumcision worth while. You seem to gloss over the numbers themselves. There are all sorts of surgical procedures we undergo as humans, which are very painful, to achieve a risk-reduction which is often quite small. This part of the argument could be beefed up, then.

    Also, your principle: "the law must follow once the moral lines are drawn," is shaky at best. If you look at the way laws are made, and the rationale behind them, there are all sorts of immoral behaviours that we don't outlaw, either because the laws would not be enforceable, or because they would cause too much social upheaval.

    I think you could make a good case that, if these laws were passed (e.g., in New York City), there would be both a high degree of un-enforceability to them, and at the same time a great amount of social upheaval to the extent that they were enforced (e.g., Orthodox Jews leaving New York City en masse and moving to Israel or to other countries where there was no such ban). So, would passing that law be worth it, then? I think not. Or, at least, it's highly questionable.

    Just as a practical point, wouldn't it be more likely to succeed, this movement, if it were to set itself a more modest goal of simply creating a culture within the medical world in America and the UK, where, based on the evidence, circumcision was no longer the default option, but rather non-circumcision was the default option? That seems like a much more modest and achievable goal. Pursuing a ban just seems designed to create maximum social conflict. I hardly think that social conflict is something we need more of, right now.

    • Joe says:

      D.P. O'Connell said: "This argument would be a lot stronger if you actually explored the numbers and statistics that Prof. Halperin alludes to, and could show to your reader that the risk-reduction does not, in fact (in light of the violence done to the baby during male circumcision), make circumcision worth while. You seem to gloss over the numbers themselves."

      It's true he glossed over them; for those who dig just below the surface though, it's easy to see that the meaning of Halperin's figures are strongly context depended. The validity of his research doesn't even have to be discussed. To start out with, the figure relates only to a single mode of transmission, heterosexual, woman to man. That mode of transmission is the least common mode sexually in the UK, and in most every place outside of Africa. The risk of a heterosexual man in the UK contracting HIV in his lifetime is around 0.1% or 0.2%. Further, most men are >30 years old. So your life time risk is only changed by something on the order of 0.1% or thereabouts if Halperin's values are even valid. Further, nearly all infections in men occur in the over 25 crowed an age that is old enough to weigh whether a 0.1% risk reduction is worth cutting part of your penis off.

      Passing such a law would absolutely be worth it. We protect girls from circumcision at the whim of their parents, boys deserve equal protection.

      Note: I choose UK because I suspect that's where the poster is but these figures (relatively speaking) apply to most contexts outside of Africa.

      • Brian Earp says:

        Thank you for your thoughts, Joe. I agree with you. I added a sentence about the inapplicability of the statistics from Africa to other contexts, in part due to your reply.

    • Brian Earp says:

      Hi D.P. — Thank you for your feedback. I've added some discussion of the numbers introduced by Dr. Halperin. On the point about whether the law should follow the moral judgment, here I think there's a good case. What's at issue is medically unnecessary violence done to a person, specifically a completely defenseless person, which makes the violence that much more egregious. Just as we outlaw rape, assault, murder and so on — even though we can't prevent all such things from happening — we should outlaw neonatal, nonconsensual circumcision. You're right that many people don't view circumcision as a form of violent assault, but I hope that more and more will as arguments like the ones I have presented are considered. In any case, you're right that, in terms of practicality in the short-term, bans like the one proposed in San Francisco won't likely pass until there's a culture shift. Part of my goal is to urge and contribute to such a shift.

    • B Morrison says:

      Sometimes social conflict is inevitable. Personally I believe religion is hogwash and that people who do buy into such fantasy are imbeciles. Nevertheless, I do hold my tongue in many situations due to the simple fact that I do not want to perpetuate a conflict of opinion between others and I at every social gathering. There are situations; however, where one should always expect and pursue a conflict – when human rights are at risk.
      Neonatal circumcision is a human rights violation. Most people would argue the belief that each person owns their body and thus may do with it what he or she wishes. Therefore, it represents the most heinous abuse and violation when an independent entity, such as parents, guardians, mohels, or physicians, decide to violate another person's bodily integrity without regard to the wishes of the person to whom the body belongs. Current statistics indicate that in the United States, over 70% of those circumcised as infants (http://www.norm.org/respect.html). There are numerous lawsuits every year against parents and physicians for circumcision. A quick Google search would reveal that even many Jews were mad enough to sue their parents and/or the mohel who circumcised them. Most of the world is intact, and most choose never to undergo the procedure for themselves. With such strong evidence to indicate the overwhelming majority of men despise the practice, and the majority of those circumcised resent what happened to them, why continue the practice? What is even more shocking is the fact that women in the US actually push for male neonatal circumcision more often, and with much more vigor than men! Perhaps if they were facing the female counterpart of the procedure, they would think a little harder about the procedure.
      The fact is most people, especially women, in the United States have no clue what a circumcision actually entails – you are cutting up your child! To reject the child's right to bodily integrity is to reject human rights altogether, since the body harbors life, creative thought, etc. Without the notion of human rights, the Holocaust could not be considered a crime. Without the notion of human rights, slavery cannot be considered a crime. The point being without doubt, circumcising anybody without their expressed consent, which means the "patient" must understand and willingly consent to the practice, is a crime against humanity. Yet this practice is practiced with vigor in the US and tolerated in Europe. Such a practice should be made illegal – period. Religion is for fools and in no way should be allowed to physically harm another individual – yet circumcision always harms. The mere practice proves such individuals cannot apply basic logic. If cutting a properly-functioning organ damages the organ, and circumcision involves the excision of a properly-functioning organ, then the practice must inflict bodily damage. Yet despite this knowledge and the obvious scarring of the penis (scars indicate damage), in addition to other problems, many Americans refuse to believe the practice does any damage to an individual. This is clearly a case where the law has a legal and moral obligation to intervene and protect those who, as a consequence of their age, are unable to defend themselves.

      • B Morrison says:

        With regard to the statistics comment above, it should read:

        Current statistics indicate that in the United States, over 70% of those circumcised as infants resent their parents for allowing such a practice to be done to them (http://www.norm.org/respect.html).

  • A few years back, when I was member of the Swedish National Council for Medical Ethics, we had the issue on our table whether or not to recommend the government and parliament to install a requirement to apply the same standards regarding hygiene, palliation and competence to this surgical procedure as are applied to all other surgical procedures. As part of the process, we had the Council staff conduct a rather thorough inquiry into the very common claim that circumcision is linked to health benefits, and it turned out that going on the many studies done on this subject, this is almost entirely a myth. The one link that was found to be systematically substantiated is that male circumcision is linked to a lower incidence of HIV and some other STDs in Africa. This link is, however, not established anywhere else. Since the issue under debate is about infant circumcision, the council however judged that this health link is irrelevant. This possible benefit can just as well be realised by circumcision later in life. In that case, the child/adolescent will also be capable to consent and the risks surrounding palliation are less tricky.

    • Brian Earp says:

      Christian, thank you very much for your contribution. I expanded the section on HIV in Africa in part due to your reply. I borrowed your idea that adults could undergo circumcision rather than babies (though I phrase it as a question.) Is there any way I can gain access to the report you and your team put together?

      Thanks again,
      Brian

  • Theo says:

    For me the circumcision problem is perhaps the greatest evidence that something is very wrong with our methods for handling moral issues. It's sad that such a thing happens even in the US.

    The logic is simple: mutilation of babies is bad. So is depriving people of sexual pleasure through masturbation. There are some religions who recommend this practice. However, religious freedom can never override the right to personal integrity i.e. the right of being free from harm. If newborn babies are persons (as many anti-abortion people argue), this right also applies to them.

    Which makes one think, as said above, that banning circumcision of newborns is not only a legal issue, but also a political and economical one. We cannot deny the influence that the Jewish community has on US politics and their economical significance, as well as the sensibility the world has to all things Jewish. All this is just to say: the political costs of passing a ban on forced circumcision are too high, and, therefore, it will not happen.

    But, philosophically considering, "tradition" and "religion" are like numbers: they can be used to justify anything whatsoever. But if circumcision is allowed, there is no reason not to allow Chinese bound-feet tradition, African female genital mutilation, or ancient Greek pederasty. They have preety good excuses.

    All in all, I do not think the average citizen is aware of what circumcision imples and what its consequences are – we need more pictures like this one. Are there any significant anti-circumcision movements around?

    • Anna says:

      If you are looking for more information on circumcision and why folks are opposed to it, as well as photographs of the procedure, please visit drmomma.org and look at the circumcision links. There are links on some of their blog posts to other pages, studies, and organisations who support male genital integrity and believe circumcision is wrong.

    • Brian Earp says:

      Hi Theo. I think you're right that the political costs of banning routine circumcision are too high right now. I think as more and more people wake up to this issue, the political climate may change. As for whether there are significant anti-circumcision movements around, the answer is yes, as a few minutes on Google will reveal. Have a look!

      Thanks for your post,
      Brian

    • Hugh Young says:

      "Are there any significant anti-circumcision movements around?"

      Yes (though our "significance" is debatable).

      In the UK, the main organisation is NORM-UK, the National Organisation of Restoring Men. In the USA, there are Intact America, NOHARMM, the National Organisation to Halt the Routine Abuse and Mutilation of Males, many branches of NORM, and more. My website has many links. The movement is strong in San Francisco and the Bay Area, and it is growing on Facebook. There are even movements in Israel.

    • Theo says:

      Thank you all for the information, I'll take a look on the organizations. I feel that these kinds ethical reevaluation movements (abortion, circumcision, free speech, civil rights, etc.) have much to profit much if they work together.

  • Thanks for shining a light on this underrepresented issue. This is also not the first time that an Oxford grad student challenged the ethics of child circumcision, as Rebecca Steinfeld has done so in recent months (http://www.guardian.co.uk/law/2011/jun/14/circumcision-ban-row-san-francisco).

    One thing to add to the discussion, is a comment on the wording used to describe the legislation being discussed. Since it wouldn't be a full ban, calling it an age restriction — as is the case with several other medical procedures — may not only be more precise, but could also make restriction seem less extreme.

    • Brian Earp says:

      Thank you for the link to Rebecca's article. Also, I've changed my references from "circumcision" to things like "routine, medically unnecessary, nonconsensual circumcision" based on your very good feedback. Thanks again,
      Brian

  • Dave Frame says:

    I can see there's a principal-agent problem here, but to respond by immediately calling for a legislative ban strikes me as an over-heated, busy-body response. The argument seems to have two parts: one has to do with consequences/externalities of circumcision, and the other to do with "rights" (sigh).

    The externalities discussed here are pretty minor – slightly higher incidence of x, slightly lower incidence of y. On the whole they fail the "whatever" test. There are plenty of other decisions parents make that have far more significant impacts on their children and their children's life prospects. It turns out (1) that the dividends from reading to young children are very high; it also turns out (2) that setting boundaries and rules – with clear, credible, proportionate sanctions for noncompliance** – is important in helping kids learn boundaries, norms, etc. Does this mean we should thump parents with laws (1) banning parents from not owning and reading books to their kids; (2) banning parents from more laissez faire parenting styles (perhaps by requiring them to produce – with a taxpayer-funded social worker, no doubt – a detailed set of house bylaws and associated sanctions)? I presume everyone outside of Scandanavia and Northern California would deem these laws insane. Sometimes there's just a mismatch between the blunt tools at the state's disposal and the intricate and complex reality that occurs at the level of peoples' lives. To liberals like me, the right thing for the state to do in these instances is let it slide, but encourage good information to get out there to help people make informed decisions.

    [**Young children are game theoretic geniuses, but you can exploit the crap out of their unbelievably steep discounting practices.]

