Male circumcision could be outlawed in Denmark

Via BigFred:

The Kristeligt Dagblad newspaper has reported that several parties in the Danish Parliament are considering legislation that would ban circumcision on boys as well as girls. After an intense week of discussions by MPs, it appears that the proposal for a ban covering both genders is gaining traction.[...]

At the centre of the debate is the question of religious freedom. Female circumcision was outlawed in Denmark because it was deemed a too-common practice among some Muslim immigrants. But Jewish tradition demands that boys be circumcised, and many Christians and Muslims support the practice as well. Denmark’s Ethics Council has criticised the practice, suggesting boys should wait until 15 to decide for themselves, the age at which a child has sole legal control over his or her body in Denmark.

I probably favor this ban, and think Jews and others should begin using alternative ceremonies. The main reason I say “probably” is that I wonder how effective the ban will be; if the only effect is to make religious minorities feel unwelcome while they have circumcisions performed anyway (either illegally or by making a day trip to Norway or Germany), then a program of pubic education to convince people to voluntarily move away from circumcision might be more effective.

(On the other hand, if an actual ban persuades all but the most orthodox members of religious minorities to leave their sons uncut, then good.)

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91 Responses to Male circumcision could be outlawed in Denmark

  1. 1
    Thene says:

    Bans on female circumcision in Europe commonly include outlawing sending a child abroad for the purpose of FGM. It’ll be interesting to see whether that carries over into this circumcision ban. It’ll also be interesting to see if this spreads across Europe, and where – will countries with stronger nationalist, anti-immigrant factions be the first to adopt bans?

  2. 2
    ballgame says:

    Good news; good post.

  3. 3
    Schala says:

    a program of pubic education to convince people to voluntarily move away from circumcision might be more effective.

    Nice play on words, though probably not intentional.

    I favor the ban. I also favor banning unvoluntary surgery on intersex infants to normalize them. Surgery should never be performed without consent, unless it is life-threatening (and in this case, it isn’t).

    This should be common sense. The rights of children to bodily integrity should not be compromised by religion, culture or norms. If they really like your religion – out of a sense of kinship, or something else, fine (this presumes consent, in teen years or older) – but coercing them to be a member of your religion “or else” and marking them as such irreversibly when they have no say, is outright torture.

    I don’t mind those ‘blood-letting cut rituals’ that are proposed as alternatives. Sounds much more humane.

    While the US has a ratio of circumcision of more than 50% on average, few countries even approach that (that I know of). Especially consider that there are remarkably few Jews in the US compared to the proportion of circumcision. (Wouldn’t it be a Jew country then, not a Christian one?)

  4. 4
    alex says:

    I really wonder why everyone here seems to support a ban on male circumcision. The arguments against female circumcision are obvious: it makes sexual intercourse painful or at least non-pleasurable, it’s generally performed on adolescents against their will, and it’s only uncommonly performed in a safe, clinical context. None of these are arguments against male circumcision.

    I also am confused by this: “but coercing them to be a member of your religion “or else” and marking them as such irreversibly when they have no say, is outright torture.” I would imagine that most of those who are circumcised don’t have it done for religious reasons. The use of the word “torture” likewise seems overblown. No man circumcised in infancy has any memory of the procedure.

    I’m just wondering- why does a ban on male circumcision make sense?

  5. 5
    Myca says:

    I’m just wondering- why does a ban on male circumcision make sense?

    Because it’s medically unnecessary genital cosmetic surgery?

    I mean, even if all of the drawbacks didn’t exist (and they do) . . . even if there were no downsides . . . in order to justify genital cosmetic surgery on an infant, I’d need sufficient reason, and right now, I don’t think that that exists.

    —Myca

  6. 6
    alex says:

    I looked back to a previous post on Alas from a little over a year ago to get a sense of context. I understand (although I don’t really agree with) arguments against male circumcision, but arguing for a ban is a little different. It’s a public policy. There’s a distance between convincing people that circumcision has drawbacks and persuading people that it has insufficient benefits on one hand and saying “good” when the state prohibits it on the other.

    I guess I was also looking for is something else. Partly, I’m curious as to how the argument that circumcision is an expression of patriarchy (I get that it comes from cultures that could easily be characterized as patriarchal, so perhaps I’m being obtuse) that hurts men.

    By the way, Myca, you say you aren’t convinced that there’s sufficient reason to circumcise. You seem pretty convinced that it isn’t, to the point that you support a ban. What convinces you? I get why someone would prefer that their own kids not be circumcised (and it seems like fewer and fewer Americans are doing so), but there ought to be a better argument than “it’s unnecessary and some people don’t like the results” for it to be made illegal.

  7. 7
    alex says:

    I get that I was being obtuse. Circumcision, along the Jewish model, gives men a unique covenant with God- clearly patriarchal.

    I also think that, as much as the news of this ban might cheer anti-circ folks here, it probably exists more for nationalist/anti-immigrant reasons than any of the concerns here. Northern Europe already has pretty low rates of circumcision by US standards, and it’s hard for me to see this as anything other than a way to force assimilation among Muslim immigrants.

  8. 8
    Ampersand says:

    (Wouldn’t it be a Jew country then, not a Christian one?)

    I assume this was an honest error, but just so you know: Many Jews, me included, associate the use of “Jew” as an adjective with how antisemites talk. The word to use as an adjective is “Jewish” or “Judaic,” not “Jew.”

  9. 9
    Ampersand says:

    Nice play on words, though probably not intentional.

    I favor the ban. I also favor banning unvoluntary surgery on intersex infants to normalize them. Surgery should never be performed without consent, unless it is life-threatening (and in this case, it isn’t).

    This should be common sense. The rights of children to bodily integrity should not be compromised by religion, culture or norms.

    The wordplay was indeed unintentional. (Oy.)

    I favor a ban on needless surgery to normalize intersex infants, too.

    Circumcision is a little different, because it’s so widespread, and because banning it can be used as a means of suppressing minority culture. It’s quite possible that a legal ban won’t have the effect of eliminating circumcision, but will instead make it more likely that circumcisions will be performed under poor conditions by people without sufficient training.

    I don’t know if that’s the case or not, especially in Denmark. But I don’t think we should ban circumcision as a matter of principle; we should ban it only if the ban will actually result in net positive results.

    Alex, I don’t object to circumcision on the grounds that it’s patriarchal, although I can see how an argument could be made. I object to it because I think that elective, permanent surgical changes to people’s bodies should happen only with their consent, and infants can’t consent.

    (I wouldn’t favor a ban on 18-year-olds choosing to get circumcised.)

  10. 10
    thebigmanfred says:

    Alex, I look at circumcision as a right to bodily integrity. Every person should have that right. Any medical procedure that’s performed on a non consenting person should have a sound medical basis. Circumcision doesn’t. If a person wants to get circumcised when they’re older, that’s they’re choice, but otherwise it shouldn’t be the choice of the parents. The keyword to all of this is choice. A human being should be afforded the choice to have this procedure done to them.

    You seem pretty convinced that it isn’t, to the point that you support a ban. What convinces you?

    I can’t answer for Myca, but here are some of my thoughts. Foreskin plays a vital part in a mans sexual response. Foreskin has a lot of nerve endings, 10,000 – 20,000. Clearly the circumcised males are missing these nerves. Not only that the nerves on circumcised male are not a sensitive. This is important because circumcised males are losing out on some sexual sensation. Besides that foreskin offers protection and it lubricates during intercourse or masturbation. Here’s a link for more info: The Foreskin Advantage.

  11. 11
    thebigmanfred says:

    Ampersand, first thanks for the post.

    I don’t know if that’s the case or not, especially in Denmark. But I don’t think we should ban circumcision as a matter of principle; we should ban it only if the ban will actually result in net positive results.

    This isn’t something I had thought about, I just kind of assumed a ban would be a good approach, so interesting point. Now, I don’t know what to think about the ban at the moment.

    Your point about education in the post is spot on, and I think should be done regardless if it’s not already. I also think there’s a bit of monetary incentive to circumcise, so getting rid of those incentives might be another way of reducing it without a ban.

  12. 12
    Phil says:

    [...] there ought to be a better argument than “it’s unnecessary and some people don’t like the results” for it to be made illegal.

    alex, I think a sufficient reason would be: It is wrong to cut off a healthy, irreplaceable part of a human’s body without their permission.

    Since infants cannot give permission, and children are not yet capable of understanding the permission that they give, it is not inappropriate to prevent parents from amputating parts of their children’s bodies.

    An appeal to tradition is a logical fallacy. Thus, it’s not enough to come up with an argument to defend routine infant circumcision. The practice needs to be justified in the first place. We’re not horrified by circumcision because it’s been going on for years. But if parents were amputating their child’s eyes, either for profit or for religious reasons, we’d be horrified. We’d find it ghastly.

    Of course, you can argue that eyes are more important than the foreskin. Perhaps there are other body parts that you think make a better analogy. Pinkies? A fingertip? The little toe? Earlobes? Whatever the case, the choice of specific body part is immaterial. What you think about an infant’s body parts doesn’t matter. What I think doesn’t matter. And what their parents think shouldn’t matter.

    Because the only person qualified to decide how important a body part should be is that person. And an infant isn’t able to make that decision.

  13. 13
    Schala says:

    I assume this was an honest error, but just so you know: Many Jews, me included, associate the use of “Jew” as an adjective with how antisemites talk. The word to use as an adjective is “Jewish” or “Judaic,” not “Jew.”

    Yes, sorry I didn’t know and made sloppy usage of my English as well.

    Any circumcision done for ritualistic or religious reasons or heck cultural reasons, should be reduced to that ‘nick cut’ alternatiuve that does not remove any tissue and only causes a little blood to flow, nothing more. If this prevents rogue or underground circumcision (which I think it would for the most) it should be fine.

    You could compare doing a nick-cut such as this, to piercing the ears of a female infant or child: It barely hurts at all, and leaves a hole so small it’s insignificant. If done young enough, it obviously won’t close, but it’s small enough to not be visible for most people at talking distance, and done on tissue lacking much nerves.

    For the same reasons of going underground due to parents seeking the surgery at all costs, I also favor a ban on FGM with the only alternative being a nick-cut performed by a professional. Many seem to want an outright ban on FGM, but it has the same issue of parents going underground and having it performed under bad conditions.

    Surgery to normalize intersex infants is pretty widepsread to all who have a genital configuration appearing different from standard male or female. This is obviously patriarchal in origin, though second wave feminism gave fuel to the practice when it adopted John Money’s “blank slate at birth” theory of sex identity and used it to promote that socialization was everything, that biology had no influence whatsoever.

    Besides the loss of sensation in adulthood because of normalization surgery, there’s also the issue of “getting it wrong” and cutting off a future male’s penis, or sewing shut a future female’s vulva. The loss of sensation is because the tissue to work with is so small, and the sexual sensation considered unimportant – the cosmetic appearance being everything. Many intersex people feel violated about it even if the doctors “got it right”, because they never agreed to it.

  14. 14
    Gillian says:

    Good law and I hope it passes through. Nobody should be able to modify another’s body to bend to their religious beliefs – this includes parents and their babies. Children aren’t parental property and haven’t chosen their religion.

  15. 15
    PG says:

    Surgery should never be performed without consent, unless it is life-threatening (and in this case, it isn’t).

    Really? I think it should be part of medical ethics when dealing with minors to make a cost-benefit analysis: does this provide a medical benefit greater than the cost of pain/ discomfort and potential regret of the minor when s/he becomes an adult. A categorical ban on all surgery on persons unable to consent, unless it is to address a life threatening condition, is rather extreme.

    For example, a cleft palate is hardly life threatening — at worst, it can cause ear infections that may lead to deafness — but I certainly think that the medical benefits outweigh the cost. Cleft palate surgery routinely is performed on infants. Do you really think that it shouldn’t be performed until the child is old enough to express a preference, and that in the meantime, the child should suffer ear infections and difficulties (though again, not life-threatening ones) in eating?

