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To circumcise or not to circumcise

I came across this article last week that appeared in the BBC online news that surprised me greatly. The headline read, “German court rules circumcision is ‘bodily harm.’” What prompted the ruling was a case that involved a 4-year old boy whose circumcision led to medical complications. The complications were not specified.

The article went on to state the commonness of circumcision in both the Jewish and Muslim communities throughout Germany (and the rest of the world). As a result of the ruling, both religious groups are infuriated. The conclusion of the German court was that circumcision was deemed, “the fundamental right of the child to bodily integrity outweighed the fundamental rights of the parents.” This gave me great pause because the groups expressing anger and outrage over the ruling were doing so on religious grounds, and nowhere did I read that anyone was concerned for the babies’ health.

We have become accustomed to believing that male circumcision should be carried out for medical reasons. Until the 1970s doctors in Canada routinely performed male circumcision and parents saw it as part of the whole birthing process. Snip the umbilical cord, check for 10 fingers and toes, check all the organs and circumcise the baby boys’. Parents were told that it is to prevent health problems.

Over the last 30 years in many provinces male circumcision has steadily declined. In Nova Scotia, only 6.8% of parents consent to their son(s) being circumcised, on the low end and in Alberta, 44.3% on the high end. Overall, only 31.9% of Canadians report having their sons circumcised.

It is no longer covered by any provincial/territory health insurance. I wondered why coverage is denied if it is medically necessary, or so we have been conditioned to believe. So I did some digging.

I performed an informal poll. I asked people randomly their opinions about male circumcision and why they would or had it performed on their son. Most cited the medical necessity and to promote hygiene. “Dirt and sweat collect under the foreskin, and this can cause infection,” I was told by one person. From another, “Circumcising prevents cervical cancer.”

The only study I could find that concludes that male circumcision can help prevent cervical cancer in their female partners was performed in Uganda. Uganda has as much right as Canada to perform studies but for a country whose population is predominantly Muslim, meaning that male circumcision is carried out for religious reasons, I have to ask myself if the religious necessity in some way informed the results.

I dug a little further and found a site that trumped all of the myths about male circumcision. Intact America cites the Centres for Disease Control and the American Academy of Paediatrics as their sources. The three that caught my eye were the following:

Myth: Circumcision is recommended by doctors

Fact: No medical association in the world recommends male circumcision for medical necessity.

Myth: The baby does not feel pain

Fact: It is painful and analgesics only decrease pain and contrary to what some believe, babies, even newborns, feel pain.

Myth: Male circumcision prevents HIV

Fact: Only condoms prevent the spread of HIV and all other STDs

I have to admit that I am stumped on this one. I, too, believed that male circumcision is medically advised. If rates in both the US and Canada are declining as parents do their own research and learn what I just did in the span of half an hour, is it possible that the millions of male circumcisions performed throughout history have only been for vanity and are in fact mutilation of a child’s genitals?

Until next time,

Peace, love and vitamin C!



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