    The second bit is the rights thing. [Presumably spaying cats is out, too, if you buy Singer's argument about cats being at least as able to suffer as infants and you buy the Chapin consent argument.] Is there no end to the profusion of rights? I remember when human rights were limited to a bunch of serious things, like rights not to be tortured, killed, maimed and stuff like that. But now, like Chickenman, they're everywhere, they're everywhere!** I kind of like my rights to be scalable, which includes negative rights, and maybe a few more. But I struggle to understand where many vogueish rights come from: the "right" to a subsidised university education, or the "right" to marry or the "right" for infants (or cats) to be free from minor surgery (or major, depending on the cat). These things assail me in a kind of weird and arbitrary technicolour blur*** and I find it hard to take the experience or the rights very seriously. Putting rights for infants to be free from minor surgery**** alongside rights not to be tortured strikes me as just a bit ridiculous: like having a QuestionTime panel of Nelson Mandela, Gandhi and John Stuart Mill joined by, say, Peter Andre and Cheryl Cole. I mean, you could do that, but at some point you have to ask yourself what the marginal benefit of adding the n+1th Girls Aloud member is.

    ** see for instance http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s1oZnuCufSs&feature=related
    ***though maybe I just need to take it easy on the absinthe.
    ****Friend of mine had a minor blemish surgically removed from her infant daughter's face on the basis that the removal would be better, cosmetically in the long run. I presume this would fall foul of Ms Chapin's rules.

    • Simon Rippon says:

      "[**Young children are game theoretic geniuses, but you can exploit the crap out of their unbelievably steep discounting practices.]"

      And *they* can exploit the crap out of our uneblievably shallow discounting practices. Everyone's a winner!

      • Dave Frame says:

        ""[**Young children are game theoretic geniuses, but you can exploit the crap out of their unbelievably steep discounting practices.]""

        "And *they* can exploit the crap out of our uneblievably shallow discounting practices. Everyone’s a winner!"

        Gains from trade: why swapping stuff helps improve happiness.

    • Brian Earp says:

      Hi Dave,

      Yes, the argument is more rights-based than it is driven by utilitarian concerns. I, too, am wary of adding to an ever-expanding laundry list of rights — and I don't think rights are the sorts of things one has, qua human, metaphysically. I do think we can come together as societies and decide upon certain rights, grant certain rights, through law; and I submit that bodily integrity is a good candidate.

      You say you remember when rights were limited to "serious things" like the right not to be tortured, maimed, and stuff like that. The point of my post, of course, is that circumcision is a "serious thing" of the very same nature as those. Torture and maiming, you'll notice, are both instances of violence being inflicted upon another person against their will or without their consent. To "maim" is to injure or disfigure, which is literally what circumcision is. So on the rights you're OK having around, "not being circumcised without your consent" already follows.

      Best,
      Brian

      • Dave Frame says:

        Hi Brian,

        I'm unconvinced by your reply – I think there's a difference in scale so large as to amount to a difference in kind between "circumcision" and "mutliation". When I think of mutliation I think of the stories my friend Tony brought back from his Rwanda where he was a UN genocide investigator. I do not believe circumcision of male infants by – as far as I can tell – loving parents in any way resembles those stories.

        If you insist on a strict reading of consent (as usually defined) for any operation you would prevent any cosmetic operations on/treatments for infants and young children, presumably such as those to correct cleft palettes, misshapen heads (premature babies can wind up with misshapen heads and sometimes have procedures to remediate this), nasal deformities and so on. As well as rite-of-passage "mutilation" as part of tribal scarification in Africa. If your "right" really is as grand and general as you claim, then surely most of these things would fall foul of it. [Assuming we interpret "violence" as "surgery" as you seem to want us to do. (Presumably a shock to many paediatric surgeons, but there we are.)] I think most parents whose choices you are wanting to circumscribe would be unconvinced by your claims, and would want to assert other rights regarding freedom from interfering busybodies, etc. Anyway… these are fairly specific points, intended as probes on your claims that (1) surgery=violence , (2) minor medical procedures=mutilation and (3) against your sweeping claim that your moral argument completely and definitively trumps issues of parental choice regarding the life futures of others' children.

        But my main points are these:
        (a) You may (or may not) be able to sustain your basic non-utilatarian position that "circumcision is mutilation". [I don't buy it, but I don't care.]
        (b) The data people have mentioned regarding the consequences of circumcision still (to me) seem to be in the noise, ie they don't convince me that those data are worth the costs of removing people's choices about their children.
        (c) You leap from "X is immoral" to "ban X" with the speed and enthusiasm of an undergraduate. That's not a good thing.** If you think that circumcision is bad, why start with a ban? Why not – as a first practical step – try to work with the communities that practice it to explain the consequences, as well as the non-consequentialist component to see if there are people who would buy into new instutitions – symbolic alternatives to circumcision (or scarification) etc? Less stirring rhetoric, perhaps, but then that's usually a good thing.
        [Part of good judgement is knowing what parts of public life to bring pressure on with different ethical problems. Even if your arguments regarding the immorality of X were convincing, you'd need to do quite a bit more work to justify a ban on X, given the priors we have towards liberty.]

        **There are loads of things that are of dubious morality that we don't ban (smoking of tobacco, over-consumption of alcohol, infidelity within relationships, prostitution (in many "progressive" jurisdictions (Nevada, New Zealand)). We have, over time, decided to let other sanctions apply.

  • The ethics are clear to me, too. The owner of the penis is the one who gets to decide. Circumcision is elective surgery and parents cannot give proxy consent, making infant circumcision an unprosecuted assault on a minor.

    Oddly, the ACLU, that bastion of individual rights, is gung-ho to let anyone cut the genitals of male children for any reason including superstition! They don't even need to be doctors! The ACLU submitted an amicus brief to the CA legislature supporting bill AB 768, which would make anti-circ bans illegal in the state.

  • IRIS FUDGE says:

    Singer was asked at a public meeting in London where I was present, if he would support an effort to end infant circumcision. He replied "No, because it would upset the people who practice it!"
    Individuals who themselves are circumcised are often circumscribed by family and group loyalty from really
    being able to think outside. One Jewish intellectual recently told me that the 'operation' serves as a boy's
    introduction into the social order.

    • Locuta de Bjorg says:

      The Jewish intellectual (??) is right: genital cutting cultural customs are all about social conformity — far more for the boy's parents than him, BTW.
      The medical nonsense is just a smokescreen providing cover for the circumcising superstitions and a lucrative racket for our for-profit medical industry here in the U.S. It is the biggest medical fraud ever perpetrated.

      • Locuta you are exactly right. The circ/medical smokescreen has been going on in the US since circumcision began original to stop masturbating. This is called the Pony Express. It must be shown as therapeutic to be ethical and so to continue this power relationship over others. Money is power. Suggested reading Glick's "Marked in Your Flesh" everythiong about Jewish circumcision, also see interview with Glick on "Circumcision" on Bonobo3D channel youtube; Richard L. Matteoli "The Munchausen Complex" details how society involves itself with committing horrible acts. The real industry here is the foreskin industry – foreskin fibroblasts used in bench labs research, bandages, cosmetics. Each foreskin sells for $300-$1000 USD. The infant foreskin bring in the highest dollars as they contain the most stem cells (fibroblasts) from the yet non switched immature sexual receptors lost to circumcision, 75% sexual receptors.

      • IRIS FUDGE says:

        The Jewish intellectual/ academic's remarks were made in support of the boy's genital excision and his entry
        into that particular social order, not just a description of that order. Thus my surprise Locuta!
        In this particular way, the boy is forever marked on his body so as not to escape it. Iris

    • Brian Earp says:

      Wow! I'd expect differently from Singer, whose thinking about harm is generally pretty convincing. I think he's missed the mark here.

      • IRIS FUDGE says:

        Because Singer is an animal lover and defender which he keeps in one box of his mind.
        In another, he is Jewish and circumcised and in allegiance to his community.
        He is sanguine about what happens to babies that he would not like to happen to a dog! Iris

  • Regina Rini says:

    Hi Brian,

    you offer a rather strident set of claims here – perhaps too strident, I think. I'd like to put pressure on two points, and see how you'd respond.

    1. First, the general matter of carers' authority to alter children's bodies. You appear to endorse the principle that it is immoral (and ought to be illegal) for a carer to decide to surgical alter the body of a child except when "medically necessary". There are two potential problems here: the extent of this claim, and the "medical necessity" exception.

    1.1. This principle requires some specification of when a child becomes capable of giving consent. This is a thorny question, of course, and I wouldn't ask you to settle it here. But I suspect that, wherever the line is drawn, we'll find that your principle renders immoral (and ideally illegal) a range of current practices occurring before consent is possible. For example, in America today, it is fairly common for parents to take their young daughters (and, in a few cases, sons) to have their ears pierced even before the age of 10. In other cultures, much more elaborate body alterations (tattooing, other piercings, extensive body jewelry) are employed in coming of age rituals, precisely before a person is deemed an adult (and thus, in our system, capable of giving consent). Your principle, in an unqualified form, appears to entail that all of these practices are immoral, and should be illegal.

    1.2. What justifies the medical necessity exception? With adults, we normally assume that consent is required for medical treatment, even when a refusal of consent will result in very negative health outcomes. Why, then, does the possibility of negative health outcomes permit us to act in absence of children's consent? One plausible answer (there are others) is that we <i>presume</i> that a child <i>would</i> consent to a medically necessary treatment, were the child capable of giving consent. Our evidence for this presumption may depend on the former child's retroactive assessment. Statistically speaking, this presumption is almost always vindicated; although there will be exceptions — some small number of treated children will grow up to be adults who (for whatever reason, perhaps religious) regret having undergone medical treatment, even life-saving medical treatment, and regard the presumption of consent on their behalf as an unjust imposition. Even if we say (controversially) that a wrong has been done to that small number, we may nevertheless continue to endorse blanket medical necessity treatment for unconsenting children, on the grounds that the vast majority (those who would give consent, were they able) would be wronged by failing to provide care.

    Notice that, for this justification at least, there's nothing special about medical care. The argument is simply one about statistical likelihood of later obtaining retroactive consent. It seems possible to extend this argument to body alterations that are not medically necessary. For instance, in many cultures, the sorts of coming-of-age practices I mentioned above (e.g. tattooing) are likely to be accepted by nearly all, so we may safely assume that the vast majority of children will grow to be adults who do give consent (and, indeed, would strongly regret being denied the coming of age practices). Similarly, it may be that within certain communities, such as among highly observant Jews and Muslims, a similar attitude prevails toward circumcision. In that case, the practice may be justified by a statistical observation that most individuals subjected to it later approve of their having been so treated (and, indeed, would regret its not having been provided).

    2. Your discussion of religious tradition seems somewhat unsubtle. You appear to suggest that the choice is between two unsavory extremes: either religious tradition morally justifies any action at all (e.g. punching someone in the face) or it justifies none at all. Neither of these views strikes me as very plausible. Rather, it seems important to ask about (a) the strength of the religious tradition (i.e. its centrality in the lives of those who practice it) and (b) the degree of harm or other moral wrong caused by the action. What is at issue is whether some act, which would otherwise be morally wrong, can be justified as morally permissible on the basis of religious tradition. Assuming (as seems plausible to me) that the moral wrongness of actions is something measurable (in principle at least) in degrees, and not just a binary property, then there will be some acts which are minimally morally wrong (just past the point of neither-right-nor-wrong). When we consider the moral value of allowing people to inhabit meaning-making communities, partly constituted from (sometimes religious) tradition, it appears very likely that, at least sometimes, the recognition that a given practice is a religious tradition will tip it from being minimally morally wrong to being minimally morally permissible.

    So the invocation of religious tradition is not a cover-all moral justification, nor is it wholly irrelevant to moral reasoning. In any given case, we may have to engage the difficult task of "weighing" the varying strengths of tradition and degree of harm/wrongness. For certain faith communities, it seems that circumcision may be an especially strong tradition. Many Jews, for instance, regard circumcision as a symbolic manifestation of the covenant between the divine and the chosen people. For some believers, then, it is an extremely important tradition. By contrast, the harm done by circumcision, while not negligible, is also not likely to be severe. I don't claim to be able to balance the two conclusively, but I am confident that the issue is nowhere near as simple as you seem to suggest. In particular, the moral cloudiness of the issue makes it clear, to me anyway, that a legal ban on the practice cannot be justified.

    • Brian Earp says:

      Hi Regina,

      I'm very pleased to have your feedback, as I always am. Thank you for your thoughtfulness and careful reasoning.