  16. Pingback: Male Circumcision Banned In Demark? : Wired For Noise

  17. 16
    Danny says:

    The arguments against female circumcision are obvious: it makes sexual intercourse painful or at least non-pleasurable, it’s generally performed on adolescents against their will, and it’s only uncommonly performed in a safe, clinical context. None of these are arguments against male circumcision.
    1. Does this mean you wouldbe against a ban on female circumcision if it were performed under the same sanitary conditions as male circumcision?

    2. Girls are generally adolescents when they are circumcised remember that most of those boys are still babies. You mean to say that a newborn boy somehow has the ability to prevent his circumcision?

    No man circumcised in infancy has any memory of the procedure.
    Does that mean if were possible to erase the memories of the girls that are circumcised it would be okay?

    It sounds like your resasoning here is “out of sight out of mind”. As long as its sanitary and he doesn’t remember it it’ll be fine. I know I don’t the idea of having something taken from me when I’m not able to consent or not consent to it being taken.

    As for the religious aspect I’ll ask the same question here that I asked over at GC:

    Why is the religous practice of chopping off part a boys penis okay but the tradition (and I say tradition because I don’t know if those that practice it do for religious reasons or not) of cutting off a part of girls reproductive organs is a crime against humanity?

  18. 17
    PG says:

    Danny,

    What, no response to the fact that FGM “makes sexual intercourse painful or at least non-pleasurable”? Aren’t you going to argue that male circumcision causes male infants the kind of crippling, often life-long pain suffered by girls who undergo FGM?

    Girls are generally adolescents when they are circumcised remember that most of those boys are still babies. You mean to say that a newborn boy somehow has the ability to prevent his circumcision?

    No, but he also can’t ask for it. A newborn can’t express a preference. He can’t say that he’d prefer to retain his foreskin, or that he thinks it will be too much trouble to keep clean and he’d rather have it lopped off. Despite the general anti-circumcision sentiment in this thread, male circumcision isn’t wholly without benefits, in contrast to FGM. FGM is almost always performed when the girl is more than old enough to be able to formulate and express a preference.

  19. 18
    Carol says:

    Saying that because something isn’t remembered isn’t torture is pretty spurious. There is plenty of evidence that circumcision is painful (consider as an adult a piece of skin the size of the palm of your hand cut off.) It can interfer with successful breastfeeding (as can cleft palate. I for one consider that a serious consequence) And there are definite complications including infection and loss of the penis. At the very least, it should not be paid for by health insurance.

  20. 19
    Danny says:

    PG:
    What, no response to the fact that FGM “makes sexual intercourse painful or at least non-pleasurable”? Aren’t you going to argue that male circumcision causes male infants the kind of crippling, often life-long pain suffered by girls who undergo FGM?
    Actually that was just my mistake on not just copying the piece I needed. I was not aware that two things had to be wrong for exact same reasons for them to be thought of as wrong.

    Despite the general anti-circumcision sentiment in this thread, male circumcision isn’t wholly without benefits, in contrast to FGM. FGM is almost always performed when the girl is more than old enough to be able to formulate and express a preference.
    Apparently you’re the type of person that has no problem with making decisions for other people as long YOU don’t think they are being hurt and/or if YOU agree with the possible benefits. And by benefits are you talking about protection from STDs? If so then by redering sex painful to women they won’t want to have it as often therefore reducing their risk of STDs. (I’m striking that as a way to show that I truly do not believe that.)

    So in conclusion you don’t have a problem with boys being circumcised because there is no painful sex, no memory of the event, and they can’t formulate consent? That almost sounds like you’re saying that since female circumcision is worse then male circumcision its okay if all those baby boys get cut. They should just “man up” right?

    (Amp if this breaks your comment policy I will be more than happy to retype it in an appropriate manner.)

  21. 20
    Schala says:

    Really? I think it should be part of medical ethics when dealing with minors to make a cost-benefit analysis: does this provide a medical benefit greater than the cost of pain/ discomfort and potential regret of the minor when s/he becomes an adult. A categorical ban on all surgery on persons unable to consent, unless it is to address a life threatening condition, is rather extreme.

    For example, a cleft palate is hardly life threatening — at worst, it can cause ear infections that may lead to deafness — but I certainly think that the medical benefits outweigh the cost. Cleft palate surgery routinely is performed on infants. Do you really think that it shouldn’t be performed until the child is old enough to express a preference, and that in the meantime, the child should suffer ear infections and difficulties (though again, not life-threatening ones) in eating?

    I don’t know about cleft palate. Considering it affects suckling behavior, wether breastfeeding or bottle-feeding, it would affect it negatively and perhaps prevent nourishment, so it can be life-threatening to an infant. There also are no benefits to having a congenital malformation. The foreskin, like the clitoral hood, are no malformations, they serve purposes.

    Intersex conditions are not malformations in the same way, they often are partly or completely formed genitals of either male, female, or both external genitals at once. Even doing a karyotype and a MRI scan (to look for gonadal type) has not reduced the error margin of assignment. It’s still guesswork. Plus as I said before, it cuts immature tissue and negates future sexual sensation by not caring about it at all.

    Had I been born with a 1 inch clitoris, I would have liked it staying the same, prejudice later in life or not – at least I’d be intact. I’d have the choice to do something about it later (and it should be covered then, when consent is possible). A clitorodectomy doesn’t care that it’s removing over 8000 nerve endings., it’s just “shortnening it to acceptable lengths”. And yes, while FGM is illegal, FGM is still performed routinely on intersex girls, it’s still considered largely a “matter of social urgency”, remnant of John Money, even though he himself died almost 3 years ago.

    I still stand by a ban on MGM of any kind, FGM, and ‘IGM’ (intersex). They’re very very rarely done for health reasons. I don’t think any purported benefits in Africa (because of outright epidemic) is a good measure of it, especially considering the US have one of the highest rates in first world countries when most men are circumcized (and yes gay men are circumcized too, if someone was to bring that argument).

    If for ritual or tradition reason, I’d allow those nicks blood-letting rituals, just so the issue wouldn’t go underground, as I said before. I say outright ban for people who do it for simple sheep reasons (to be like “everyone else”), they would most likely abandon the idea if it became too hard to get it.

  22. 21
    Mandolin says:

    Not all forms of FGM cause crippling, life-long pain. Clitorectomy, without forms of infibulation, does not necessarily do so, and there are even less extreme forms, which involve only the removal of part of the clitoris (sometimes with the removal of the labia minora).

    I’ve written about why common forms of male and female circumcision are not directly analagous, but one shouldn’t make assumptions about their relative severity that require fiddling with teh facts.

  23. 22
    RonF says:

    Female circumcision was outlawed in Denmark because it was deemed a too-common practice among some Muslim immigrants.

    I thought it was outlawed because unlike male circumcision, female circumcision pretty much destroys the ability of the subject to enjoy sex. Also, as practiced, it’s a much more extensive mutilation.

  24. 23
    Schala says:

    Not all forms of FGM cause crippling, life-long pain. Clitorectomy, without forms of infibulation, does not necessarily do so, and there are even less extreme forms, which involve only the removal of part of the clitoris (sometimes with the removal of the labia minora).

    The one used on intersex infants considered girls at birth, who get a clitorodectomy, often lose the whole glans clitoris out of it “because its too long”. It’s not done ritually, or (with the intent) to prevent sexual function, and its done in generally good conditions – and it still sucks for the victims of it.

  25. 24
    thebigmanfred says:

    PG:

    Despite the general anti-circumcision sentiment in this thread, male circumcision isn’t wholly without benefits, in contrast to FGM.

    Out of curiosity PG what are the benefits of medically unnecessary male circumcision?

  26. 25
    PG says:

    Danny,

    Actually that was just my mistake on not just copying the piece I needed. I was not aware that two things had to be wrong for exact same reasons for them to be thought of as wrong.

    I don’t think so either, but you certainly seemed to be doing your best to say that FGM and male circumcision were wrong for the exact same reasons, in order to ensure that people who think of FGM as wrong would carry that judgment over to male circumcision. Why use a rhetorical tactic and then complain when someone points out that you have used it incompletely?

    Apparently you’re the type of person that has no problem with making decisions for other people as long YOU don’t think they are being hurt and/or if YOU agree with the possible benefits.

    By the contempt you express for the idea that any person would make decisions for another person, I am guessing that either you do not have custody of a minor, or that minor has no constraints on his or her behavior. Every competent parent has to make decisions for her children based on her analysis of the costs and benefits to the children, particularly when the children are too young to provide much input.

    And by benefits are you talking about protection from STDs?

    No. Try to read my comment completely before responding. “He can’t say that he’d prefer to retain his foreskin, or that he thinks it will be too much trouble to keep clean and he’d rather have it lopped off.” Having dated men both cut and uncut, I can say that it does seem to make some difference in genital cleanliness even for guys with otherwise similar grooming habits.

    So in conclusion you don’t have a problem with boys being circumcised because there is no painful sex, no memory of the event, and they can’t formulate consent? That almost sounds like you’re saying that since female circumcision is worse then male circumcision its okay if all those baby boys get cut. They should just “man up” right?

    Again with the failure to actually read my comment. I didn’t say that I have no problem with male circumcision, or that I have no problem with is for the reasons you describe (especially the “no memory of the event” — where did I say anything about that?). The totality of my comment was pointing out where your efforts to compare male and female circumcision fell short.

    Schala,

    Considering it affects suckling behavior, wether breastfeeding or bottle-feeding, it would affect it negatively and perhaps prevent nourishment, so it can be life-threatening to an infant.

    Cleft palate is not life-threatening in the West. I suppose that if an infant were in a situation where she received minimal care, the slight adjustments require to feed her versus the more standardized effort necessary for the other kids could mean that the cleft palate was the difference between life and death (e.g., if she were in an orphanage in a poor country). But if a parent refused to get a cleft palate corrected, no physician would try to force the matter through a court (which physicians routinely do for genuinely life-threatening matters). My husband’s first serious girlfriend had a minor cleft palate which her parents didn’t correct, though she did so when she became an adult.

    Mandolin,

    Not all forms of FGM cause crippling, life-long pain. Clitorectomy, without forms of infibulation, does not necessarily do so, and there are even less extreme forms, which involve only the removal of part of the clitoris (sometimes with the removal of the labia minora).

    Yes, but some do. Danny was arguing a parallel between male and female circumcision. Is there a form of male circumcision commonly practiced anywhere in the world that has an effect on boys comparable to what these girls suffer?

  27. 26
    PG says:

    thebigmanfred,

    The World Health Organization (WHO; 2007), the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS; 2007), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC; 2008) state that evidence indicates male circumcision significantly reduces the risk of HIV acquisition by men during penile-vaginal sex, but also state that circumcision only provides partial protection and should not replace other interventions to prevent transmission of HIV.
    http://www.who.int/hiv/mediacentre/MCrecommendations_en.pdf
    http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/resources/factsheets/circumcision.htm
    Higher rates of sexually transmitted genital ulcerative disease, such as syphilis, also have been observed in uncircumcised men.

    However, I would consider this to be relevant mainly for people living in countries with high HIV infection rates. In the U.S. and other wealthy nations, the medical cost of circumcisions, though low, probably outweighs the medical benefits.

    I can’t tell if I am more amused or disturbed by Danny’s apparent idea that women who are subjected to FGM are likely to have much choice in whether they have sex or not.

  28. 27
    thebigmanfred says:

    PG, I’ve heard some people have problems with the way those studies were conducted, particularly ones that were conducted in Africa (most of these seem to have been conducted there). I’ll search for some of the links and get back to you on what I find.

  29. 28
    Caroline says:

    This is a blog by a lawyer that explains very well the problems with the African studies
    http://www.circumcisionandhiv.com/

    These are some sites run by Jewish people who favor an alternative ritual called a Bris Shalom
    jewishcircumcision.org
    jewsagainstcircumcision.org

    Regarding Denmark, none of us live there so it is probably hard for us to know what the mood is like there and what they should do. As for the United States, over 36 states still reimburse routine infant circumcision through Medicaid. This is a gross misappropriation of funds that are extremely precious right now and should ONLY be used for necessary medical treatment of people in need.

  30. 29
    Schala says:

    I don’t think so either, but you certainly seemed to be doing your best to say that FGM and male circumcision were wrong for the exact same reasons, in order to ensure that people who think of FGM as wrong would carry that judgment over to male circumcision.

    I don’t necessarily see something wrong with this approach. When people in Society A see behavior B as horrible and behavior C as acceptable and sometimes even desirable, it does not follow that behavior C is beneficial. It might help, in those case, to give people reason to believe that C is just as horrible as B, but that they’re just used to it as socially tolerated that they are blind to it.

    You knew that widely done circumcision was started out of anti-masturbation ideas? Canada is pretty much spared from that attitude and has a very similar religious make-up (much of it is Christian). I’d say that Canada’s general position regarding such matters is a lot less anti-sex, a lot more “Live and let live”. Canada’s general attitude is less that gays don’t deserve to live or such, and there’s not going to be a Proposition 8 here, let alone a mandatory circumcision measure.

    The reduced risk in HIV is not worth it, especially considering if one person considers themself now immunized by said circumcision – and not needing to take other precautions, like condoms. The cleanliness bit is laughable. My hygiene’s never been the best – mainly due to high depression – yet I’ve never ever caught an infection, and I am intact. If I was adamant about the cleanliness bit, I could very well wait til 15 and get it done then. I doubt it matters much beforehand.

    Add on top of the depression bit that I am disgusted at the thought of touching myself there, for what should be obvious reasons, and I sometimes either intentionally forego this part, or forget it, because I don’t really care. Still no issue.

    I also don’t like the idea of brushing my teeth, but I won’t advocate replacing teeths with false ones that I can put in a glass just to favor the cleanliness bit, and would rightly oppose someone seeking to enforce this on children.

  31. 30
    Joe says:

    PG -

    While it is true that those organizations are currently upselling circumcision in Africa, it is important to understand those claims in the context of the history of male circumcision. Up until about 100 years ago, circumcision was exclusively the domain of religion. However over the past 100 years, for reasons I can’t begin to figure out, there have been a endless stream of claims regarding the prophylactic effects of circumcision. From curing masturbation and epilepsy and now we’ve inevitably reached HIV. The usual cycle is a claim is made, typically with regard to the most headline grabbing disease of the day. It is usually a trivial benefit, can be realized through less invasive means, or more often an illusion and the claim which is later disproved. Then the cycle starts again. That is male circumcision in a nutshell. Most of the researchers who try and prove a benefit are in the US by the way.

    For example, while some of the data in Africa claims to find slightly higher levels of STDs in intact vs circumcised men, a recent New Zealand study published in the March 2008 Journal of Pediatrics, “Circumcision and Risk of Sexually Transmitted Infections in a Birth Cohort” by N. P. Dickson, T. Van Roode, P. Herbison and C. Paul, J Pediatr 2008;152:383-7, shows that circumcision does NOT prevent STDs. These findings are consistent with recent population-based cross-sectional studies in developed countries and found that early childhood circumcision does not markedly reduce the risk of the common STIs in the general population in such countries. Read that one here [tinyurl.com/5vmmup] [tinyurl.com/llr7v] [tinyurl.com/56vpf4] [tinyurl.com/6ot38y]. Dickson followed his cohort for 32 years. In a 2005 article, Dickson et. al. also looked specifically at HSV.[tinyurl.com/5q826o] Following a birth cohort of boys to age 26, they tested for HSV serologically and found no association with circumcision and HSV. These results were similar to a separate serological trial conducted on a clinic population India.

    It is interesting to point out that the US, where perhaps a bit over 80% of the sexually active men are circumcised, has the highest rates of all STDs in the industrialized world [tinyurl.com/9bdqd8]. In fact not long after the African trials were completed, the Australian Federation of AIDS Organizations in their July 2007 statement said: “Male circumcision has no role in the Australian HIV epidemic”, “African data on circumcision is context-specific and cannot be extrapolated to the Australian epidemic in any way.”, and perhaps their best observation “The USA has a growing heterosexual epidemic and very high rates of circumcision” [tinyurl.com/5gofa9]. Now I think that the US, from an anthropological point of view, has more in common with Australia than Africa. And I noticed that you did point that out but I think that upselling circumcision is a bad idea for Africa too.

    In Africa, there is a very real chance that people will misinterprets any protection, should it actually be real, with complete protection. There is a lot of anecdotal evidence that this is happening already. And it is very unlikely that even if properly implemented there will be any impact[tinyurl.com/9jl25o].

    Circumcision has heretofore had no positive benefit for almost anyone. There are few true medical needs for circumcision. The prophylactic medical case for routine infant circumcision is a flimsy house of cards and enough is enough. It is time that we stop routine infant circumcision; there is no benefit and there is no rational reason to continue it and no rational thinker can defend it. Infant or child circumcision is a human rights abuse plain and simple; once a boy becomes an adult if he is so inclined, if he perceives a benefit, he is then free to be circumcised. Go Denmark! I hope they pass this.

    I’ll add as an aside, the Europeans aren’t the only ones looking at a ban. Last year the Australian Medical Association put its support behind a ban on male circumcision. At this point they are still in the ‘discussion’ phase. Hopefully, they’ll put something forward sometime soon [tinyurl.com/6e43rh].

  32. 31
    Tara says:

    It is difficult for me to see the harm imposed by male circumcision as sufficiently grave to make it worthwhile to make it impossible for religious Jews to live and practice in Denmark.

    (I’m talking about Judaism because I know more about it, not to the exclusion of anything).

    I just am not persuaded that millions of Jewish men suffer, and have suffered for thousands of years, in the manner of intersexuals who underwent ‘sexual-differentiation’ surgery or girls who are genitally mutilated.

    That’s not to say that it’s inherently a good thing (I’m also not persuaded by that). But I think there should be really strong reasons for making it impossible for Jews to share a country with gentiles.

    Yes, it’s possible that over time Jewish practice will change, but history shows that the attempt of gentile majorities, power structures, governments, kings, etc, to use coercion to affect Jewish practice have not resulted in the general advancement of human rights, either.

  33. 32
    thebigmanfred says:

    PG

    Apparently others have given out info. I think they’ve provided decent material, so I won’t bother.

  34. 33
    Schala says:

    That’s not to say that it’s inherently a good thing (I’m also not persuaded by that). But I think there should be really strong reasons for making it impossible for Jews to share a country with gentiles.

    An alternative surgery I spoke about at least twice in this thread now, has been proposed to counter rogue FGM (in bad conditions, and removing all sensation), a blood-letting cut that does not remove any tissue.

    The same could be done to people of Jewish faith who perceived circumcision as necessary (I heard at least dissent on that, if marginal), without removing sexual sensation.

  35. 34
    PG says:

    Joe,

    However over the past 100 years, for reasons I can’t begin to figure out, there have been a endless stream of claims regarding the prophylactic effects of circumcision. From curing masturbation and epilepsy and now we’ve inevitably reached HIV.

    Er, who in the West has been all that concerned about curing masturbation in the last 50 years or so? Circumcision rates in the U.S. increased as people got less uptight about sexual matters like masturbation, going from about 30% in 1932 to 85% in 1965. Also, did the claims about masturbation and epilepsy include studies published in medical journals, or were they along the lines of “If you douche with Coke after sex, you won’t get pregnant.”

    while some of the data in Africa claims to find slightly higher levels of STDs in intact vs circumcised men

    We may have different ideas of what ‘slightly’ means. Some of the studies have found such a disparity — uncircumcised men appearing twice as likely to contract HIV as circumcised men — that they were halted because it’s unethical to continue a study if there appears to be an intervention that makes a big difference in health outcomes. The studies included men who volunteered to have circumcisions as adults because of the possibility of reducing their HIV risk. I think it’s worthwhile to continue doing the studies — it’s not as though doing them involves performing circumcisions on non-consenting infants. If it turns out that circumcision does help to prevent HIV / other STDs, then parents can weigh the cost-benefit of the procedure, as they do with any other procedure

    In Africa, there is a very real chance that people will misinterprets any protection, should it actually be real, with complete protection. There is a lot of anecdotal evidence that this is happening already.

    What is your “anecdotal evidence” that there is any more of this than of “if you sleep with a virgin, it’ll cure AIDS”? If the studies showed higher infection rates among men who weren’t circumcised compared to those who were, and you don’t believe the circumcision had anything to do with it, then you have to detect a hidden bias in the study. But if the men thought they might be protected by the fact of circumcision, surely that should have made them more inclined to take risks with their sexual health, and thus more likely to get HIV than the men waiting to be circumcised — yet that’s not what happened.

  36. 35
    Schala says:

    What is your “anecdotal evidence” that there is any more of this than of “if you sleep with a virgin, it’ll cure AIDS”?

    Lack of condoms as much as there is here, and a general attitude that it’s not needed (or the rate of transmission wouldn’t be so horribly high over there).

    If it turns out that circumcision does help to prevent HIV / other STDs, then parents can weigh the cost-benefit of the procedure, as they do with any other procedure

    What other procedure removes a functional healthy part of an organ as a prophylactic measure against the consent of the one targeted?

    My getting antibiotics because my parents thought I should see a doctor about x or y disease is in no way equivalent to me getting a piece of flesh cut-off for probable possible future benefits.

  37. 36
    Danny says:

    I don’t think so either, but you certainly seemed to be doing your best to say that FGM and male circumcision were wrong for the exact same reasons, in order to ensure that people who think of FGM as wrong would carry that judgment over to male circumcision.
    For some of the exact same reasons they are both wrong. And why shouldn’t such judgement be carried over? If two things are wrong for the same reason then they are wrong for the same reason.

    Every competent parent has to make decisions for her children based on her analysis of the costs and benefits to the children, particularly when the children are too young to provide much input.
    True what I’m saying is that when it comes to something as big as circumcision I think its best left up to the boy in question to decide when he grows up (unless there is some danger to his life). Now of course all decisions can’t be left open ended like that (like where they go to school, what foods they eat, etc…). I mean what’s wrong with just leaving the foreskin alone and letting him decide for himself at adulthood?

    Yes I did read your comment, just wondering if you were talking about other benefits too.

    The totality of my comment was pointing out where your efforts to compare male and female circumcision fell short.
    Help me out here. Are you just trying to correct the parallel I was making or are you trying to claim that there isn’t one, or its wrong to try to make one, etc…?

  38. 37
    thebigmanfred says:

    PG:

    If it turns out that circumcision does help to prevent HIV / other STDs, then parents can weigh the cost-benefit of the procedure, as they do with any other procedure

    I still say the decision shouldn’t be left to the parent, even if circumcision does prove helpful in preventing HIV/other STDs. A child just isn’t likely to face any immediate situations to get any STDs. Circumcision would only primarily play a part in the child’s adulthood. So why not let the child decide? It’s not a situation like immunization, where a parent has to make a decision because a child is likely to face diseases immediately. It’s not a situation like the majority of other surgical decisions, in which surgery is performed because of a need at the moment. Circumcision in the majority of cases doesn’t have a sense of urgency.

  39. 38
    Anon says:

    I used to work as an allied health care worker in a children’s hospital in the NICU, and often worked with neonates.

    Have any of you ever seen a newborn get circumsized? I get that they don’t remember it, but it is obviously an unnecessary and traumatic thing. Even with topical anesthetic like lidocain, the infant is strapped into a circ board which is in and of itself incredibly traumatic. I had to put kids through a lot of painful and scary procedures for life-saving reasons. It made my skin crawl to witness it in an infant who didn’t need it done.