      On the question of consent, yes, it's tricky, but we can make a start. I don't think we have to have a single-age cut-off for "adulthood" with respect to every single issue, and in the case of circumcision, we should AT LEAST wait until the person whose penis is on the line has the ability to speak. Would it be unreasonable to say you can't consent to circumcision until you're 10? That seems in the ballpark to me. Maybe individual legislatures could sort out the details. But there should be a floor for consent, and it should have something to do with being able to communicate one's desires about one's own body.

      Getting your ears pierced seems different by the way. First of all, you're not removing any part of the body. Second of all, and related to that last point, it's reversible (the hole will close up eventually; and if it doesn’t, it’s just a tiny hole).

      To your point about retroactive consent. Imagine this scenario. Let's say we took a baby and cut off all its limbs. Then we raised it in a special room for all its life, which it wasn't allowed to leave, in which we gave it all sorts of propaganda about how lovely it is to not have any limbs. Then, at some point, we say: You know what, there are actually people out there with these weird dangly things called limbs! WE didn't think you wanted them, so we just cut them off. Do you retroactively consent? Well, probably the kid would say, yeah, sure, I consent. What the hell — I've been like this my whole life. No-limbs are awesome, as my cultural training has shown me. So why would I want to be that other way? … You can guess that my point is, the relevant principles go beyond statistical likelihood. You can do something really twisted to someone, and then raise them in a culture that celebrates that twistedness. They'll probably consent to it, but it doesn't make that original thing less twisted. Of course, you'll have to give some good arguments for why that original thing should reasonably be called "twisted" if not a lot of other people think it is, but in the case of my article about circumcision, that's just what I tried to do.

      On religion. Yes, morality is about weights and balances, and no, religious justification is not all or none. But I'm glad you recycled my example about punching someone in the face. Because, compared to circumcision, such a practice is a thousand times more justifiable. If God tells me that, in order to fulfill my covenant with him, I must punch someone in the face — let's say, my own child, to keep it in the family — then, as a devout believer in a community of such believers, I suppose I'd be doing a lot of face-punching, and so would all my friends. But the nice thing is, when you punch someone in the face, it hurts for a few minutes (depending upon how hard you punch), or maybe you break a bone, but eventually the damage goes away. When you cut off the most sensitive part of a person's genitals, however, the damage is permanent.

      Implicit in my view, of course, is this. I don't think the creator of the universe, if there is such a thing, really wants anyone to cut off little baby's foreskins. And if there were such a being, and this being said to me, "As part of our covenant, you must mutilate your child's genitals without asking his consent" I would have to decline on moral grounds.

      Let me know what you think!

      Warmly,
      Brian

  • Matt Baum says:

    The consequentialism vs non-consequentialism point that dave brings up is an important one.

    If we believe that a liberal government should not coerce (ie restrict the choices of) its citizens except in cases of compelling justification, then a few thoughts follow.

    The consequentialist might think compelling justification would exist if the decision meaningfully harms other people. So now the question is: is a person meaningfully harmed by male circumcision? Has there been quality research into this question? how many men who have been circumcised would have prefered not to have been circumcised or do most men not care either way? Does being circumcised actually lead to a diminution in the quality of life in these men? You argue that there is a lessening of sexual pleasure, which people think is bad, yet people also think a prolongation of pleasure is good (hence the existance of the desensitizing condom). Moreover, the pain of this kind of circumcision is not remembered: asking a grown man, therefore, if he would like to be circumcised now is not the same as asking him if he would have liked to have been circumcised as a child. Many would understandably say no to the former while preferring or not caring either way about the latter. if we are concerned about the pain the baby might feel (even if this were not to be remembered) a local anesthetic would be an alternative that would have a lesser infringement on civil liberty and should be considered before the heavy-handed ban. And it is important to remember that many things that harm are not indeed banned: the choice of how a young child is dressed and what style of hair he wears might have longer lasting harms (developmental psychological harms via bullying or being socially ostracized) and more retrospective outrage (on the adult's part) than whether or not he has an (un)circumcised penis. Yet we would think that the parent should still be able to choose these things for the child.

    If we have a non-consequentialist approach based on bodily integrity, we would have to argue that the foreskin is essential to this notion of bodily integrity. It is not at all clear to me that it is; such a position would require thorough research. Do people actually feel that their bodily integrity has been violated by a circumcision? how is this importantly more integrity-threatening than removing warts, birth marks, benign cysts, or cutting an umbilical cord to an "out-y" or an "in-y"?

    So unless one can marshal enough evidence that male circumcision produces the level of harm or violation of bodily integrity to produce "compelling justification" to restrict choice, the default in a liberal society should be one of liberty. It seems to me that most of the argument in the original post would be a more appropriate response a REQUIREMENT of circumcision rather than the protecting of the OPTION; again because there would need to be compelling justification to deviate from a default of free choice.

    • Hugh Young says:

      "… unless one can marshal enough evidence that male circumcision produces the level of harm or violation of bodily integrity to produce "compelling justification" to restrict choice, the default in a liberal society should be one of liberty. … there would need to be compelling justification to deviate from a default of free choice."

      <b>Whose</b> liberty? <b>Whose</b> free choice? Whatever you give to the parent, you take from the penis's <i>owner</i>. If you're demanding to measure levels of harm, how exactly is the parent harmed <i>at al</i>l if he or she* is not allowed to cut part off the baby's genitals? You may argue some abstact loss of freedom, but this pales in comparison to the physical loss to the person most directly concerned. (*And when only one parent has to give consent, the child has one chance in four of escaping even if they both decide by tossing coins.)

      "how many men who have been circumcised would have prefered not to have been circumcised or do most men not care either way?" How many men would be enough for you? Sounds like you think the issue should be decided by majority vote. No scientific work has been done, but informal polls suggest that intact men are <b>much,/b> more likely to be happy to be than way than circumcised men, so leaving men intact is the way to maximise happiness.

      "the choice of how a young child is dressed and what style of hair he wears " It never ceases to amaze me how circumcision advocates are ready to use the most wild analogies (vaccination, appendicectomy, tooth straightening, ear-piercing, bedtimes, abortion, learning French, etc. etc.) to justify circumcision, yet let anyone sugggest that surgically, sterilely, anaesthetisedly cutting any part – not just the clitoris – off a girl is comparable ethically, and all Hell breaks loose: "Oh NO, those are <i>completely</i> different."

      • Hugh Young says:

        I wrote "You may argue some abstact loss of freedom, but this pales in comparison to the physical loss to the person most directly concerned"

        And it is exactly balanced by the abstract gain of freedom to the penis's owner.

    • Brian Earp says:

      Hi Matt,

      Thank you for your thoughts. I think you've outlined the relevant justificatory territory pretty well. On the consequentialist picture, I suppose I see more harm than you do, though I take your points; and on the rights-based picture, I agree there's more work to do to spell it out, but it is where the brunt of my argument gets its footing.

      My understanding of liberalism is that people have a right to do whatsoever they please, so long as they do not needlessly harm others. If they do, the law can step in. Since cutting off part of a baby's penis seems obviously harmful to me, that's the structure of the argument I've used.

      One point about sensitivity versus longevity of pleasure. Are you being serious? Let's say I have a very sexually sensitive penis, since my foreskin hasn't been cut off. And let's say that I have orgasms really quickly because of this, and I wish it took me longer. I now have a couple of options. I could learn to decouple the level of sensitivity from the speed of orgasm through practice. I could put on a desensitizing condom. Or I could go to a clinic, as an adult, and ask the doctor to cut my foreskin off, thereby removing the most touch-sensitive tissue on my entire body.

      Compare this to the case of a man who had part of his penis removed when he was a few days old through a routine circumcision. Let's say that he's been doing great with his long-lasting, low-level pleasure. It takes him a while to orgasm. Everybody's happy. But then he reads an article about this thing called an "intact" penis which has all these weird nerve-endings on it that he doesn't have. And lets say he wants to experience that more intense level of pleasure. Well, he can't. Because he doesn't have a foreskin.

      Do you see the asymmetry?

      Brian

      • Matt Baum says:

        Hi Brian,

        Thanks for the response. I'm glad that we agree about liberalism. My point is that we should be basing laws on stronger evidence than it "just seems obviously harmful to me." It is not obvious to a lot of people. Instead of calling for ban willy-nilly, you should be calling for serious investigation of the issue – and devotion of resources to such an investigation.

        I would expect – and I think you would agree as you alluded as such in your response to Gina – that you as the campaigner in the cause would demand the highest standard of evidence of harm/wrong before undertaking such a task. That you would to do the research and be the biggest skeptic because you would want to be certain what you are saying to people is true.

        For let us imagine that you are wildly successful in your campaigning: all the people who were previously fine or happy with their circumcised bodies (and I hope we can agree that such people exist) are now convinced that a horrible wrong (or harm) has been done to them, that their bodies are in fact damaged goods. This might be justified if their new belief is true. But what if you are wrong? If you are wrong, these people have indeed been greatly harmed.

        matt

        • Hugh Young says:

          "For let us imagine that you are wildly successful in your campaigning: all the people who were previously fine or happy with their circumcised bodies (and I hope we can agree that such people exist) are now convinced that a horrible wrong (or harm) has been done to them, that their bodies are in fact damaged goods. This might be justified if their new belief is true. But what if you are wrong? If you are wrong, these people have indeed been greatly harmed."

          This is a very strange argument. Already circumcised men react indignantly and defensively to any suggestion that there is anything the matter with circumcision, because of the mere implication that "their bodies are in fact damaged goods" when they have no inward sense of that. Many other men have reached the conclusion that they have been harmed by circumcision (and "their bodies are in fact damaged goods") with no help from Brian or the Intactivist movement, sometimes just by reading some dry abstract account of what circumcision does.

          You now bring some objective, Platonic state of harm and "damaged goods" into the mix and suggest that Brian should shut up in case he is defiant of that and objectively wrong. I call bullying. Are we to go on allowing the cutting off of part of babies' genitals just in case it is not objectively harmful, for the sake of the feelings of the men who don't feel they have been harmed? This does entail throwing the human rights of those babies out the window.

        • Brian Earp says:

          Hi again Matt. Thanks for your thoughts …

          Yes, others may disagree on the point of "harm." Harm is a complicated concept, and very largely a subjective one. One goal of my post is to convince others that there can be quite a bit of harm involved in circumcision, and I've marshaled some "hard" evidence for that view. Not everyone will agree with my take, but I can try. Nevertheless, in cases where even ambiguous, subjective harm is involved, I think I'd put more weight on the rights of an individual to decide about his own body. You'd put more weight on a parents' right to make decisions on behalf of their children. I think that's where we diverge.

          Best,
          Brian

  • Matt Baum says:

    I think it is important to point out that my response concerns circumcision of males very soon after birth, which because of issues of memory may weigh in differently on issues of harm and bodily integrity than circumcision at other ages. again, though, an empirical question that should be investigated before we consider laws that infringe on liberty.

    • Peter Wicks says:

      I'm coming to this thread quite late, but is there a confusion here between consequentialism and liberalism? However much Anthony and others might protest, I see know fundamentally obvious reason to object to anything on non-consequentialist grounds. Either there are good consequentialist grounds to ban infant circumcision, or we should not ban it.

      Liberalism is something else. Liberalism is an emphasis on personal freedom, against social/governmental control. There ARE good consequentialist grounds in favour of liberalism, but also good consequentialist reasons to think it can be taken too far. I'm referring especially to the exchange with Matt and Dave (for some reason my reply seems to be appearing at the end of the thread.

      An interesting post anyway, and indeed intriguing to see how much interest it has generated in such a short space of time! I haven't yet generated clear views on whether the issue is as cut-and-dried as Brian suggests, except to say that I am entirely unimpressed (and indeed somewhat repelled) by those who suggest there must be something wrong with me if I don't think it is. This is exactly the kind of "moral realism" (read: bigotry) that we should be trying to get away from. (And I think there are good consequentialist grounds to do so.)

      • Brian Earp says:

        Hi Peter,

        This is a fair response. I've gone back and toned down some of my more inflammatory language, and I think you were right to comment about it.

        I'm not convinced that morality can be reduced to consequentialism or bust. Even if it could be, calculating consequences is pretty tricky in a situation like this. And there are, of course, ends-based ways of considering moral problems that amount to the same thing as respecting rights. So I'll return the gesture and suggest that things may not be as cut-and-dried as you're suggesting either!

        Best wishes,
        Brian

        • John Smith says:

          Brian, thanks for listening! I agree with you. I guess if things were "cut-and-dried" we wouldn't be having this discussion. ;-)

          Cheers.

          • Brian Earp says:

            Hi John: The article you sent is just manifestly well-written and fair. The next time I'm teaching writing for philosophy, I'll use it as a model. Of course, an academic journal and a blog post are aiming at different audiences; and their form and style rightfully diverge … Having lit a fuse and brought some debaters on board, however, I'm very happy to cool down and focus on the details …

        • Peter Wicks says:

          Thanks Brian. Actually I was more troubled by the reactions of Judith et al to criticisms of your post than your post itself – a bit of stridency can help to get the debate going after all!

          Perhaps you're right about consequentialism – but I have yet to come across a convincing argument as to why it can't! I tend to regard "rights" as examples of rules in the context of rule utilitarianism: yes it's important to respect them, but it's also important to define and adapt our conception of rights on the basis of a consideration of the expected consequences of doing so. And where calculation is difficult, I guess we go with our best guess?

          Whether ethics can be reduced to "consequentialism or bust" and whether it should are of course two different questions. Ultimately I still think this is a matter of choice, rather than of truth.

          • Brian Earp says:

            A fair reply, Peter. I expect our intuitions aren't too far off the same thread, actually. And you're right that the middle part of the Venn Diagram for 'moral realism' and 'bigotry' is often very big — it's good to be wary.

            Cheers,
            Brian

    • John Smith says:

      It's the liberty for parents to decide what's best for their children.

      The evidence is against you that harm is done by circumcising.
      And the evidence for the health benefits of circumcising is overwhelming.

      I've heard the argument that "no other body part is removed for health benefits…"
      That's a very weak argument. What if circumcision happens to be the only such procedure
      with health benefits that out weigh the risks? Should it be prohibited because it's the only one?
      I don't think so.

      • Hugh Young says:

        "It’s the liberty for parents to decide what’s best for their children."
        Hardly liberty – there are all sorts of restrictions about what parents may "decide what's best for their children". Cutting any other normal, healthy, functional, irreplacable body part off is one (with special protection for the most nearly corresponding body part of girls).

        "The evidence is against you that harm is done by circumcising.
        And the evidence for the health benefits of circumcising is overwhelming."
        Then why isn't the rest of the developed world overwhelmed by it?

        "I’ve heard the argument that "no other body part is removed for health benefits…"
        That’s a very weak argument. What if circumcision happens to be the only such procedure
        with health benefits that out weigh the risks? Should it be prohibited because it’s the only one?
        I don’t think so."

        But "health benefits" have only just arrived at the party. For unknown prehistoric ages, it was down for unknown magical reasons. Then it got absorbed into the ritual of one religion and a religious gloss put on it, then another religion with a quite diffeerent gloss. About 150 years ago, it acquired a new magical purpose, preventing masturbation (it didn't work of course, but its victims made darrned shure they weren't caught again, so it seemed to). This was called "moral hygiene", and gradually morphed into a belief in real hygienic benefits, which have changed several times over the 20th century.

        Clearly, there is a compulsion to circumcise that has nothing to do with health or any other benefits, but has to do with conformity, custom, fear, power and control.

        • Jake Waskett says:

          "But "health benefits" have only just arrived at the party. For unknown prehistoric ages, it was down for unknown magical reasons." — not unlike washing of hands, then? http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8582811

          • Theo says:

            As far as I know circumcision was an exclusive Middle-East habit. Washing hands, on the other hand (sorry), could be found in China and America as well.

          • Hugh Young says:

            "Not unlike washing of hands, then?"

            That's an interesting simile. In a parallel world

            Ritual circumcision is known but not very widespread or important, except for two famous instances. The Namor Governor of Aeduj, Pintius Polate called for a knife to exculpate himself from guilt for the death of the religious leader Susej. And in "Mactheb", (the Hsittocs play), sleepwalking Lady Mactheb laments that all the scalpels of Aibara will not purify "this little clitoral prepuce" of her guilt for the death of King Nacnud. Her cry "Out, damn'd foreskin!" is a widely-known but little understood cliche. Idrev's operatic treatment of the scene is highly regarded. In the 19th century AS, Zangi Wemmelseis showed that circumcision was effective against gross trauma of the foreskin, but had trouble convincing the medical establishment. Eventually it became the standard treatment for such trauma.

            By contrast, obsessive-compulsive handwashing is widespread and in some communities universal. In Aynek, if a man is thought to have dirty hands, he is humiliated and forcibly scrubbed until he bleeds. Frequent handwashing is controversial, and the scrubbing of babies' hands especially so, but parents claim it as their right. "After all, Susej was." Rosseforp Nairb Sirrom – who never saw a reason for handwashing he didn't like, says frequent handwashing should be mandatory. He co-authors a paper about the types of soap and scrubbing brush with the editor of a handwashfetish site, scrublist, where handwashfetishists obsess about the styles of scrubbing. Opponents say the hundreds of reasons proferred for handwashing – especially the forcible repetitive handscrubbing of infants – show it is irrational.When Nairb Prae argues that forcible handscrubbing of babies is unethical, Jake Washett, on the basis of newspaper reports, claims that only one in 500,000 people who scrub their hands every 15 minutes gets eczema.

      • Do you think it is okay to cut off healthy parts of someone else's body without their permission?
        If you say yes then would you say okay to AB768 California bill that allows anyone – medical or not, to cut upon/remove the foreskin of any male up to age 18, for any reason, with any tool, with or without pain relief, as long as one parent consents?

        Contrary, this liberty of parents is not absolute.

        Circumcision is painful during and after, it removes more skin, nerves, and receptors than it leaves. It lessens the penis. It says I can do anything to you – period and you just have to live with it. The mere fact that children die from circumcision means it is harmful. Pain can not be denied. That one doesn't remember does not mean it wasn't tortuous or not harmful. We know the baby is learning in the womb. It is folly to believe there's no learning while being and post circumcision. The brain doesn't go back to baseline nor does the body as the threshold of pain is lowered measured at 6 months. Is this not harm? Flaying the penis of a baby is most disgusting. Would you yourself do it? (as was the mandated Jewish way before Mohels)

        • Jake Waskett says:

          "The mere fact that children die from circumcision means it is harmful" — that's not very logical, Frank. By the same argument, you'd have to conclude that vaccinations are harmful (such adverse reactions as death are thankfully rare, as indeed for circumcision, but they do occur). The problem with the argument is that it doesn't make much sense to consider only the risks without also considering the benefits. Yes, there's a very small risk of death associated with circumcision (about 1/500,000), but the number of deaths prevented through circumcision is greater.

  • Judith says:

    It will always amaze me when I read something that anyone with common sense should understand and agree with, and yet there are always comments from people who disagree. Just goes to show that people have their heads stuck between the cheeks they don't eat with, as well as having no common sense.

    This argument is be cut and dried. No one should have the right to cut off any functioning organ/tissue from a child. NO ONE! If you disagree with that, there is something wrong with you. We as parents should only have the right to make that kind of decision if our child needs surgery that is medically necessary. Circumcision is rarely (if ever) medically necessary. I guess we should have our babies' fingernails removed after birth too. After all, dirt and grime gets trapped under them. Imagine all the problems that could be spared if we just got rid of them? No hang nails, or split cuticles or scratching themselves. They'll never have to worry about filing or trimming them. So much easier in the long run, right?

    Ugh, why am I bothering? There will be some other naysayer coming right behind me and telling me I'm wrong. *sigh*

  • "Non therapeutic mutilation being grossly unnecessary violation of medical ethics and of the human body must certainly not be readily available to “everybody who wants it” (only an American person can utter such a stupid and unethical thing).

  • Jeff Hazelwood says:

    When do baby boys become "American" enough to earn Civil Liberties? When do baby boys become "human" enough to deserve human rights? When do baby boys become "individual" enough to merit their own religious freedom? When do baby boys become "citizen" enough to enjoy equal protection under the law?

    The answer to these questions for baby girls is their very first day among us. That is the only correct answer. It is the only correct answer for both boys and girls.

    Any other answer is naked misandry.

    • Jayson says:

      In the U.S. most people don't consider you to have rights until you are 18. They ignore the fact that SCOTUS has said otherwise over and over. They instead rely on an outdated concept that children are property of their parents.

  • Theo says:

    Everyone, let's try to keep things philosophical here. It's obvious that circumcision is stupid. I'm strongly against it, and even more strongly against religion meddling in politics and medicine. But here we try to figure it out how this whole thing functions, ethically, socially and juridically.

    I'll see if I can find some Jews and Muslims to hear their arguments.

    And I agree with O'Connell: I would like to see the numbers of these alleged health benefits, which everyone uses as a defense, but none quotes their sources. Brian's argument wound sound a lot better if he included them. I bet they are not relevant at all.

    • Dave Frame says:

      My sentiments entirely. The very idea makes me squeamish and I'd never have contemplated it for my son. But that doesn't legitimate me forcing my value judgements on others. To me that's the core of poltical liberalism. How bad does something have to be for it to be banned? How heavy and unambiguous must be the weight of evidence to over-rule the presumption of free choice? I think to go straight from "I think this is unethical" to "ban it!" is to beg a whole bunch of vital questions, philosophically as well as politically.

      I'm sure you can think of loads of examples of things you don't think are very cool, or even are unethical. You may not like gender roles, or gender dress codes (burkhas, for instance), pornography, binge drinking, smoking in certain places or, for all I know, junk food. There may be negative externalities or even internalised costs associated with these things that make them net bads on a consequentialist calculus. But is the right response to *ban* them all? Personally I don't like socialism much. I think it's unethical, has severe and negative externalities and is bad for society. But I wouldn't ban it. [Because, to my way of thinking, that would be an error as egregious as those at the heart of socialism.]

      • What is your idea of liberalism, Dave? Anything goes? Of freedom? Freedom to harm? Freedom to be cruel? What if we simply had an agreement that one person's freedom ends where another's body begins? And that babies are persons, no matter how small?

      • Brian Earp says:

        Hi Dave. I agree we shouldn't just ban things willy-nilly. I've written on that very topic many times before. But I don't think junk food and mutilating genitals fall into the same category.

        Best,
        Brian

    • Hugh Young says:

      Your discussion of the sexual effects is somewhat astray. Taylor et al. note that the glans is relatively insensitive, compared to the foreskin, mainly sensitive to pressure and pain. They found a ridged band of Meissners corpuscles, specialised for stretch and fine touch, runs round the inside of the foreskin near the tip (and is thus inevitably removed by circumcision) beginning and ending on the frenulum. Circumcised men consider their frenulum to be their "G-spot" but it is just a remnant of what they had. At this point many circumcised men (but no intact men) say things like "I'd die if I was any more sensitive" or "I'd only last a few seconds" suggesting that their neuroanatomy has adjusted to their loss in a somewhat hairtrigger way. (I compare it to removing the accelerator pedal and leaving an on-off switch – you can still get there, but you don't enjoy the journey so much.) They also say "I can still achieve erection and orgasm, so what's the problem?" suggesting circumcision has made them more goal-directed.

    • Hugh Young says:

      R. S. Van Howe A Cost-Utility Analysis of Neonatal Circumcision Med Decis Making, December 1, 2004; 24(6): 584 – 601 A Cost-Utility Analysis of Neonatal Circumcision

      A cost-utility analysis, based on published data from multiple observational studies, comparing boys circumcised at birth and those not circumcised was undertaken using the Quality of Well-being Scale, a Markov analysis, the standard reference case, and a societal perspective. Neonatal circumcision increased incremental costs by $828.42 per patient and resulted in an incremental 15.30 well-years lost per 1000 males. If neonatal circumcision was cost-free, pain-free, and had no immediate complications, it was still more costly than not circumcising. Using sensitivity analysis, it was impossible to arrange a scenario that made neonatal circumcision cost-effective. Neonatal circumcision is not good health policy, and support for it as a medical procedure cannot be justified financially or medically.