    Also, I’ve seen my share of botched or infected circs. Yes, they are rare, but the rate is actually a slight bit higher than the rate of UTI in intact children. It is kind of like saying this to parents: “To prevent the 3 or 4 % chance that your son might get a UTI from being intact (which most likely can be prevented through proper hygiene), let’s do this elective surgery that runs a 3 or 4 % chance of infection.”

    Also, cleft palates cause a lot of problems early in life that can affect a child’s development throughout life. Feeding and getting proper nutrition is a big issue. This can throw a kid off the growth chart and may affect motor skill development. Speech and language acquisition can be delayed. Hearing can be impaired. Infections are more common and harder to get over. Comparing cleft palates to circumcision does not make any kind of logical sense.

    Okay, now for a little anecdotal evidence which is why I went anon here when I usually don’t. I’m a North American female who did not even know what an intact penis really looked like until I was an adult. Even the Anatomy and Physiology books showed circed penises. I dated all men with circed penises and never thought much about it.

    Then I met my current partner, who is European and intact. Now, I don’t mean that this issue is a big, make or break deal or the only reason why I’m with him or anything like that. Far from it. But (after my initial “that’s pretty weird!” reaction) it is definitely what I would so crudely call “an upgrade” if you will. I joke that it is like going from Windows to Mac. Not sure how to describe–well, okay. It self-lubes, it doesn’t require the same amount of–shall we say–force or friction. It, um, does its thing more smoothly and is “self-ribbed.” The advantages of an intact penis make me wonder how it got to be that anyone circs for reasons they aren’t religiously bound to. (I think it started in North America to somehow keep boys from masturbating. That really worked, I bet.)

    I’d be, well, disappointed if he decided to circ or if somehow in the future I had some occasion to fall in love with a circed guy. Again, it wouldn’t be a deal breaker, but them intact penises have definite benefits.

    I’m sure this is somewhat of a personal preference issue, however…it seems to me that it is not something that parents should be deciding for their unconsenting infants. I mean, you are hacking of a part of their body for no good reason when they are two days old, for god’s sake, and they will never be able to have an opinion on it again.

  40. 39
    Anon says:

    I failed to address the HIV issue above. The others have done so for me, though. First, condom use and education is much more effective than circumcision in HIV prevention. Recomending circs in Africa as a way to prevent HIV spread is much more about the lack of education and resources there than that circing is the cure-all answer to HIV.

    I kind of see it like this. If I were born to a mother with a history of breast and/or ovarian cancer and was found to have the gene related to higher risk of these cancers, should my parents decide to give me a hysterectomy and mastectomy at birth? Should all females have their breasts cut off because they might get cancer? Breasts aren’t necessary for survival. We won’t remember it.

    Should we take every baby’s appendix out to prevent future appendicitis? (That surgery is getting easier all the time with less risks. It is much less risky to do it before infection occurs than during active infection.) Should I get my toe cut off because it might get gangrene someday?

    Again, there may be legitimate reasons to do some of these things prophylacticly, but it should not be decided without a person’s consent unless the morbidity or mortality is immediate and eminent. There are gray areas here in discrete situations, of course. But routine infant circumcision ain’t one of them.

  41. I wish I could remember where I read this, but it seems to me I read somewhere that there was a time when Jewish circumcision was considerably less radical than it is now, that it involved taking only a small piece of the foreskin, and that we came to the practice we have now of removing the entire foreskin because Jewish men were, in certain circumstances–and now I am thinking maybe it was ancient Greece during athletic competitions–tying their foreskins up somehow to hide the fact that they were circumcised. If I can find the reference, I will post it.

  42. 41
    Mandolin says:

    “Is there a form of male circumcision commonly practiced anywhere in the world that has an effect on boys comparable to what these girls suffer?”

    The answer to that is basically no, but bifurcation is a weird/interesting exception.

    I remain firm by the assertion I’ve been making for years that it’s incredibly misleading and inaccurate to refer to FGS by a single acronym when it describes an enormous range of practices, both in cultural significance and physical impact. What the Kikuyu do is not what is done in Ethiopia is not what is done occasionally in the Phillipines, and these problems need to be solved with different tactics. I’m sick of having people only refer to infibulation when it’s convenient, and having MRAs tell me periodically that FGS is really similar to male circumcision because it involves “only” the removal of the clitoris.

    I mean, it’s fine to have an umbrella term like FGS, but when people don’t know that what’s under the umbrella is varied, then conversations get irritating. It’s like when people refer to “Aboriginal culture” or “Native American culture.” Bleh.

  43. 42
    Mandolin says:

    Also. We police threads about female circ to avoid topic drift onto male circ. Maybe we should try to keep this one on track about male circ.

    Male circumcision may or may not provide a small amount of protection against STDs. However, that does not make the practice acceptable or moral. Condoms provide a MUCH better protection against STDs, and concentrating on making those available to people who need them would be a much better use of time and resources.

    Additionally, the removal of the foreskin is the removal of a sensitive part of a sexual organ that exists for the bearer’s pleasure. It is not appropriate to remove a functional, sexual part of a human being’s body without the bearer’s permission, particularly when the situation in which it is supposedly of medical value to undergo the irreversible procedure (sex) won’t be undergone until the patient can at least discuss the procedure coherently and express an opinion as to whether they’d like to have their naughty bits chopped up or not.

    The problem of bans pushing FGS underground have existed as long as there have been bans on FGS. I don’t know whether or not these problems would extend to male circumcision. The cultural attachment to FGS involves not only its ritual and cultural significance, but also entanglements with colonialism and the need to re-establish African identity as separate from western domination. I understand that the Jewish people have some of these feelings of being othered, and existing within systems created by a dominant racial other — and so some Jewish families might react the way some African families have. Maybe. Although I’d be more willing to bet that Jewish families with strong beliefs in circumcision would leave the country altogether.

    But gentile families can certainly not be expected to react to a ban that way. As far as I can tell, they lack the necessary motives to go to the trouble of moving circumcision underground in large numbers, particularly if it were to involve putting their infant boys in unsanitary or medically unsavory situations in order to have the circumcision performed.

  44. 43
    Froth says:

    Clitoridectomy and circumcision are not equivalent, because the one involves the removal of the main pleasure centre and the other does not.

    There may well be arguments against circumcision – indeed, I think there are – but conflating it with clitoridectomy is not helpful.

  45. 44
    PG says:

    Froth,

    Clitoridectomy and circumcision are not equivalent, because the one involves the removal of the main pleasure centre and the other does not.
    There may well be arguments against circumcision – indeed, I think there are – but conflating it with clitoridectomy is not helpful.

    Agreed, which is why I critiqued Danny’s post in the first place.

    Re: the comparison of male circumcision to preemptive hysterectomy and mastectomy: you cannot bear children once you have a hysterectomy, and you cannot breast feed (which provides tremendous benefits to children even in wealthy countries, and in places without clean water may save their lives) once you have a mastectomy. This — or appendectomy on an infant, or cutting off a toe for fear it might someday get gangrene — is comparable to some nerve endings, the loss of which doesn’t seem to have prevented the overwhelming majority of men from enjoying sex quite a lot? Sorry, I am not pro- male circumcision, but this is getting utterly ridiculous and such comparisons don’t help make the case for a ban.

    Again, there may be legitimate reasons to do some of these things prophylacticly, but it should not be decided without a person’s consent unless the morbidity or mortality is immediate and eminent.

    Back to the cleft palate thing: in the West, you will not die due to a cleft palate. You may not do as well as you would otherwise, but it’s not going to kill you. If you condition non-consented surgery on its being life-saving, cleft palate surgeries won’t get performed until 18 or whenever you want to set the age of consent.

  46. 45
    Danny says:

    PG:
    Sorry, I am not pro- male circumcision, but this is getting utterly ridiculous and such comparisons don’t help make the case for a ban.
    See this is where you lose me. Certainly the processes themselves are not the same (and I don’t think I ever said so but if my words came across that way it was not intentional) but how is it ridiculous to to make parallels about why one would think they are both wrong? Neither adolscent girl nor newborn boy have the chance to give or not give consent. Both procedures make life changing differences. Both procedures carry a chance of long term damage (yes adolescent girls have a greater risk but male circumcision does have risks as well).

  47. 46
    Mandolin says:

    Danny,

    The reason that a lot of feminists are touchy about comparisons b/w male circumcision and FGS is that they’ve enocuntered a lot of bad arguments to that effect, from people who want to minimize the effect of FGS, prevent or make more difficult activism about FGS, or otherwise derail feminist conversation.

    I do believe it is possible to make limited comparisons, as long as one is extremely explicit about the comparisons’ limitations. However, this is a poisoned well, and as a line of argument it may never regain the effectiveness it could have had if it hadn’t been so often misused.

  48. 47
    PG says:

    Danny,

    Both procedures make life changing differences.

    What is the routinely “life changing difference” made by male circumcision? I never have encountered a man who has said that circumcision changed his life for the worse (admittedly I know very few circumcised men who can remember a pre-circumcised life, but we’re discussing a ban on infant circumcision, not on voluntary circumcision by adult males). They don’t seem to suffer continuous pain or to have had impeded sexual lives. A group that made sex painful and undesirable for men probably has a short-lived existence, unless it’s some sci-fi fantasy of a female dominant society with male slaves who are cruelly circumcised to ensure they don’t experience sexual pleasure and thus will remain under the owners’ control.

    I have encountered women who have said that certain forms of circumcision have changed their lives for the worse. Groups can make sex painful and undesirable for women so long as women do not hold enough power in that culture to refuse sex and thus reproduction.

    Again, why not argue for what is wrong with male circumcision on its own terms instead of making exaggerated comparisons to female circumcision? The set of problems you describe with male circumcision — the infliction of pain on a minor unable to consent; the lack of medical benefits; the risk of medical costs due to infection; the loss of a piece of the body that never will grow back; etc. — are all bad things in themselves. They don’t somehow gain the quality of being bad things only to the extent that they are similar to what happens with female circumcision.

    It reminds me of the Vatican’s reference to “concentration camps.” Israel’s treatment of Gaza is bad, but seriously, why go there? Can’t we acknowledge that the situation in Gaza violates human rights law without pretending that Israel is herding Palestinians into gas chambers?

  49. 48
    Schala says:

    They don’t somehow gain the quality of being bad things only to the extent that they are similar to what happens with female circumcision.

    The problem is people usually don’t care about the rational, logical arguments against, they need to be emotionally swayed, and something they are utterly against (FGM) can convey that its equally wrong, even if not as equally damaging.

    Much like bullying, people think its normal, acceptable, and part of a normal boy’s childhood to be bullied by others, in school and with friends at home. Why this attitude that violence against boys is okay? What gets them thinking is to compare it to violence against girls, because this society is very protective of them. It gets their emotions out and they stop seeing it as traditional and thus acceptable. That or they get really out-there argument to argue that bullying is normal.

  50. 49
    PG says:

    If part of people’s strong opposition to FGM is based on how damaging it can be, something that is less damaging won’t engage that response unless you engage in exaggerations like Danny’s about how circumcision is “life changing.”

    I agree that it’s a good idea to utilize emotional responses, but that would work better if the seriously anti-male circumcision folks took a page from the abortion prohibitionists and video-taped what is done to a baby during a circumcision. Anon’s comment about strapping the baby into a board and so forth makes me feel much worse about male circumcision, and more inclined to speak up about its cruelty, than some absurdly stretched comparison to FGM does.

    Much like bullying, people think its normal, acceptable, and part of a normal boy’s childhood to be bullied by others, in school and with friends at home. Why this attitude that violence against boys is okay? What gets them thinking is to compare it to violence against girls, because this society is very protective of them.

    I guess my parents and most parents I know aren’t part of society, then, because they’re pretty accepting that bullying among female siblings — including some violence so long as no one gets really hurt — is part of a normal childhood.