      (My comment two down at this indentation is addressed to the substantive article.)

    • Kari says:

      The benefits of male circumcision have been mostly negated in the 21st century due to the influx of proper hygiene and was originally intended for a traveling, desert bound community. Constantly traveling without bathing leads to sand and dirt being trapped under the foreskin and resulting in inflammation and infection. Also, foreskin helped propagate STI's such as syphilis as poor hygiene and understanding of the disease caused further spread. In today's world circumcision is mostly a symbolic religious practice and while one may not agree with it, it must be protected under the 1st amendment and freedom of religion. The separation of church and state is a founding principal of this country as well as equal rights for all. It wasn't long ago that segregation was legal and blacks were 'banned' from certain establishments and such. To ban circumcision would be equal to reinstating segregation, as it blocks general human rights to practice free will, something this country has striven never to do again. To ban anything one doesn't agree with only breeds hate and ignorance, and every single person in the US has ancestors who fled their respective countries for the exact freedom banners are now trying to deny.

      • Theo says:

        We discussed this above. Newborn circumcision does not concern free will, since the child had no voice in the matter. Circumcision must not be banned, it could still be practiced after one has reached adulthood. What we argued against is only permanent mutilation of babies. Free will concerns only actions that affect one's own body (sometimes not even that, as the abortion discussion shows).

        And freedom of religion does not mean all religions are allowed to continue practicing all their traditions. "Religious tradition" is a tricky expression, and allowing circumcision on these grounds would be the same as allowing traditional African female genital mutilation, or the native Indian tradition of murdering twin babies.

  • Isaac Brock says:

    There are hundreds of thousands of men in the US alone that feel their bodily integrity was grossly violated, that's why they are restoring what they can of a foreskin to gain back some of the function and sensitivity that was lost to circumcision.

    There have been studies into the harms of circumcision. Obviously, people didn't process what of that was stated in this article, but for another depiction, consider sorrells, et al 2007 Fine touch pressure threshold study. The 5 most sensitive parts of the penis are removed by circumcision. The foreskin contains 85% of the sexually receptive nerve endings of the penis. The "ridged band", also known as the "preputial sphincter" is the most sensitive part of an intact male's body, containing 20,000 meisner's corpuscle nerve endings, these are the nerve endings that sense light touch, like the anus, lips, basically any mucocutaneous junction on our body where things enter and exit. These are also found highly concentrated on the palms of our hands and soles of our feet. Compare the sensation of gently gliding a finger over your palm versus the back of your hand. The glans, on the other hand, contains just 4,000 free end nerve endings, like on your arm or skin, although over the years the glans keratinises without the protection of the foreskin and develops up to 16 extra layers of keratin to protect itself, leading half of the world's Viagra to be comsumes in the US, with only 5% of the population because of this age related desensitisation. The frenular delta is the second most sensitive area of the penis. These are both removed by infant circumcision (sometimes the frenulum is spared, consider yourself forunate if you have a "loose cut", your loss of sensation is much more minimal compared to someone with a "tight cut" who has no skin mobillity upon erection and minimal frenular tissue left. In adult circumcision, the frenular delta is more likely to be salvaged or spared.

    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/27/Sorrells.gif

    Infant circumcisions also tend to remove too much tissue, as the child hasn't developed into their adult body, the average infant circumcision removes 50-80% of the entire penile skin system, leading to painful erections from a lack of sufficient skin to accommodate the full erectile tissue. The inner foreskin, left alone, will develop into a 15 sq inch amount of tissue, a 3×5 index card for comparison. To see this, check out this link, caution, NSFW

    http://www.foreskin.org/3zones-c.htm

    • Brian Earp says:

      Thanks for this Isaac. I've used some of your material in my post.

    • Jake Waskett says:

      Unfortunately there are so many errors in this post that I must comment.

      "The 5 most sensitive parts of the penis are removed by circumcision." — Sorrells et al arrived at this conclusion by testing for statistical significance and then ignoring the results. See critique at: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1464-410X.2007.06970_6.x/full

      "The foreskin contains 85% of the sexually receptive nerve endings of the penis." — What study found this, and using what methodology?

      "The "ridged band", also known as the "preputial sphincter" is the most sensitive part of an intact male’s body, containing 20,000 meisner’s corpuscle nerve endings[...] The glans, on the other hand, contains just 4,000 free end nerve endings" — also wrong, though one does occasionally find such claims being made. In fact, though, no study to date has documented the number of nerve endings in the foreskin, so such a number could only be a guess.

      "the glans keratinises without the protection of the foreskin and develops up to 16 extra layers of keratin to protect itself" — in point of fact, only one study in the literature (Szabo and Short, 2000) has ever compared keratinisation levels by circumcision status. It found no differences.

      "The inner foreskin, left alone, will develop into a 15 sq inch amount of tissue, a 3×5 index card for comparison." — actually, the only study in the literature (Kigozi et al, 2009) measured the entire surface area of the foreskin, finding it to average 36.8 square cm (5.7 square inches).

      • JM says:

        Jake,

        Thanks for pointing out the obvious. While looking at this post, all you see is the intactivist movement that is pushing every reason not to circumcise and provide the minimal of truth or commons sense info related to the benefits of circumcision which far outweigh the issues. Its a known fact that every intactivist, when faced with medical and scientific facts will either state they are false, have no value of just plain dont believe them. I site the one and only Marilyn Milos who I had the displeasure of trying to talk my wife and I out of having our son circumcised after birth many years ago. When I asked her the basis of her facts, she accused me of being a lost cause and said she does not waste time where she cant influence the parents. So she prays on the uniformed and sways them with little or no truth. This comes from a mother, who herself could not wait to have her own 3 sons circumcised as newborns AND SIGNED THE CONSENT HERSELF when she was a fully qualified nurse who clearly was smart enough to find out way more information on circumcision than the average parent. Her husband was not circumcised and as such she placed more value on circumcision for her sons than she felt for her own husband. When I asked her about factual medical and scientific evidence, she denied any value in any study that supported circumcision and stated that nothing is believable. She was fired as a nurse for insubordination. I truly believe that her mind suffered from too much smegma being left in her vagina during sexual intercourse and got absorbed into her bloodstream.

        I notice throughout this posting that not one intactivist here has posted ANY information or even referred to FACTUAL or REAL problems with foreskins. Every intactivist website and proponent refuse to address real issues that many children and adult men have with their foreskins. Tearing, phimosis just to mention two of the more common issues. While medical statistics on these are very few and far between, a urologist friend of mine stated that it is way more common than ever reported amongst uncircumcised men. Ironically I suffered from phimosis with tearing of my foreskin for many years. The doctor at the time insisted on treating the symptom and not finding a solution. The pain factor and the embarrassment factor of always having to drop my pants so that the doctor could insert his medical instruments between my glans and foreskin to stretch it and then rip back the foreskin as far as he could tearing it from the glans on multiple occasions because he had to save my foreskin under any condition as an intactivist. He created more scarring on my penis from his actions than circumcision ever did. When I told him I was done with him and felt that he had damaged my penis for life, his comment was: "Well up until now I have saved your foreskin". I should have reported him for abuse. Getting circumcised was the best thing I did after many years of dealing with a doctor who had a personal agenda and not a professional one. Not one of the intactivists here will even acknowledge that these things happen.

        My only regret is not being circumcised as an infant and not have had to deal with these issues. Sex with a foreskin was very painful most of the time due to the issues I had and was certainly not a pleasure for my wife. Once rid of the foreskin, it has been a pleasure for both in every way.

        When the intactivists mention the 20000 nerve endings and the size of the foreskin area that is lost, I really question the so called evidence they like to present and they never have an answer of fact. If you believe their statements, it is clear that so much is lost through circumcision, that a circumcised guy should be completely unable to have sex, let alone enjoyable sex with a woman and that the woman will never enjoy it at all. Clearly if you look at the circumcised population of men, that again proves their theories wrong on every front.

        I believe that circumcision should be a decision between the parents and the doctor and that government has no right to intrude in the privacy of my home and my decisions for my family. Circumcision, like vaccinations and for that matter ear piercing of little girls ears are not the business of the government.

        As for intactivist websites, if they posted the real facts, people would still make the decision to have their sons circumcised. It is best done as an infant and heals quicker and typically when done by an experienced doctor there are no issues. If the intactivists with the agenda want to push it as being done as an adult, they clearly dont have any idea of the additional pain factors, the healing process and overall cost factors, or once again refuse to ignore them. Besides aesthetically a circumcised penis for most women (and many men) looks more appealing and you dont have to deal with the issue of smegma or the smell associated with it.

        To all intactivists, I only ask one thing. Bring the medical and scientific evidence that support most of your claims.

        Circumcision

        I for one do not want the government or the liberals telling me how to live my life related to how to raise my children. Circumcision is a procedure that has many health

        • admin says:

          We welcome dissenting opinion on the Practical Ethics blog, but please keep your comments respectful. We cannot tolerate abusive comments .

          The comments policy is available to read at http://blog.practicalethics.ox.ac.uk/2010/05/comments-policy

        • I'll respond to your erroneous comments, one at a time.

          My sons were circumcised BEFORE I understood what circumcision was and before I was a nurse. I did NOT sign the consent, my son's intact father did because we were lied to by our doctor who said circumcision didn't hurt, only took a minute, and it would protect our sons from a myriad of ills. Imagine my surprise when I witnessed a baby boy in four-point restraints, screaming in a way I'd never heard a human scream during his unanesthestized circumcised. I began to cry and the doctor said, "There is no medical reason for doing this." That led me to research the subject and Edward Wallerstein, author of Circumcision: An American Health Fallacy, became my teacher and friend, until his death more than a decade later. I was fired from the hospital because I was told to keep my mouth shut but, as a nurse, I was responsible for ensuring patients were truly informed when they signed the consent form, and that meant being educated about the pain, trauma, and harm of circumcision. Every parent has a right and an obligation to be truly informed. I wish I had been. My sons would still be intact. However, I now have four intact grandsons, from ages 29 to 8. None has ever had a problem and no one could talk any of them out of what they know is a normal and wonderfully sensitive part of their own body!

          The most important part of the argument is the right of the child to his own body until he is old enough to make such a personal decision for himself.

        • IRIS FUDGE says:

          Admin did not censor your comments JM which left us free to observe what kind of a person you are.
          It is also fortunate that Marilyn Milos has replied to you personally to give the correct facts.
          These have long been in the public domain, so you must have known about them.
          It gave me great pleasure when this blog was created to enable discussion of the issue of child genital
          excision along philosophical lines. I hope that this will continue with the participation of those of good
          faith, like it's originator Brian Earp.

        • Hugh Young says:

          JM seems to be a victim of some malpractice. The treatment he describes is not that recommended for phimosis. A pity he (like many others) uses the fallacy of his own Vivid Instance as a basis on which to argue for the non-therapeutic circumcision of healthy boys, the vast majority of whom will never have any problems with their foreskins.

          "If you believe their statements, it is clear that so much is lost through circumcision, that a circumcised guy should be completely unable to have sex, let alone enjoyable sex with a woman and that the woman will never enjoy it at all." No, that is a straw argument, a gross exaggeration of Intactivist claims. But it's striking (out of circumcised men's own mouths), how many of them have a strongly goal-directed approach to sex, for which "getting erect and reaching orgasm" are the be-all and end-all.

          Piercing ears removes no tissue and will reverse itself if the earrings are left out.

          Intactivists don't care how you live your life. We do care that the children you guide to adulthood are free to choose for themselves what normal, healthy, functional, irreplacable parts of their own bodies they may keep.

        • R. de Montesquiou says:

          "Besides aesthetically a circumcised penis for most women (and many men) looks more appealing and you dont have to deal with the issue of smegma or the smell associated with it."

          To any would-be circumcisers reading this, we hasten to assure you that JM speaks only for a mutilated minority (or rather, that is, for his penis).

          • anonymous says:

            Would-be circumcisers might also be wondering why JM doesn't cite the relevant "medical statistics" in making his case — could it be because medical estimates of the prevalence of pathological phimosis among uncircumcised men in the United States range from a mere 1% to a mere 8% if one includes cases of partial nonretractability? Following JM's logic to its rightful end, we should amputate the arms of all newly-born babies because it would eliminate the risk of carpal tunnel syndrome.

  • Sebastian Hallward says:

    Dave,

    If it weren't for "liberals" like yourself circumcision would have been outlawed decades ago.

    • Dave Frame says:

      "If it weren’t for "liberals" like yourself circumcision would have been outlawed decades ago."

      Intriguing comment. Is that a good thing, a bad thing, or an observation about liberalism and inertia?

  • Sebastian Hallward says:

    "Any other answer is naked misandry."

    It's quite simple, really. Any "mother" who wants to have her son circumcised can do so, so long as she agrees to have her labia chopped off.

  • Anthony Drinkwater says:

    Thank you Brian for an interesting and justified post. If the responses of your various crtics are really representative of contemporary ethics, then I despair…. (But at least Judith has got it right)

  • Sebastian Hallward says:

    "Intriguing comment. Is that a good thing, a bad thing, or an observation about liberalism and inertia?"

    The ideological terminus of liberalism is the concentration camp writ globally, and the lopping off of foreskins.

  • Anthony Drinkwater says:

    I wish that there were a button that allowed me to withdraw a comment, as I have had a chance to rethink the issue and have become that rarest of birds : a (would-be) philosopher who changes his mind.
    In fact my sleepless night has resulted in the foundation of a new religion – soon to be trade-marked and blogged. One of the principle tenets of this religion is that the penis is the arm of the devil and should be removed at birth from all males. The consequences are clearly beneficial to the whole of humanity – mortality through AIDS will virtually disappear, rape will be known only through legends of past inhumanity, true sexual and gender equality will become so much more possible and angelic voices will fill the new churches of this new libertarian religion. There is clearly enough sperm in banks around the world to assure the perpetuity of the human race – if ever supplies run low, a certain select percentage of males could be granted a (temporary) stay of castration until supply once more equals demand.
    Clearly some so-called rights activists will rush into print to call for castration to remain illegal – but I think we should :
    1. stick to our evidence-based consequentialism,
    2. Show respect for the sublteties of religious beliefs,
    3. demand that the burden of proof in a liberal society should benefit the freedom of parents to castrate their child
    Any other position clearly has severe and negative externalities.

    • Brian Earp says:

      Cheekily put. I agree with your gist. Thanks for the post, Anthony.

    • Also, the Supreme Court placed limits on the First Amendment's freedom of religion clause way back in 1944 (in Prince v. Massachusetts), stating:
      "Parents may be free to become martyrs themselves. But it does not follow they are free, in identical circumstances, to make martyrs of their children before they have reached the age of full and legal discretion when they can make that choice for themselves."

      "…Let's get rid of the federal protection that girls have. Some studies show that female circumcision reduces STD rates. I think it looks better, too. My wife was circumcised. So was her sister and her mother. When my daughter is born, I want to have her circumcised so she can look like her mother. And my daughter won't remember it, so who cares? It's just the clitoral hood… the EXACT EQUIVILENT of a male's foreskin. My religion says it's the way it's supposed to be. Ever hear of Freedom of Religion? Keep your laws away from me and my religious beliefs! I'll cut my children's genitals if I deem it appropriate"

      Here are some studies that show a correlation between female circumcision and
      a lowered HIV transmission rate. I somehow doubt that the WHO or UNAIDS would
      ever take them seriously though.

      Stallings et al. 2009
      "Risk of HIV among women who had undergone Female Circumcision is roughly
      half that of women who had not. Association remained significant after
      adjusting for region, household, wealth, age, lifetime partners and union
      status."
      Female circumcision and HIV infection in Tanzania:
      For better or for worse?
      3rd IAS conference on HIV pathogenesis and treatment
      International AIDS Society

      "Women who have undergone Female Circumcision have a significantly decreased
      risk of HIV-2 infection when compared to those who had not."
      Kanki P, M'Boup S, Marlink R, et al.
      "Prevalence & risk determinants of HIV type 2
      (HIV-2) and human immunodeficiency virus type 1
      (HIV1) in west African female prostitutes
      Am. J. Epidemiol. 136 (7): 895-907. PMID

      You might tell me that female circumcision causes all this damage, that women
      lose the ability to orgasm. "Studies show" that male circumcision "doesn't
      affect satisfaction", and thus this is why circumcision can be recommended.
      But did you know, studies ALSO show that women who have been circumcised do
      not lose their ability to orgasm? In fact, women who have undergone
      infibulation, which is the worst kind of female genital mutilation in the
      world, are still able to orgasm.

      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17970975

      http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn2837-female-circumcision-does-not-
      reduce-sexual-activity.html

      Still, others claim that having one´s labia removed actually INCREASES
      "satisfaction."

      http://www.labiaplastysurgeon.com/labiaplasty-clinical-study.html

      Please understand that I am in no way trying to justify female circumcision. No one should endure forced cutting or even threat of cutting.

      • Brian Earp says:

        You make a very powerful point, Frank. Thank you. Reminds me of Douglas Hofstadter's "Person Paper on Purity in Language" — http://www.cs.virginia.edu/~evans/cs655/readings/purity.html.

      • Jake Waskett says:

        "Here are some studies that show a correlation between female circumcision and a lowered HIV transmission rate. I somehow doubt that the WHO or UNAIDS would ever take them seriously though." — probably not, because you've cherry picked evidence to support that position. Of the eleven or so studies that have addressed HIV by FGC, the overwhelming majority *haven't* found such a finding.

    • Theo says:

      Excellent! Right to the point, nothing else needs to be said.

  • Sebastian Hallward says:

    "No one should endure forced cutting or even threat of cutting."

    With the exception of mothers.

  • Sebastian Hallward says:

    55 comments in a little over 24 hours! Bioethicists take note: for what are so many fetuses compared with the greatest fortune of Mankind? (not to mention the ultimate symbol of feminist liberation).

  • My Son's Mom says:

    I've never seen a picture of circumcision before. Thanks for including it. I'm awfully glad we didn't do this to my son.

  • Theo says:

    I think the anti-circumcisionists would would benefit in limiting and clarifying their concepts, since the general public may not have the patience nor the desire to read all these posts and look for information somewhere else in the internet.

    It's not a prohibition of "circumcision", but of "forced mutilation of newborn babies". Adults will keep their rights to do it. And it's not a "prohibition", but an "enforcement of the fundamental rights of defenseless children". And while the term "circumcision" is indeed a medical expression, an average citizen will almost invariably think on Judaism when he hears the word, thus associating an anti-circumcision attitude with an antisemitic one.

    It's astounding how many problems the wrong use of a word can bring to a discussion with someone not familiar with philosophical discussions, i.e. politicians, lawmakers, policemen, the average baker, etc.

    • IRIS FUDGE says:

      Thank you Theo, I have long thought that the term circumcision is misleading because it minimizes what is actually done.
      It is not a small cut or slit or trim, nor is it performed around, which is the impression left in the public's mind.
      It is an EXCISION. To excise is 1/to remove something, in this case human tissue, by cutting it off or out especially
      surgically. 2/ to remove or delete something. The term extirpation also applies:- the action of rooting up or out
      and total destruction or extermination. The child has lost this tissue permanently even though, because of it's
      unique valuable structure, it is harvested for other's use. It would help if we would use this term 'excision'
      whenever this matter is raised, especially with medical personal. Iris

      • IRIS FUDGE says:

        I have been using the term genital excision, not foreskin excision which is what it actually is.
        Possibly if genital is used, the question might be asked, which part of the genitals is excised? This would enable
        an explanation of what is removed or damaged in the case of female mutilation.
        Apology for spelling error:- it should have been personnel. Iris

  • John Smith says:

    Circumcision has well-documented health benefits, in spite of
    what the anti-circ fanatics would like people to believe.

    Parents make important decisions for their children and
    circumcision is one of them.

    The anti-cirs got more than they bargained for in SF.
    Fortunately the state intervened and no more money
    will be wasted to fight a ban.

    I hope the US congress follows through and bans the ban as well.

    Hopefully soon the AAP and CDC will update their statements
    and come down in favor of circumcision.

    It's time to update your video of the screaming baby.
    When a local anesthetic is used (which is recommended), 90% of babies
    sleep through the procedure according to an ob/gyn friend.

    Circumcising at birth is safe, easy, inexpensive and provides
    life-long health benefits.

    What you fail to point out is that circumcising later is riskier,
    requires stitches and is more expensive. There are painful nighttime
    erections and one cannot have sex during the healing process.

    I was circumcised as an adult and wish it had been done at birth.
    I'm not alone. If you go to a pro-circ website you will find
    many men circumcised as adults (either for medical or cosmetic reasons)
    who say they wonder why they waited so long and wish it had been
    done at birth.

    I have experienced no downside to being circumcised. Sex is better now.

    I don't buy your ethical arguments at all.

    Parents want what's best for their children.
    Parents should be given the facts about circumcision health benefits
    so they can make an intelligent decision.
    If they decide the benefits outweigh the risks, they should be
    allowed to choose circumcision.

  • John Smith says:

    I think you'll find this to be a more balanced view even though you may not like their conclusion:

    http://www.circs.org/index.php/Library/Benatar2

    And here's the response to all the anti-circ comments:

    http://www.circs.org/index.php/Library/Benatar

    • Brian Earp says:

      Thank you for these links, John. I've added a post-script to my article, and included a link to the first paper. I agree with you that it's a dispassionate and well-reasoned discussion of the relevant evidence.

      Best wishes,
      Brian

  • HerpesFish says:

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  • jebb says:

    Herpes is a very common STD. Also, it seems that the sexy guys and girls are easier to get Herpes. A friend of mine who used to work for match.com and now works for the largest Herpes singles dating site SinglesHerpes.com tells me that the ratio of good-looking members on SinglesHerpes.com is higher than the ratio of Match.

  • I think what Jake is trying to say is this:
    Non-therapeutic circumcision of male minors (2010)

    The Royal Dutch Medical Association (46,000 members)
    Download KNMG Viewpoint Non-therapeutic circumcision of male minors > (PDF)

    The official viewpoint of KNMG and other related medical/scientific organisations is that non-therapeutic circumcision of male minors is a violation of children’s rights to autonomy and physical integrity. Contrary to popular belief, circumcision can cause complications – bleeding, infection, urethral stricture and panic attacks are particularly common. KNMG is therefore urging a strong policy of deterrence. KNMG is calling upon doctors to actively and insistently inform parents who are considering the procedure of the absence of medical benefits and the danger of complications.

    http://knmg.artsennet.nl/Diensten/knmgpublicaties/KNMGpublicatie/Nontherapeutic-circumcision-of-male-minors-2010.htm

    KNMG- The Royal Dutch Medical Association (46,000 members) 2010 Circumcision Statement-
    There is no convincing evidence that circumcision is useful or necessary in terms of prevention or hygiene. Partly in the light of the complications which can arise during or after circumcision, circumcision is not justifiable except on medical/therapeutic grounds. Insofar as there are medical benefits, such as a possibly reduced risk of HIV infection, it is reasonable to put off circumcision until the age at which such a risk is relevant and the boy himself can decide about the intervention, or can opt for any available alternatives.
    Contrary to what is often thought, circumcision entails the risk of medical and psychological complications. The most common complications are bleeding, infections, meatus stenosis (narrowing of the urethra) and panic attacks. Partial or complete penis amputations as a result of complications following circumcisions have also been reported, as have psychological problems as a result of the circumcision.