    I bullied my little sister terribly and she seems to be OK; she’s even said that because I bullied her so much at home, when she started a new school and kids tried to pick on her, she didn’t care because she’d gotten so much of it from me. Which of course made her instantly popular, because nothing is cooler among adolescents than someone who says “F– you, I don’t care what you think.” When she had to write an essay for college admissions about someone who had been an intellectual influence on her, she wrote about how my refusing to explain things for her and telling her to go look it up (usually with the endearment, “Stupid”) caused her to become more curious about the world and willing to learn about it through books. (Lest you think this a symptom of sibling Stockholm Syndrome, I assure you that she does not idolize me in any way — every time we meet, she complains about how poorly I’m dressed and how lazy I am.)

  51. 50
    Danny says:

    I think this is will go offtopic if I continue so (as long he doesn’t mind) I’m gonna borrow Barry’s other space to continue this whole “exaggeration” thing.

  52. 51
    Joe says:


    PG Said:

    Er, who in the West has been all that concerned about curing masturbation in the last 50 years or so? Circumcision rates in the U.S. increased as people got less uptight about sexual matters like masturbation, going from about 30% in 1932 to 85% in 1965. Also, did the claims about masturbation and epilepsy include studies published in medical journals, or were they along the lines of “If you douche with Coke after sex, you won’t get pregnant.”

    Oh no, these are actual verifiably claimes made by the experts of their day and published in the relevant medical journals. Though from past to present they are all as spurious as the ‘douch with coke’ example you provide. Some examples include:

    “In cases of masterbation we must break the habit by inducing such a condition of the parts as will cause too much local suffering to allow the practice being continued.”, On An Injurious Habit Occasionally Met with in Infance and Early Childhood The Lancet 1860, Vol. 1, pp. 344-345

    “I refer to masturbation as one of the effects of a long prepuce [foreskin].”
    The Value of Circumcision as a Hygienic and Therapeutic Measure, New York Medical Journal 1871, Vol. 14, pp. 368-374.

    “It is generally accepted that irritation derived from a tight prepuce [foreskin] may be followed by nervous phenomena, among these being convulsions and epilepsy.”, Universal Circumcision Journal of the American Medical Association 1914, vol. 62, pp. 92-97

    You can read these and many of the other historical claims at this youtube video: [tinyurl.com/7oxd8s] or you could read all about them in Robert Darby’s A Surgical Temptation: The Demonization of the Foreskin and the Rise of Circumcision in Britain. [tinyurl.com/86fzkd] another good site [tinyurl.com/9s7pwb]

    PG Said:

    We may have different ideas of what ’slightly’ means. Some of the studies have found such a disparity — uncircumcised men appearing twice as likely to contract HIV as circumcised men — that they were halted because it’s unethical to continue a study if there appears to be an intervention that makes a big difference in health outcomes. The studies included men who volunteered to have circumcisions as adults because of the possibility of reducing their HIV risk. I think it’s worthwhile to continue doing the studies — it’s not as though doing them involves performing circumcisions on non-consenting infants. If it turns out that circumcision does help to prevent HIV / other STDs, then parents can weigh the cost-benefit of the procedure, as they do with any other procedure

    Actually, slightly only applies if you were to believe the claims made. As I’ve mentioned, other analysis have shown otherwise, this for one: [tinyurl.com/9jl25o]. There is also a large body of work that has failed to show any prophylactic benefit of circumcision in most countries, links provided previously. Again, it’s worth pointing out that the US has far higher rates of all STDs of the entire industrialized world, and not just incrementally higher, by many times in most cases.

    And I disagree with your interpretation of the bounds of parental rights, even if there was a slight degree of protection shown, parents don’t have the right to alter their infant sons penis. A prophylactic STD benefit can be realized when the child is old enough to give consent. It is not as if there aren’t better ways to prevent STDs and what approach to use should be up to the individual. To make such a claim [allowing the parents to make this choice] implies that the foreskin has no value. That is a decision only the owner can make.

    Parents would have the right to make that decision if it was one that was necessarily medically therapeutic. The Canadian medical ethicists, Dr. Margaret Somerville[http://www.intact.ca/canary.htm], perhaps said it best:

    “A common error made by those who want to justify infant male circumcision on the basis of medical benefits is that they believe that as long as some such benefits are present, circumcision can be justified as therapeutic, in the sense of preventive health care. This is not correct. A medical-benefits or “therapeutic” justification requires that:

    1. Overall the medical benefits should outweigh the risks and harms of the procedure required to obtain them.

    2. That this procedure is the only reasonable way to obtain these benefits.

    3. That these benefits are necessary to the well-being of the child.

    None of these conditions is fulfilled for routine infant male circumcision.”

    PG Said:
    What is your “anecdotal evidence” that there is any more of this than of “if you sleep with a virgin, it’ll cure AIDS”?

    You just have to read the news from time to time. Stories, like this one in The Times – Rwanda by David Gusongoirye,
    Nothing can fight HIV/AIDS better than discipline, are not unusual. Speaking of the new campaign a man was quoted as saying:

    “Mister, these Aids people have spoken for long about fighting the disease, but they had never come up with a practical solution as good as this one. Don’t have sex, don’t do this, don’t do that. Eh, man, how can a young man such as I forfeit sex, eh? And the condoms – where is the sense in putting on a condom when you are having sex? Sex is about feeling, and so no young person likes them!”

    Perhaps this explains their eagerness to get circumcisions because now they believes they have a “natural condom”.

    The hidden biased is in the history of circumcision itself. Circumcision is a self perpetuating act, like abuse. The number one reason (the number one risk factor) for circumcision is that the father is circumcised. Those from circumcising cultures are the ones most likely to dig and dig for a reason. That is why most of the literature in favor of circumcision comes out of the US. Nearly all of the researchers in Africa were from, and funded by, the US. They also have a long and pretty well documented history of promoting circumcision. Keep in mind that when any type of research is done, it is in the interest of the researchers to prove what they set out to prove. Failure doesn’t lead to accolades, more money, and notoriety and in this case defenseless boys and hapless men getting circumcised.

    Recently, there was an interesting article in AIDSMAP which discussed the fact that it has been shown that implementing a mandatory annual screening regime in places like South Africa would cause the number of new AIDS cases to drop by 95% in a little over 10 years. This would be routine testing and, when someone is discovered to be positive, counseling and drugs immediately. Eventually, you could eliminate HIV in the vast majority of places. I was stunned at how sheepishly the news was discussed. As opposed to circumcision where only a few short days after they announced the result they were looking at moving from voluntary African adults to defenseless children. I think that circumcision is being given a pass on the ethics test simply because of its religious ties. Think about it if they said, well yes we could try circumcision but we are going to limit it to adults for ethical reasons, what do you think the opinion of Americans would be to hear that or even Jewish people for that matter? If there were no religious ties, I doubt it would have ever been suggested or thought of as a treatment for anything. Further, I have little doubt that it would have been ban in many countries by now.

  53. 52
    Joe says:

    PG Asked For it:

    I agree that it’s a good idea to utilize emotional responses, but that would work better if the seriously anti-male circumcision folks took a page from the abortion prohibitionists and video-taped what is done to a baby during a circumcision.

    I don’t necessarily think this is the best approach since the pain or trauma associated with the procedure shouldn’t be a reason not to perform it. Eliminating that doesn’t change this to an ethically justifiable choice.

    However, if you would like to see each of the common methods you can read about them here. WARNING EXPLICIT CONTENT.

    And you can watch the procedure here: infant

    Five year old.

    WARNING EXPLICIT CONTENT. Oh and be sure to turn up your speakers.

  54. 53
    Joe says:

    Apparently I linked the wrong PDF. Here are the techniques for your viewing pleasure. Again EXPLICIT CONTENT.

  55. 54
    Sailorman says:

    I fully agree that parents should not be allowed to do things which could endanger their children and which their children do not understand and consent to.

    Unfortunately, I have so far been unsuccessful in obtaining support for my “keep your child the fuck out of church until they’re 18!” campaign, the “keep that fucking TV turned off!” campaign, my “stop feeding your two year old Coke!” campaign, my “people who buy sexy clothes for their 4 year olds should be shot” campaign, and various other campaigns of a similar nature. Pity; it would be a better world if everyone just listened to me.

    Fortunately for Danes, they have managed to find an area which, although it functionally affects children on a comparatively minimal basis (if at all), is the darling of activists. It’s also a wonderful place to be really ‘alternative.’ Sort of like anti vaccination and “MMR causes autism,” but with the added benefit that it really appeals to anti-semites as well. (Not that there are any of those in Europe, though. And it probably happens to be entirely unrelated to Cast Lead, i assume, even though there is some pretty glaring overlap timing wise.) Nifty!

    I suppose the operative question for me is simple: Assume that there are no benefits to circumcision. Should it be illegal? [shrug] I don’t see why it should. We reserve illegality for things with much higher risks, usually. Circumcision isn’t that big a deal. And of course, that’s assuming that there are zero benefits to outweigh the minimal costs.

    I know, i know, we’re all allowed to aim for whatever targets we want. Sure. But then again, the focus on circumcision in particular seems more than a bit odd: not much damage, some theoretical (small percentage wise but large individually) benefit; part of the religious ritual of a minority group. I hate to say it but if the goal is really “protect kids” this seems pretty low down on the list, unless you attach some unreasonably high value to a bit of penile skin.

  56. 55
    Schala says:

    Giving coke to children, or buying them sexy clothes, or bringing them to church doesn’t do irreversible physical damage to a healthy tissue.

    I’ve drunk my fair share of Coke over the years, and I drink coffee mostly now. And it aint about to kill me, I’ll probably get lung cancer first, or get hit by thunder if I stop smoking. Bringing people to church? Well, I was, and I ended up rejecting Catholicism as incomplete (I like the “do unto others what you would have them do to you”). About sexy clothes, while in bad taste, it’s the media and pressure to be sexy from society that needs to change. A child can reject clothing or simply not wear it.

    It’s about doing an irreversible surgery on someone who cannot consent. I don’t want a ban on circumcision as a whole the same way I don’t want a ban on reassignment surgery. I want a ban on circumcision and reassignment surgery for those who can’t consent to it.

    It’s like saying: I don’t want a ban on sex, I want a ban on rape (non-consenting sex).

  57. 56
    thebigmanfred says:

    Sailorman:

    Sure. But then again, the focus on circumcision in particular seems more than a bit odd: not much damage, some theoretical (small percentage wise but large individually) benefit; part of the religious ritual of a minority group. I hate to say it but if the goal is really “protect kids” this seems pretty low down on the list, unless you attach some unreasonably high value to a bit of penile skin.

    How do you know it doesn’t do much harm? There has be substantially less study on uncircumcised men in the west than circumcised men, since circumcision was more common. There are substantially less studies being performed to ascertain the harm of circumcision instead more studies are being performed to support the benefits of it.

    The goal is to give a male the right to consent to a procedure that has no immediate benefit to them as an infant. As always the issue is consent, whether or not the parents have the right morally to make this choice for their kids. I don’t see any morally justifiable position for parents to do so based upon the information currently available. It’s debatable that their are any medical benefits for circumcision, save for the most dire situations. If circumcision did prevent stds it’s still unclear as to why the procedure should be performed on an infant for medical reasons when it could just as easily be performed on a consenting adult later.

  58. 57
    Joe says:


    Sailorman Said:
    Assume that there are no benefits to circumcision. Should it be illegal? [shrug] I don’t see why it should. We reserve illegality for things with much higher risks, usually. Circumcision isn’t that big a deal. And of course, that’s assuming that there are zero benefits to outweigh the minimal costs.

    So let’s take that thought out a bit. Suppose some immigrant parents brought their new born child to its first pediatric well-child visit and at that appointment, asked that the physician cut off the child’s earlobes. Now, from a practical perspective it could be argued that such an operation carries less risk than circumcision, it can be done safer, and proabably wouldn’t be as traumatic. Earlobes also don’t perform any practice function. Now, the pediatrician (shocked at the request) goes on to explain there is no reason to do it, he won’t do it, and it is an unconscionable act. The parents explain that it is important to their religion, culture, and sense of aesthetics. They point out that they’ve had their earlobes removed and they are no the worse for ware. The physician persist and the parents drop it. At the next appointment, the doctor sees the child earlobes have been cut off. Now, do you really think, if such a scenario occurred in the US, that CPS wouldn’t be involved? That the child would likely end up in state custody and the parents might wind up in front of a judge?

    Now before you say that couldn’t happen, it almost did. You might be interested in reading about the Seattle Compromise. In a nutshell, Somali immigrant parents requested their doctors to circumcise their daughters. The Somali’s expressed how important it was to them for their religion, their culture, ect. The doctors resisted, the parents couldn’t understand why the would circumcise boys but not girls. The parents made clear that all they needed was a ‘symbolic cut’ a little nick, a little blood, if they couldn’t get it they would go back to Somalia where it would be more extensive. The physicians acquiesce and agreed to perform this procedure. When word got out the shit hit the fan and public pressure was so great that it was canceled. It isn’t clear what happen with the children, they may have faced a worse fate in Somalia.

    So should the hypothetical parents catch flack for cutting off their child’s earlobes? Should the very real Somali parents have been blocked and publicly admonished for seeking out a symbolic cut on their daughters? In the US, and most other western countries, female circumcision of any degree is prohibited. It doesn’t matter if it is important to your culture, religion, or anything. Don’t boys deserve the same protection as girls?

  59. 58
    Anonymous says:

    PG said:

    What is the routinely “life changing difference” made by male circumcision? I never have encountered a man who has said that circumcision changed his life for the worse (admittedly I know very few circumcised men who can remember a pre-circumcised life, but we’re discussing a ban on infant circumcision, not on voluntary circumcision by adult males).

    I have a friend who was circumcised in adulthood (because he had an infection). He reported a loss of sensation in the glans of his penis after it was routinely exposed to being rubbed against the cotton of his underpants during the course of ordinary life. He said that he had lost some sexual sensation as a result. He made it clear that the loss of sensation was not a result of the circumcision itself, but rather, was gradual as his penis became used to the daily insult which it had not previously experienced.

    I asked him about reparative methods. He said that he had looked into it, and there was one, but it was pretty impractical: essentially, it involved some kind of daily traction on the foreskin to stretch it gradually, and it took a very long time and was inconvenient and unpleasant. It had been done, but he had elected not to do it himself. I took him at his word and had no motivation to investigate further, so I don’t know if this representation is correct. For what it’s worth, he has been reasonably reliable in other matters.

    Also (and this is why I’m posting anonymously), my partner (female) has had circumcised and uncircumcised partners, and opined that there was a clear difference between the two in sexual sensitivity, and therefore in the degree of gentleness with which her own genitalia were treated. She has said that, everything else equal, she very much prefers that her sexual partner be intact.

    So, there you have some anecdotal evidence.

    Part of the problem with this whole discussion is that people, especially people with penises, tend to have a vested interest or ego involvement in promoting whichever condition they personally exemplify. It makes for strident personal arguments, rather than academic discussions.

    My personal opinion: absent actual danger to the individual which outweighs the danger of doing nothing, don’t perform any medical intervention on someone who has not consented, can’t actually consent, or can’t legally consent.

    The actual merits of circumcision, whether male, female, partial, total, or what-have-you, would seem to be totally beside the point, until they rise to the level of the criterion expressed in the previous paragraph.

  60. 59
    Individ-ewe-al says:

    I don’t think it’s relevant whether circumcision leads to better or worse sexual experiences. It’s really obvious that opinions vary between different individuals, and most people are generalizing from small samples. It would be nearly impossible to argue that parents should be making that decision for their infant sons anyway. Even the most optimistic proclamations about the health benefits are very slight compared to the risks and moral problems of unnecessary surgery on infants.

    The only relevant reason for infant circumcision is to follow a cultural / religious imperative. I think it’s pretty transparent that this proposed Danish law is an anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant measure (it will affect Jews as well, but I don’t expect that’s the intent). It’s politically problematic to enact a legal ban on a religious practice; remember that most non-Muslim Danish people are uncircumcised, so a lot of this is about assuming their European, Christian culture is superior to that of ethnic minorities, and trying to enforce conformity.

    Some people argue that circumcision is marginally beneficial, others that it is marginally harmful. In the American secular context, you’re balancing an arguable, marginal benefit against the definite harm of non-consensual, unnecessary surgery. But in the Danish Muslim context, you’re balancing the arguable, marginal harm of circumcision, against the definite harm of legally enshrining islamophobia. I can see why some might want to take that position, but it is only proportionate if you’re arguing based on the bodily autonomy of infants, and not if you’re arguing based on some spurious and anecdotal view that circumcised men enjoy sex less.

    Personally, I think that anti-circumcision people ought to be convincing Muslims to give up the practice, rather than banning it. (It goes without saying that such convincing has to be culturally sensitive, because otherwise it will be racist and also fail to work.)

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  62. 60
    Wilfred says:

    As a victim of Routine Infant Circumcision, I totally and fully support this ban, not only in Denmark, but in all countries.

    My parents had no right to deprive me of my healthy and functional foreskin. My mutilated penis carries the scar of their decision. My government (and society as a whole) failed to protect my rights.

    No child, irrespective of cultural, traditional or religious practice, should be subjected to this procedure. It is a basic human rights violation to subject a child to this (or any similar).
    Should the child, on attaining the age of consent, wish to honor the practices of their chosen religion or cultural tradition, only then, and with informed consent, proceed with and request his own circumcision.

  63. 61
    Joe says:

    This picture says it all.

  64. 62
    Danny says:

    This picture says it all.

    Yeah there’s no life changing there alright…

  65. 63
    FurryCatHerder says:

    I was going to make a snarky comment about how sad it is that billions of circumcised men are all impotent and incapable of enjoying masturbation, then I saw Joe’s video.

    I’ve been invited to a number of Brit Milah and I must say that none of them — absolutely ZERO — involved the brutality that the boy in that video was subjected to. If that’s the common procedure, yes, please outlaw it. The procedure, not the practice.

    Being a not-so-liberal Jew, I’m all for Brit Milah. And I’d suggest that any non-Jews who feel that their sons should be circumcised for whatever reason contact a mohel and spare their son what is apparently a fairly barbaric practice by non-Jews. A typical Brit Milah is like most other Jewish events — lots of people, lots of food, lots of stuff in Hebrew that some people won’t understand. But all that screaming and misery? G-d forbid.

  66. 64
    Schala says:

    Being a not-so-liberal Jew, I’m all for Brit Milah. And I’d suggest that any non-Jews who feel that their sons should be circumcised for whatever reason contact a mohel and spare their son what is apparently a fairly barbaric practice by non-Jews. A typical Brit Milah is like most other Jewish events — lots of people, lots of food, lots of stuff in Hebrew that some people won’t understand. But all that screaming and misery? G-d forbid.

    What does the procedure consist of in a Brit Milah?

    I still favor going for a nick that lets a bit of blood, and to leave it at that, no permanent damage whatsoever (physically, and if any psychologically: it ought to be a lot lesser as well).

    Neither I or my three brothers were circumcized, though we live in Canada. We’ve had no permanent marking of any sort. And I don’t think I was victim of unwanted surgery at/near birth to rectify genital ambiguity (though that would be likely even in Canada, were it “needed”). I doubt it was “needed” considering I don’t see any scars.

    I have a congenital malformation of the sternum called Pectus Excavatum (concave sternum). Being only cosmetic and not affecting my heart and lungs through my health (I doubt in-depht tests were done, it was only assumed it caused no issue because I was generally healthy), it was not treated. I’m also glad for that, even if it caused me to feel self-conscious.

    Since I transitioned, my malformation “caused” cleavage, ironically enough. Not that I oppose anyone wanting to fix it on themselves, but they should have a word in it if its cosmetic and not threatening their heart and lungs.

  67. 65
    Joe says:

    FurryCatHurder I actually don’t care much for the video. Like I said when I posted it, I don’t think what is displayed in that video should dictate whether circumcision is proper or not. If something is necessary, as in medically therapeutic, then a procedure needs to be performed but there is nothing that medically justifies circumcision. Nothing in infancy, childhood and almost never adulthood [though I have no problem with an adult wanting it done to themselves]. I’ve never been to a Brit Milah, and it’s the one religious event I would never attend. I can’t believe that when someone pierces a kitten, it is removed from the home and the owner is considered cruel. Or in many countries docking of tails and cropping of ears is illegal yet we think nothing of circumcising an infant.

    Schala the Brit Milah is performed using the Morgen Clamp technique demonstrated in the link here.

  68. 66
    Schala says:

    Schala the Brit Milah is performed using the Morgen Clamp technique demonstrated in the link here.

    Well, given it still cuts part of the foreskin, though not all of it, I still don’t agree it should be performed, for reasons I said at least 3 times already in this thread.

    Personally, I also don’t agree on piercings being done without consent, though I doubt a ban would work. I mean genital as well as the more banal ear piercings, done often on female infants or young children by their parents.

    I had my ears pierced a little bit before I turned 24, and again when I was 25, though if it had been proposed to me before, or I had wanted it from my own volition before, I don’t think someone who’s 12 is unable to consent. The first time was a mark of the start of my transition. The second time has no significance really.

    I had a friend (we lost contact) who told me she had her ears pierced as a baby, and since she was pretty young, just didn’t wear any rings (she didn’t like it), but the holes still stayed. Had she been able to consent at a reasonable age (like 12+), she would have no holes in her ears.

    To me it’s an issue of consent and body modification.

  69. 67
    Joe says:

    Schala Writes:
    To me it’s an issue of consent and body modification.

    This is exactly what the issue is, I agree completely.

  70. 68
    thebigmanfred says:

    Wikipedia has a lot of interesting things on the history of male circumcision. Some points:

    The 1st century Jewish author Philo Judaeus (20 BC-50 AD)[9] defended Jewish circumcision on several grounds, including health, cleanliness and fertility…… He also noted that circumcision should be performed as an effective means to reduce sexual pleasure: “The legislators thought good to dock the organ which ministers to such intercourse thus making circumcision the symbol of excision of excessive and superfluous pleasure.”

    The Jewish philosopher Maimonides (1135-1204) insisted that faith should be the only reason for circumcision. He recognised that it was “a very hard thing” to have done to oneself but that it was done to “quell all the impulses of matter” and “perfect what is defective morally.”….. He also warned that it is “hard for a woman with whom an uncircumcised man has had sexual intercourse to separate from him.”

    Robert Darby, writing in the Australian Medical Journal, noted that some 19th Century circumcision advocates—and their opponents—believed that the foreskin was sexually sensitive:

    Both opponents and supporters of circumcision agreed that the significant role the foreskin played in sexual response was the main reason why it should be either left in place or removed. William Hammond, a Professor of Mind in New York in the late 19th century, commented that “circumcision, when performed in early life, generally lessens the voluptuous sensations of sexual intercourse”, and both he and Acton considered the foreskin necessary for optimal sexual function, especially in old age. Jonathan Hutchinson, English surgeon and pathologist (1828–1913), and many others, thought this was the main reason why it should be excised.

    I just found these statements interesting. And in light of them, it boggles my mind that so many people think foreskin isn’t such a big deal for a male sexuality.

  71. 69
    J says:

    My son is intact, perhaps because my Bris was so brutal, leaving a mishmash of scar tissue and insufficient skin for erection. We were pressured to have him cut by a “doctor” and “nurse” but the psycho-sexual damage of circumcision, which tends to propagate the practice, didn’t work with me.

    It’s a brutal procedure no matter how it’s done. The medical excuses – for example reduction of cancer – can be put into light by remembering that neonatal vulvectomy is also medically beneficial (vulvar cancer is just as common as penile), the pain is not remembered, no medical study can prove that sexual satisfaction is reduced, and hygiene is made easier. Would you cut the skin from around your daughter’s clitoris?