    Non-therapeutic circumcision of male minors is contrary to the rule that minors may only be exposed to medical treatments if illness or abnormalities are present, or if it can be convincingly demonstrated that the medical intervention is in the interest of the child, as in the case of vaccinations.
    Non-therapeutic circumcision of male minors conflicts with the child’s right to autonomy and physical integrity.
    The KNMG calls on (referring) doctors to explicitly inform parents/carers who are considering non-therapeutic circumcision for male minors of the risk of complications and the lack of convincing medical benefits. The fact that this is a medically non-essential intervention with a real risk of complications makes the quality of this advice particularly important. The doctor must then record the informed consent in the medical file.
    The KNMG respects the deep religious, symbolic and cultural feelings that surround the practice of nontherapeutic circumcision. The KNMG calls for a dialogue between doctors’ organisations, experts and the religious groups concerned in order to put the issue of non-therapeutic circumcision of male minors on the agenda and ultimately restrict it as much as possible.

    There are good reasons for a legal prohibition of non-therapeutic circumcision of male minors, as exists for female genital mutilation. However, the KNMG fears that a legal prohibition would result in the intervention being performed by non-medically qualified individuals in circumstances in which the quality of the intervention could not be sufficiently guaranteed. This could lead to more serious complications than is currently the case.

    "Non-therapeutic circumcision of male minors conflicts with the child's right to autonomy and physical integrity."
    That is the official position of the Royal Dutch Medical Association (KNMG).

    • Jake Waskett says:

      No, Frank, that's not what I'm trying to say at all, and I'm utterly perplexed as to why you might think otherwise. I have to ask, what comment in particular led you to think such a thing, and why?

      I would certainly not deny KNMG their right to an opinion, but I think theirs is one of the least evidence-based and least balanced of all policy statements on circumcision.

      • @ Jake Waskett That was attempt to put my sentiments in your mouth. Stuff as I may, like Marilyn you are a lost cause. KNMG is more than opinion, just shows how you minimize the opposition. Are you still head editor of the circumcision pages at wikipedia. Still deleting submissions that may boost lower USA circumcision rates as in the new, well now going on 2 years (2009), 32.5% US circumcision rate?

        • John Smith says:

          Frank, it's interesting that you pick up on a rate reported at a conference when it wasn't even the rate of circumcision
          that the study was trying to measure.

          For better information take a look at this: http://www.hcup-us.ahrq.gov/reports/statbriefs/sb118.jsp
          which shows 1,147,700 circumcision in US hospitals in 2009.

          According to http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/births.htm
          there were 4,131,019 live births in the USA in 2009.

          Assuming 51% were male, that means about 2.1 million male births.

          Do the math and you'll see the rate of childhood male circumcision in US hospitals in 2009
          was about 55.6%.

          The rate is most likely even higher because more circumcisions are done outside the hospital setting.

          • John, it's more interesting you would cherry pick this of 1.1 million circumcisions reference as being a newborn 2009 circ rate, when you are quoting 2009 circumcision rate of all age male minors:
            "Most common hospital procedures received by children
            Table 3 presents the most common all-listed procedures received by children in U.S. hospitals, including principal and secondary non-diagnostic, therapeutic, or operative procedures. The most common procedure received by children and infants in the hospital was prophylactic vaccination, which consisted primarily of hepatitis B vaccine, given to over 1.3 million infants. The second most common procedure was circumcision, which was performed on over 1.1 million male infants."
            Also interesting you would dismiss an employee of the CDC who gave the 2009 circumcision rate of 32.5% at the AIDS conference. This is widely reported from reputable sources, except Wikipedia where all such referenced submissions by many intactivists have been deleted, including mine and without given reason. For those who want to play this Wikipedia game, do your submission and watch the show.

  • At this point in history, children need adults to protect them. The unspoken rule is that parents do that. When parents' minds have been inundated with fear thoughts and threats and they are less than fully informed by the circumciser about the drawbacks, then they tend to hand their children over to the person with the knife who profits monetarily from cutting… and then the hospital profits monetarily from selling the pristine infant foreskin to tissue banks… and then the tissue banks profit from selling the tissue to pharmaceutical and cosmetic companies…

    So until and unless the profit motive is removed from this form of child sexual abuse, it will likely continue… and ethics be damned when money is involved. "All's fair in love, war and business."

    • John Smith says:

      oh, yes, it's all just a conspiracy and there are no health benefits of circumcision that parents should consider. Uh huh…

      • Hugh Young says:

        They don't give circumcision a thought in most of the developed world. And that's not because they're behind the USA. The English-speaking world tried it, found it did no good and has virtually given it up. In Australia and New Zealand they once wielded the knives as happily as they do in the USA. Now it's hard to find a doctor willing to do it – and you know, there have been no outbreaks of any of the things it was supposed to be good for.

  • Theo says:

    As I mentioned before, you can prove anything with numbers. I remember using Hitler's government as an example for this: high GNP, high popular acceptance, near zero unemployment rate, economic growth close to 10%/year, but… is it right? Was it a good government?

    The same applies to this matter. Even if the health benefits were real and significant (I still haven't seen the numbers – where are they?), they wouldn't justify mutilation of babies.

    Numbers alone don't make unethical things ethical. If they did, we would have to accept Anthony's proposal, which is way better (and with a sounder argument) than just circumcision.

  • Peter, we're talking about removing a joyful and protective part of a child's genitals so their sexual experience will never have the richness that it should have had, there are certain sexual acts (hetero or homosexual) they cannot experience, and on top of this their lifelong likelihood of urinary pain and inflammation is increased by 50-100%. Which bit of this don't you get as a human rights abuse?

    I would be very interested to know what your views are of forced female circumcision, particularly given that the most common target of this cutting around the world is the female foreskin – and it is most often just slit, not removed. Labiaplasty (type IIA FGM) is a also a common traditional cut in Egypt, and commonly done by doctors in the last 20 years, as is hood slitting (type IV FGM) on baby girls' in Malaysia.

    I suspect your answer to this will be to repeat the refrain 'there are no proven health benefits to FGC' .. Yet when have we ever investigated these? The circumstantial evidence against the female flaps and folds is clear – labia are more likely to develop cancer than foreskin, and all manner of viruses and bacteria are more likely to be found in the vulval folds than the foreskin – this includes HIV: an overwhelming majority of victims in Africa are female … Even myconium smegmatis (the bacteria associated with smegma) is more common in the female of the species…by a factor of 10! Yet has America spent the last 150 years churning out studies to try to justify cutting off these parts? No. Because it violates the principles of medicine to take the most drastic option to treat an actual infection let alone to practice a pre-emptive amputation across a whole population.

    I put it to you that if it is not definately wrong to amputate the foreskin from a boy – why is it illegal to remove the foreskin of a girl or a dog?

    At the risk of appearing rude, I would also like to ask if you have ever experienced the pleasure of this part? I do think this is important – there's a vast amount of intellectual energy being expended on this page in order to justify something which ought to be simply inconscionable. You don't own another person's body and you have no human right to hurt someone, whether they are related to you and dependent on you or not. But if you have been hurt you have a vested personal interest in rationalising and trivialising what was done. There has been acres of text written about this psychological issue in the context of FGM to explain why victims more often than not become become fierce defenders of female circumcision…

    If anyone wants to look at parallels, read up on how the domestic violence charities were treated when they launched in the 1970s. They were given themselves an intellectual battering and all sorts of weasley justifications emerged some of which are pretty similar to those being used here. Thankfully now we know that we were wrong. Hitting your wife is a cut and dried issue. Forcing sex on your wife – even without bruises or pain – is a cut and dried issue. Amputating half the skin from your baby's sexual parts can be no more debatable.

    • Jake Waskett says:

      I have to respond to this:

      "Peter, we’re talking about removing a joyful and protective part of a child’s genitals so their sexual experience will never have the richness that it should have had," — actually, the evidence suggests that there is no adverse effect on sexual pleasure or satisfaction.

      "there are certain sexual acts (hetero or homosexual) they cannot experience, and on top of this their lifelong likelihood of urinary pain and inflammation is increased by 50-100%." — surely you have this backwards? The risk of penile inflammation is reduced through circumcision.

      "If anyone wants to look at parallels, read up on how the domestic violence charities were treated when they launched in the 1970s. They were given themselves an intellectual battering and all sorts of weasley justifications emerged some of which are pretty similar to those being used here. Thankfully now we know that we were wrong. Hitting your wife is a cut and dried issue. Forcing sex on your wife – even without bruises or pain – is a cut and dried issue. Amputating half the skin from your baby’s sexual parts can be no more debatable." — on the contrary, one is harmful, the other (even when presented with inflammatory rhetoric such as "amputating half the skin") is not.

  • Jake Waskett, you know just as well as I do that there are many many studies which show sexual deficits following male circumcision both infant and adult. Dr John Dean a leading international urologist has said reviewing these that a loss of sexual sensation is 'almost universal'. I wish you would simply wake up to the issue here, which is that you took a choice to have an adult circumcision and every other man deserves to have that same choice.

    It's beyond horrible that you patrol the internet to try to repackage and spin what we know about circumcision all to try to deny other boys the freedom you had. And as explanation for why you do this I refer you to my point about the irreversibility of the procedure and the psychological need to rationalise it once done.

    Can't you understand that all we are asking you to do is let men review the studies themselves and make an informed CHOICE. The simple fact is that if circumcision was the sexually neutral health beneficial act you claim it is men would choose it.

    The fact that you and others say we must force it utterly explodes your argument.

    • Jake Waskett says:

      "Jake Waskett, you know just as well as I do that there are many many studies which show sexual deficits following male circumcision both infant and adult." — that's a bit of an exaggeration, Laura. A few studies have done so, but most find more similarities than differences.

      "Dr John Dean a leading international urologist has said reviewing these that a loss of sexual sensation is ‘almost universal’." — he's welcome to that point of view, but the facts contradict it. For example, Westercamp et al reported that "54% of [1016] men reported their penis being much more sensitive", Krieger et al reported that "Compared to before they were circumcised, 64.0% of [1391] circumcised men reported their penis was "much more sensitive," and only 18% of the 150 participants in Masood's study reported reduced sensation (twice that number reported improved sensation).

      "I wish you would simply wake up to the issue here, which is that you took a choice to have an adult circumcision and every other man deserves to have that same choice." — first, I don't think I mentioned my genitals, and second, that's a point of view to which you're fully entitled, but it is a point of view, not a fact, and I'm equally entitled to reject it.

      "It’s beyond horrible that you patrol the internet to try to repackage and spin what we know about circumcision all to try to deny other boys the freedom you had." — personally I find it just as horrible to find people misrepresenting the facts about circumcision in order to suit their agenda. We could denounce each other or we could have a civilised conversation. Which would you prefer?

      "And as explanation for why you do this I refer you to my point about the irreversibility of the procedure and the psychological need to rationalise it once done." — amusing, to be sure, but such playground psychological "diagnoses" are a distraction from the issue, and don't really belong in a mature dialogue.

  • Brian, I am very happy for you that you were left whole by your parents. You too must be grateful that they were not shouted at or whispered to by someone who did everything in their power to convince them you were not perfect, just the way you were.

    By now you surely get the idea of what we who protect infants are up against. This is the type of conversation that goes on daily on the internet. I do not see holding down a baby and cutting off his healthy genital skin as an ethical thing to do. In my eyes it is a socially sanctioned form of child sexual abuse. It would be called assault and battery if it was done to an adult without a legitimate medical need.

    I do not see advocating for it, manipulating and coercing parents into agreeing to it, or seducing adults into thinking there is a sexual advantage to it, as ethical. There is nothing wrong and everything right with natural bodies.

    Perhaps you have read "The Fox who Lost His Tail" by Aesop. The wise old fox at the end said, "You would not be trying to convince us to cut off our tails if you had not lost yours." Perhaps it is as simple as that: "Misery loves company."

    After I became an "intactivist", I learned that I'd been circumcised as a little girl (WASP) in Kansas. I'd long been making a study of how trauma affects us in our lives, as I had to unravel my own inner turmoil. What I realized when I "discovered" circumcision is that the "cut" goes far beyond the physical. Night terrors, suicidal ideation, PTSD – all are possible when held down and cut against our wills as children. I have met many circumcised men and women since I wrote my book about my story; both genders report the same symptoms. And they are usually life-long.

    We drink, use drugs, and we pass on the abuse. We stomp, we fight; we kick the dog and throw the cat against the wall; we are overly sexual or un-sexual, angry, ashamed, withdrawn and depressed. Reeling, still reeling. It's a horrible thing for a child to experience. It teaches distrust, helplessness, shame, fear.

    If you ever felt you didn't fit in here in the USA, this might very well have been the reason. An intact man I met once sat silently as I told him what I knew about this. When he finally spoke, he said, "Now I understand why I am so well-adjusted." He had wondered his whole life why so many men in the US are off-kilter. They fight, but they have no idea who or what they are fighting. I have long considered it to be no coincidence that the only three cultures that circumcise their young are at war in the Middle East: Jews, English-speaking Christians, and Muslims. Still yelling at and kicking away the circumciser.

    It is important that we begin healing the trauma, releasing the fear. As Carl Jung said, "Until we make the unconscious conscious, it will direct our lives and we will call it fate." "All healing is essentially the release from fear." Teaching someone to fear is terrible thing to do. It ruins lives.

  • Now… please tell me how "ethical" is this:

    <i>[A]n article from 2009… describes the ordinance that was passed in a 9-2 Board of Supervisors vote, banning the declawing of cats for non-therapeutic reasons. The fine for unnecessarily removing a cat's claws is $1,000 and up to six months in jail. The ordinance states that it is "inappropriate to remove parts of an animal's anatomy, thereby causing the animal pain and suffering, and restricting and altering its natural behaviors, simply to fit the owner's lifestyle, aesthetics or convenience."</i> – from http://babiesboobsandblasphemy.blogspot.com/2011/09/san-francisco-bans-barbaric-practice.html

    Yet because the City of San Francisco dared to propose a similar law to protect children, Mike Gatto, a California Assemblyman, is working now to make this law: <i>[N]o local statute, ordinance, or regulation, or administrative action implementing a local statute, ordinance, or regulation shall prohibit or restrict the practice of male circumcision, or the exercise of parental authority with respect to the same.</i>

    Ironic, no? That lawmakers would restrict the "right" of adults to: "remove part of a child's genital anatomy, thereby causing him pain and suffering and restricting and altering his natural behaviors, simply to suit the lifestyle, aesthetics or convenience of adults."

    It's almost as if some adults are intent on stalking, bullying, disempowering, violating children. The compulsion to circumcise makes me feel quite ill.

  • Yes about phimosis:
    http://www.jurology.com/article/S0022-5347(05)63612-9/abstract termed "infrequent but important complication" circumcision can cause phimosis

  • Here's a simple rule — don't let anyone near you or your children's genitals with sharp objects. Having important parts of your genitals amputated is not a good thing. How hard is that to understand?

    ~Barefoot Intactivist

  • One more thing. The comments section appears to be under attack by Jake Waskett. Everyone should know that Jake is a notorious circumfetishist (ie he has a sexual fetish for genital cutting) who has dedicated his life into convincing others to have themselves and their children circumcised. He also makes thousands of edits to circumcision-related pages on Wikipedia, ensuring balanced information is always deleted. More here: http://circleaks.org/index.php?title=Waskett

    Jake appears to be having a hard time coming to grips with the modern world turning away from this barbaric act. The idea that he may have made a mistake by letting part of his penis be amputated is too much for Jake to handle.

    ~Barefoot Intactivist

    • Jake Waskett says:

      I see you're still substituting smear tactics for debate, Barefoot.

      • (last year) "Top Norwegian doctor wants circumcision phased out" http://theforeigner.no/pages/news/top-norwegian-doctor-wants-circumcision-phased-out/
        NORWAY – Professor Trond Markestad, head of the Norwegian Medical Association’s (NMA/Den Norske Legeforeningen) ethics committee, would like to see it replaced. It's inappropriate. “It’s against important medical ethics and is unnecessary. There’s no medical reason for having it done, it’s painful for some days afterwards, and there’s a possibility of complications,” Kirschner thinks the issue of circumcision is all part of what is a general trend of medical ethics against the practise of mutilating the body, combined with the individual rights of children.
        “The medical community believes circumcision harms the rights of children. I’d like it more if they discuss how else their rights are often harmed, what with maltreatment, child pornography etc.”
        He suggests the health authorities should man themselves up and follow the advice given to the Directorate of Health ten years ago by committees he led. (Wise words here Jake)

        Sept.2011) "Norway Ombudsman argues minimum circumcision age" http://theforeigner.no/pages/news/norway-ombudsman-argues-minimum-circumcision-age/
        Children’s Ombudsman Reidar Hjermann believes that there should be an age restriction on circumcising boys. Children’s Ombudsman, Reidar Hjermann, told the Jewish Community in Oslo he suggested banning it entirely for the under-15s.

  • D Davies says:

    A few points:

    First I hate to see this discussion highjacked by religion. It's traditionally a practice in the Middle East and parts of Africa for monotheists: Muslims, Jews, Christians and others. Discussing it does not make one an anti-semite. Many people in each of those groups do not circumcise their children. It's an active discussion within those groups with web sites pro and con. Leave them to it. Their circumcision rates are dropping.

    Secondly, the issue that bothers me most, after the obvious rights of the child, is the inherent misogyny. Women do a very good job of making males. I've made three myself. Our work doesn't need to be corrected or fixed. Our babies are more than fine, just as we make them.

    On a historic note, circumcision was once very minor in some parts of the world, just a small nick (same with FGM). A secret sign in a secret place to denote inclusion in a group. Still not acceptable but radical FGM & MGM is a different matter.

    Both radical FGM & MGM are deeply rooted in patriarchy. The foreskin was thought to be analogous to the prepuce of the clitoris and therefore "feminine" and inferior. It had to be removed to make the male child fully a man. This also served to separate the male child from his mother, the "other". Girls clitorises were thought to be analogous to the penis (which they are) and to allow girls to keep them threatened and diminished the superiority of men. So children of both sexes were "corrected" to make them what was thought of as exclusively male (superior) or female (inferior).

    I think this is where a lot of the hysteria and volcanic anger in the pro-circ camp comes from. Leaving a boy intact is seen as an attack on patriarchy itself. Some people (even nominally non-religious people), unfortunately find that very threatening on a really basic level. The rights of the parents (particularly fathers) are seen as vastly superior to the rights of the child. Women and children are lumped together and seen as property of the males that "own" them. Taking into account the wishes or rights of mere property diminishes the role and rights of men over lesser, weaker individuals. Many women find it impossible to disengage from patriarchy for any number of reasons. One cannot underestimate how pervasive and powerful patriarchy still is. So while some of us are trying to have a 21st century discussion about the child's right to genital integrity, safety, later sexual pleasure and freedom from unnecessary surgery, our opponents may be hearing something else entirely. The reaction is for us to get smacked down in ways we find both surprising, confusing and illogical (which includes all the "cure in such of a disease" arguments).

    The current political climate is carrying us backwards into more and more expressions of patriarchy. I think the hysteria about gays is connected to this. Any lack of clear gender roles is a real threat. I read some right wing screed the other day where the writer was railing on about sex-change operations and how it was "against God" to "cut off healthy body parts". I don't think the writer would be upset one bit if the parts cut off were to enhance the individuals' "proper" gender (e.g. male breast-reduction surgery) or to circumcise a male baby.

    I dressed my sons and my daughter pretty generically as infants. It amazed me how many strangers would come up to me and demand to know if "it" was a boy or a girl. Just to mess with people I'd say, "Who cares, it's a baby". OMG, the reactions I got to that. Just unbelievable (mostly that I was a "bad" mother). My sister, on the other hand, piled so many gender-specific clothing items and accessories on my infant niece and nephew it's a wonder they ever got out of the house. (And just for the record, my adult children are all straight despite my "bad" parenting.)

    Which leads us to gender-assignment surgery which is practiced every day in the West. A gender is almost always "chosen" for intersexed children at birth, without their consent obviously. Like circumcision, it is better to wait until the individual can make that informed decision for themselves, if they want to be "assigned" at all. Likewise, baby girls have their clitorises surgically shortened if they are judged to be "unacceptably long" (showing beyond the vulva). Parents are actually grateful to the doctors for such barbarity. FGM was practiced on women on demand in both the US and Britain until the 1970's. So we're not out of the woods yet when it comes to genital integrity for children.

    You'll notice that when it comes to abortion, a woman's right to choose and thereby have control over her own body elicits a similar reaction as it is also a threat to patriarchy.

    You didn't really get in to the dangers of circumcision surgery. More infant boys die from this than in auto accidents, smothering incidents or SIDS/cot death; about 117 per year in the US. That's just the ones performed in hospitals. Also oft times "circumcision" on is not mentioned on death certificates, the death is attributed to hemorrhage or another secondary cause. Complications from circumcision surgery are not recorded (they should be), but serious harm is estimated to occur in about 1 in 1,000. We should demand that complete records be kept of deaths and complications from circumcision surgery so there's no more argument about this.

    So, a good rule of thumb is, first, do no harm. If you're not sure, don't do anything. Wait and leave it to your adult son. It's his body, his choice. Genital integrity for children is a basic human right. Circumcision is not ethical. Circumcision rates are dropping rapidly.

    P.S. I thought that paper you recommended from the Benatars was hopeless. Comparing circumcision to adult cosmetic surgery or medically needed amputations was a cheat and a diversion. They never addressed the human rights issue of genital integrity for children claiming that parents have the right to make such a decision for children. I don't think they do. It is not analogous to vaccination. The Benatars dismiss the sexual pleasure issue saying circumcised men can still function sexually so it doesn't matter. The "medical" benefits section was also a cheat. Use a condom for pity's sake. I wouldn't risk having sex with someone who was HIV positive just because he was circumcised. Who in the world would? The Benatars speak in such a false, soothing voice, as if to say, "There are no issues here, move along". They are firmly in the patriarchy camp.

    • Fully and beautifully said. Doctors cause medical costs to rise for everyone when they do medically unnecessary surgeries, follow the money. JAMA’s editor recently calls fraudulent medical research a ‘scar on the moral body of science’. I say children must be protected from branding their flesh and even more so from cutting off their flesh. Protection must extend to their genitalia or it is no protection at all.
      There is no reason for gender discrimination when considering child protection.

      Pushers of the cut contradict themselves saying "Circumcision is very important that you do it, but it's too UNimportant to consider not doing. It's an important decision for parents to make, but also "just a snip". It is "Get over it!" and being called "Anti-Semitic"." And talk about narcissism, tribal circumcision can't see the child in it at all… all they see is genitals that the tribe owns. I understand this better from the books The Munchausen Complex by Dr. Richard Matteolti; Marked in Your Flesh by Dr. Leonard Glick; Frenular Delta by Ken McGrath; Fine Touch Pressure Thresholds in the Adult Penis by Sorrells et al.; Sex As Nature Intended by O'hara.

      The intact penis feels stereoscopic pleasure coming from two pleasure sources, the ridged band playing with the corona. This is all destroyed cutting off all the ridged band and part to all the frenulum. Removing as much skin as retained has the strong potential to move the scrotum close to the body thereby interfering with the heat regulation of sperm and bring it closer to the now changed warmer denuded penis.

    • Theo says:

      Really nice! I think this and Anthony's post up there are enough to settle the matter.

  • SANDRA MCMORRIS says:

    Circumcision IS SEXUAL MUTILATION ! It serves absolutely NO purpose other than torture to a newborn baby. There are some who say its done for hygiene purposes since a man cannot possible keep his penis clean. I don't see them advocating cutting out assholes since some people have a problem keeping them clean. How about cutting off noses and ears because a kid will have a problem keeping them clean as well ?If men did not need the foreskin they would not be born with it or it would "shed" like snake skin at some point …don't ya think ?? Sheeple know NOT why they do what they do. Circumcision is SICKshyt.com.

  • Jake, taking a knife to a healthy baby is harmful.

  • And says:

    I was circumcised as an adult because of an accident and I suffered ED as a result. Then you wonder about foreskin restoration… http://erectiledysfunctioncialis.blogspot.com/

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