    Denmark is way ahead of the tribal nations.

  72. 70
    sonya says:

    I see so many different viewpoints here about foreskin. I will tell you that from my experience, i avoid men who are not circumcised. it’s the horrible odor under the foreskin, and under the foreskin there’s usually a substance called smegma, a cheese like substance, it’s nasty, foul smelling. And even the men wash themselves the fish odor is still there. I was once with someone who was not cut, and during our intimacy together, i didn’t want to proceed with sex. he also refused to wear a condom. im sorry but i was not comfortable with that. I’ve heard terrible stories from women and few of my friends who had unprotected sex with men who are not circumcised, and got vaginal infections because of it. uncut penises can harbor pathogens, bacteria in a warm moist area under the foreskin. gross!

  73. 71
    Tamen says:

    Yes, smegma, a substance both sexes can produce. In males, smegma is produced and can collect under the foreskin; in females, it collects around the clitoris and in the folds of the labia minora.*

    Thank God that I don’t hear anyone here declaring a preference for women having been subjected to type Ia or type II FGM based on smegma or a disgust of fishy smell or the thought of bacteria flourishing in a warm moist area with plenty of folds.

    It’s not longer ago than 1958 when doctors in the US justified female circumcision because of smegma**

    * http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smegma

    ** http://www.noharmm.org/circumfemale.htm

  74. 72
    KellyK says:

    I think it’s kind of arrogant and entitled to expect that your sexual partner *HAVE PART OF THEIR BODY CUT OFF* for the sake of your pleasure. Certainly, people have every right to have sex, or not have sex, with whoever they want for whatever reasons they want. But the possible preferences of a future sexual partner is a really crappy reason to perform irreversible surgery on an infant who cannot consent.

  75. 73
    Robert says:

    “But the possible preferences of a future sexual partner is a really crappy reason to perform irreversible surgery on an infant who cannot consent.”

    I agree.

    Greatly reducing the boy’s chance of acquiring HIV, and quite possibly decreasing his female partner(s)’s chance of acquiring HIV, as well as other STDs, on the other hand, seems like quite an excellent reason.

    http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/resources/factsheets/circumcision.htm

  76. 74
    KellyK says:

    Robert @73, sure, if the kid’s in Africa. I don’t think a study carried out on a different continent, with different sexual practices and an AIDS epidemic is a valid comparison to countries like the US or Denmark. (AIDS prevalence was 0.2% in Denmark in 2009. There’s a country or two in sub-Saharan Africa where it’s that low, but the total prevalence for the region is 5%.)

    Even *if* the 44% reduction in someone’s chance of getting AIDS holds true in Europe or the US, in Denmark in particular, it would be a minor improvement in risk overall. The average lifetime number of sexual partners in Denmark is 9. So, if you live in Denmark, your lifetime odds of having sex with someone who has AIDS is 1.8%, or about 1 in 50. (I’m aware that I’m making an assumption based on overall population. It may be lower than that if people who are aware they’re infected aren’t having sex with anyone.) Reducing that by 44% changes it to a 1% chance.

    Those numbers don’t seem to merit irreversible surgery that has its own risks and possible complications, on someone who does not consent.

    Especially because children have sole legal control of their bodies at the age of 15 in Denmark and could make the decision themselves at that time.

  77. 75
    Robert says:

    As a male in a high-hygiene, low-prevalence country, I’m going to have to demur and say that a 44% reduction – hell, a 4% reduction – in my chances of getting HIV in exchange for a trivial and unremembered surgery is VERY WELL worth it.

    The consent issue is a non-starter. Babies can’t consent to anything; their parents or the state make a million decisions for them. We tolerate or even condone significantly worse things without a blink.

  78. 76
    Phil says:

    As a male in a high-hy

    giene, low-prevalence country, I’m going to have to demur and say that a 44% reduction – hell, a 4% reduction – in my chances of getting HIV in exchange for a trivial and unremembered surgery is VERY WELL worth it.

    If the surgery is indeed trivial, then what difference does it make if you remember it?

    We can debate about what the appropriate age of consent should be, but I’m sure no one on this board would argue that anyone should be having sex prior to their ability to make informed decisions. As such, isn’t it more reasonable to allow individual men to decide for themselves if they want irreversible surgery to reduce their risk of HIV?

    The consent issue is a non-starter. Babies can’t consent to anything; their parents or the state make a million decisions for them.

    That’s the point. That’s why it makes sense, under the law, to allow individuals to make decisions about permanent bodily alterations themselves. Because babies can’t consent.

    We tolerate or even condone significantly worse things without a blink.

    What are your examples here of things that are “significantly worse?” Are you examples also permanent?

  79. 77
    Robert says:

    “If the surgery is indeed trivial, then what difference does it make if you remember it?”

    It doesn’t. A and B, not A or B.

    “That’s why it makes sense, under the law, to allow individuals to make decisions about permanent bodily alterations themselves. Because babies can’t consent.”

    No, that’s why it DOESN’T make sense. Babies can’t consent, but there are many decisions which must be made. Which is why we vest the power to decide with their parents.

    “What are your examples here of things that are “significantly worse?” Are you examples also permanent?”

    How about “every single medical intervention made in a person’s life until they’re old enough to consent”? Are you under the impression that every surgical intervention presents itself as an absolute, immediate, this-must-be-done-or-baby-Phil-dies decision? Because they don’t. Should baby Phil get a new kidney? Should baby Phil get chemotherapy for his leukemia? Should baby Phil get the experimental vaccine? Should baby Phil get treatment X for condition Y?

    Some of these decisions are easy, some are no-brainers, but many are not (and even in some of the no-brainer decisions, parents with no brains are still allowed control of the decision: see, Jehovah’s Witness parents or Christian Science parents, among others). And in no case – not one case at all that I can think of – is the medical/legal/ethical answer “well, wait til Baby Phil is 18 and he can decide then”.

    There’s no coherent reason for carving out a circumcision exception to this overwhelming social consensus. If you disapprove of circumcision, then by all means don’t circumcise your own kids, and by all means use your freedom of speech to try to persuade other parents. The Jehovah’s Witnesses disapprove of kidney transplants, and are welcome to try to convince me not to give my kids one, but if they try to make it a matter of law, they can fuck right off.

    Same for the anti-circ folks.

  80. 78
    Phil says:

    How about “every single medical intervention made in a person’s life until they’re old enough to consent”? Are you under the impression that every surgical intervention presents itself as an absolute, immediate, this-must-be-done-or-baby-Phil-dies decision? Because they don’t. Should baby Phil get a new kidney? Should baby Phil get chemotherapy for his leukemia? Should baby Phil get the experimental vaccine? Should baby Phil get treatment X for condition Y?

    It’s really not clear what point you’re trying to make here, Robert. Your claim was that “we tolerate or condone significantly worse things without a blink,” but this passage does not make it clear what you meant.

    Are you saying it is worse that we tolerate and condone kidney transplants and leukemia for children than that we tolerate and/or condone infant male circumcision? Or are you saying that kidney transplants and leukemia are worse for children than circumcision?

    You seem to be saying that we (as a society) allow parents to decide whether a child receives necessary medical treatment. But that’s not really true. The more necessary the treatment, the less latitude that parents are given. Christian Scientist parents can and have been found guilty of felony child endangerment for withholding life-saving medical care from their own children.

    On the other hand, it would be inconceivable for parents to choose an elective, cosmetic organ transplant for their children. I cannot fathom that you are making the claim that parents could do this; you are surely aware that parents who chose to force a healthy minor child to undergo an organ transplant for non-medical reasons could face serious legal consequences.

    There’s no coherent reason for carving out a female circumcision exception to this overwhelming social consensus.

    What? You can’t be serious. Of course there are reasons for carving out circumcision exceptions.

    Okay, okay… I added the word “female,” which is not in your original comment that I was quoting, and I do not contend that female circumcision is the equivalent of male circumcision, even though both are inappropriate permanent bodily alterations forced onto children.

    However, you must concede that we actually DO make exceptions to the “parents get to decide everything for their children” rule, and the fact that “babies can’t consent” actually is relevant. Your argument is: babies can’t consent, and therefore parents get to make all decisions for them. That argument is bunk. There are decisions that we do not allow parents to make, nor should we. When an argument has been shown to be faulty, ethically, you should cross it off your list, and stop making it.

  81. 79
    ballgame says:

    Robert, the notion that infantile circumcision has been definitively demonstrated to reduce the risk of HIV transmission is bunk. The African studies so lovingly cited by the CDC page you reference have significant methodological problems. As I noted in a post over at Feminist Critics:

    [S]tudies of circumcision are not double blind and cannot be made to be double blind (even if the assignment to the test group and the control group is done randomly). The fact that the recipient of the procedure knows whether he has been circumcised introduces the very real probability that his behavior will be altered as a result. It cannot be known if the reduced incidence of HIV in the test group (itself rendered dubious by the premature termination of the studies) is a result of the biological fact of having been circumcised or the behavioral change induced by both the procedure and the fact that the participant knows his behavior is being evaluated.

    Moreover, attitudinal studies of African women show they’ve been influenced by pro-circumcision media and have a favorable view of the operation. It is entirely possible that the differing rates of HIV infection between the male test and control groups had nothing to do with the biological difference between being circumcised or uncircumcised, but was due instead to HIV-free pro-circumcision African women being more willing to have sex with circumcised men than non-circumcised men.

    Consider the following postulates:

    — A careful woman who is educated about STDs is less likely to be HIV positive than a woman who is either careless or uneducated about STDs.

    —An HIV positive woman is less likely to care whether her potential partners are HIV positive than a woman who is HIV negative.

    —In Africa, an educated woman is more likely to consider a circumcised male to be less risky for transmitting HIV than an uncircumcised one.

    I submit that all three of these are true, and if so, introduce the very real possibility that circumcised men are more likely to be chosen as partners by HIV negative women than uncircumcised men … which would completely invalidate the assumption that the differing HIV infection results between the test and control groups were caused by the biological impact of the circumcision procedure.

    As has been noted often enough, the industrialized nation with one of the highest rates of infantile circumcision is also plagued with an HIV infection rate much higher than most industrialized nations that do NOT routinely circumcise male infants. The CDC page you cite talks about the protective benefit of circumcision once you remove ‘confounding factors.’ I can’t help but wonder if one of those ‘confounding factors’ was rate of condom use. If so, that would be yet another significant error by the CDC. Consider these postulates:

    —Circumcision significantly reduces penile sensitivity. (It is a simple fact that it removes an enormous number of specialized nerve cells, so — ambivalent studies notwithstanding — this seems like an entirely plausible assertion to me.)

    —Men with reduced penile sensitivity are going to be more resistant to decreasing that sensitivity still further by wearing a condom.

    If those postulates are true, they would partially explain why the nation with one of the highest infantile circumcision rates also has one of the highest HIV infection rates, and would cast a great deal of doubt on the notion that infantile circumcision affords any genuine protective benefit on a population-wide level.

  82. 80
    Robert says:

    “It’s really not clear what point you’re trying to make here, Robert. Your claim was that “we tolerate or condone significantly worse things without a blink,” but this passage does not make it clear what you meant.”

    I mean that we allow parents an enormous amount of discretion when it comes to their children’s health and medical interventions. See the Alas thread here (http://www.amptoons.com/blog/2007/01/04/the-ashley-treatment-a-feminist-and-disability-rights-issue/) for an intervention about a billion times more serious than circumcision, where parents are allowed to do it.

    Yes, at the extreme – the kid is going to die – there are (sometimes) checks put into place on the parents. Sometimes. Do you not see how this devastates, rather than supporting, your contention that “as a matter of law” parents ought to be forbidden from the comparatively unbelievably trivial matter of circumcision?

    Ballgame, there may be methodological problems with those studies; I’m hardly an expert. But those are hardly the only pro-circ studies from the point of view of medical benefits. See http://www.circinfo.net/references-1.html for an absolutely massive list of medical papers and studies looking at the very wide range of circumcision benefits.

  83. 81
    Megalodon says:

    I mean that we allow parents an enormous amount of discretion when it comes to their children’s health and medical interventions. See the Alas thread here (http://www.amptoons.com/blog/2007/01/04/the-ashley-treatment-a-feminist-and-disability-rights-issue/) for an intervention about a billion times more serious than circumcision, where parents are allowed to do it.

    Yes, and it was subsequently determined that the procedure performed was illegal and was erroneously permitted by the hospital’s legal department.
    http://articles.cnn.com/2007-05-08/health/ashley.ruling_1_disabilities-cognitive-function-sterilization?_s=PM:HEALTH

    Yes, at the extreme – the kid is going to die – there are (sometimes) checks put into place on the parents. Sometimes. Do you not see how this devastates, rather than supporting, your contention that “as a matter of law” parents ought to be forbidden from the comparatively unbelievably trivial matter of circumcision?

    That does not “devastate” his contention. Surrogate authority does not operate on some consistent spectrum in which it is wide and expansive for ostensibly small, trivial bodily changes and then only slightly decreases for large, drastic, emergency changes.

    Medical necessity or emergency can justify a litany of actions that would normally be considered drastic, radical or even dangerous. When there is no evidence of necessity or emergency, those options are no longer justifiable. If one’s minor female child has a life threatening uterine infection, it may be justifiable or even necessary to perform a hysterectomy in order to save her life, even if she is not competent to consent. It would not be justifiable to bring one’s healthy minor female child to the doctor and just ask for an elective hysterectomy to be done to her.

    Parents may have large (but limited) discretion over the care of their children during severe medical situations. However, it does not follow that parents therefore have absolute, unfettered discretion over non-emergency medical actions if they “only” involve comparatively minor bodily modifications.

    If a child has an aggresive gangrene infection in his/her limb(s), the parents may have their child’s limb(s) amputated, because that may be the most viable chance of keeping the child alive. However, if parents bring their perfectly healthy child to the doctor and ask to have part of his/her pinky finger amputated, that is not going to fly. Compared to losing one’s arm(s) or leg(s), losing part of one’s finger is comparatively minor. Nevertheless, trying to mutilate your child’s digits would normally be considered abuse and rightly so. The fact that parents can justifiably have more drastic things done to their children’s bodies under certain circumstances does not change that.

    Likewise, the fact that parents can sometimes have things done to their children which are more drastic than circumcision does not establish that circumcision is trivial and acceptable.

  84. 82
    Robert says:

    They broke the law (in a technical way) because they didn’t have a court order for the sterilization. That was only one (and not the most controversial) of the numerous interventions that were done.

    You may not think that this falls on a continuum, but a legal system that decides on the acceptability of procedures individually is going to be a system where the bigotries and prejudices of the local society, rather than a coherent theory of rights, determine what is legal. There’s a coherent theory of rights which produces a much more rational set of outcomes, and I think that on balance we’re a lot better off relying on that theory, than on the this-is-an-outrage-of-the-month.

  85. 83
    ballgame says:

    Robert, the author of that site you reference (circinfo) is an Australian molecular biologist named Brian Morris who could most charitably be termed a ‘circumcision enthusiast.’ He seems to have little regard for the niceties of the scientific method or for the sober-minded assessment of facts. It took me less than two minutes to stumble on a bald misstatement on that site:

    In the USA circumcision has always been common amongst the majority Anglo-Celtic Whites and also amongst Afro-American Blacks.

    !!

    People who’ve done even a minimum of research know that circumcision was unknown among (non-Jewish) whites until the late 1800s, and didn’t become “common” among non-Jewish whites until after the turn of the century. This kind of grossly misleading assertion appears to be Morris’s favored stock-in-trade.

    … an absolutely massive list of medical papers and studies looking at the very wide range of circumcision benefits.

    There has, indeed, been an incredible large number of attempts to retroactively justify a procedure which — when done on a healthy person — really has no medical justification. In Circumcision: The Painful Dilemma, Rosemary Romberg found such studies would often fail to take even the most rudimentary precautions against biased results (like excluding Jewish participants, since there wouldn’t be an adequate sample of non-circumcised Jewish men which could balance the comparison). The history of circumcision is replete with examples of bad science and gross distortion, and Morris appears to be only the most recent avatar of precisely this tendency among pro-circ advocates.

    The notion that there’s a ‘wide range of circumcision benefits’ is absurd.

  86. 84
    Megalodon says:

    You may not think that this falls on a continuum

    I actually do think that a continuum is involved, but not your version of the continuum, which seems to be “if parents have the power to sometimes make proxy decisions which have drastic, permanent, bodily consequences for their children…then parents must also have the power to make any proxy decisions which have less significant bodily consequences for their children.”

    but a legal system that decides on the acceptability of procedures individually is going to be a system where the bigotries and prejudices of the local society, rather than a coherent theory of rights, determine what is legal

    The “bigotries and prejudices of the local society” probably influence every legal system, whatever its foundational ideology.

    I do not think anybody ever suggested that the legal system base its prohibitions on some ad-hoc, case-by-case basis. Certainly not me. I believe in formulating “a coherent theory of rights” for children and applying it in order to check and regulate the custodial power parents have over their children. Parents should raise their children to the age of majority with their bodies unscathed and protected and should not make permanent changes to their bodies absent some vital, compelling, medical reason.

    If parents are going to exercise their surrogate power over their children’s bodies, we should ask “is this something necessary for the health and well-being of the child?” “if it is not necessary, what kind of consequences will it have?” “will it have severe or permanent consequences on the child’s body?” “what will happen to the child if the procedure is not done?”

    There are and will continue to be disputed and controversial cases under this framework. (ex: cochlear implants, reconstructive cosmetic surgery, etc.)

    There’s a coherent theory of rights which produces a much more rational set of outcomes, and I think that on balance we’re a lot better off relying on that theory, than on the this-is-an-outrage-of-the-month.

    How does your proposal comport with a “coherent theory of rights”? Nearest I can tell, you are saying that because parents can sometimes make permanent, physical alterations to their children’s bodies in some situations for some reasons, then parents can always make permanent, physical alterations to their children’s bodies, even when there is no urgent, vital reason. It can be for any reason or no reason, apparently.

    And since when was this based upon the “outrage of the month”? Are there loud and vehement anti-circumcision riots raging throughout our cities?

  87. 85
    KellyK says:

    As a male in a high-hygiene, low-prevalence country, I’m going to have to demur and say that a 44% reduction – hell, a 4% reduction – in my chances of getting HIV in exchange for a trivial and unremembered surgery is VERY WELL worth it.

    Great. Then it’s your right as an adult to go have it, if you haven’t already. Under full anesthesia, it will also be unremembered.

    I think the key difference here is that we disagree over who owns a child’s body. I believe the child does and their parents should avoid doing irreversible things to them without the slightest indication that it’s what the child wants, and with no benefits that can’t be conferred by doing the same thing voluntarily, later, if the child wants to.

    You, I think (and tell me if I’m wrong, please), feel that the parents should have free reign to do what they think is best, and what the child will think about it when the child is old enough to have an opinion is irrelevant.

  88. 86
    Eytan Zweig says:

    You, I think (and tell me if I’m wrong, please), feel that the parents should have free reign to do what they think is best, and what the child will think about it when the child is old enough to have an opinion is irrelevant.

    Parents have to make many, many decisions that affect a child’s future life at a point in life in which the child is not yet able to give input- where to live, what language to speak to them, what school to sign them up to, which family members they are given access to and which not, and many, many more. Some of these decisions may have permanent effects on the child’s body – what sports to allow/encourage them to play, what food to feed them, what vaccinations to give them. I’m not sure I understand the distinction between most of those decisions and circumcision from the point of view of the role of parenting.

  89. I think that approaching the question of routine medical infant penile circumcision from the point of view of the child’s ownership of her or his body is taking things from the wrong perspective. Ownership denotes responsibility and accountability in addition to the possession of rights, and an infant does not have those. I think the way to approach the question is to ask what the practice says about us as a culture and whether we want to be that kind of culture. I wrote a couple of posts about penile circumcision a long time ago. (Here and here.)

    Here is a quote from the first:

    Draw­ing, or at least explor­ing the pos­si­bil­ity of, a con­nec­tion between the con­tem­po­rary med­ical prac­tice of rou­tine infant male cir­cum­ci­sion and the fears about male sex­ual plea­sure that con­cerned peo­ple in 19th cen­tury United States is not to sug­gest that we are some­how still mired in obso­lete ideas about mas­tur­ba­tion or some such thing. Rather it is to ask a ques­tion about the rela­tion­ships between and among the male body, our cul­tural definition(s) of and pre­scrip­tions for a healthy (specif­i­cally sex­u­ally healthy) male body and how those def­i­n­i­tions and pre­scrip­tions struc­ture what it means for a man to have sex­ual plea­sure.

    And here is a quote from the second:

    Think objec­tively for a moment. Leave aside, if you can, the med­ical jus­ti­fi­ca­tions and ratio­nal­iza­tions, the myth­i­cal con­tent and his­tor­i­cal imper­a­tives we are taught to impose on the prac­tice of med­ical cir­cum­ci­sion, and think sim­ply in terms of actual events. A boy is born. Some­time between his entrance into the world and his first two weeks of life, he is taken away from his mother, strapped down with full phys­i­cal restraint in a room full of strangers, and his fore­skin, a sen­si­tive, func­tional and still devel­op­ing part of his body is pulled away from the head of his penis and ampu­tated – some­times with and some­times with­out anes­the­sia. He has given no con­sent, has no aware­ness of the med­ical and/or cul­tural con­sid­er­a­tions that moti­vate the pro­ce­dure, and he has lit­tle or no recourse, once the surgery has been per­formed, to change what has been done to him. There is no way to pre­dict what effect his cir­cum­ci­sion will have on him, but that is not the ques­tion we ought to be ask­ing our­selves. Rather, we ought to be ask­ing why we as a cul­ture so despise the body with which he was born that we need so rad­i­cally and so painfully to alter it, and then we need to be ask­ing if that is the kind of soci­ety we really want to be.

    I know that some people will argue that, of course, you can predict a loss of penile sensitivity, but whether that loss will actually signify later in life, whether it will be something that results in a less than satisfactory sex life, for example, is not possible to predict from the fact of the circumcision itself.

    It is tempting to keep the focus on the infant who is circumcised when talking about the necessity/desirability of infant penile circumcision, in part, because the infant’s body is the most easily sentimentalized thing in this discussion. Its pain, its agony, its suffering, and I do not want to trivialize or dismiss those things, but it’s really not the infant’s body alone that is at stake here. It is what we think about penises and men, and what it means for a body with a penis to be healthy and desirable, sexually and otherwise, and what the sexuality of a body with a penis ought to look like, independently of whether the person inhabiting that body is gay, straight, bi, trans or cis.

  90. 88
    Megalodon says:

    Ownership denotes responsibility and accountability in addition to the possession of rights, and an infant does not have those.

    Are you just saying that infants do not have responsibility and accountability, or are you also saying that infants do not possess rights? Just want to be clear, there.

    Even if the person or entity in question is not capable of “responsibility and accountability,” that does not delete the concept of ownership and entitlement from moral consideration. If a moral patient lacks the “responsibility and accountability” to independently control and dispose of things within his/her moral domain (his/her body and material property), surrogates are usually empowered to attend to those things, in some kind of “trustee” capacity. But the fact that they are “trustees” is usually supposed to limit and confine their control over those factors, since they are some kind of caretaker and not the ultimate “owner” in question.

  91. No, I think infants have rights, and I realize I could’ve been clearer about that. I just think it’s not the best way to focus this discussion.