June 9, 2015
De Blasio Puts Allies on Panel Hearing Circumcision Planby Michael M. Grynbaum
Mayor Bill de Blasio has installed numerous allies on the New York City Board of Health as his administration prepares to present a controversial plan that would ease the rules on a circumcision ritual linked to herpes infections in infants.
The mayor has pointed to his proposal as a way to protect public health while respecting the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community that cherishes the ritual, known as metzitzah b’peh, or oral suction.
But a planned presentation to the board in March was abruptly delayed. Since then, Mr. de Blasio has moved to shake up the health panel, filling vacant spots and replacing members appointed by his predecessor, Michael R. Bloomberg.
Three of the new board members were contributors to Mr. de Blasio’s 2013 mayoral campaign; among those donors, one is married to an unpaid special adviser to the mayor. The fourth is the president of the city’s Health and Hospitals Corporation, a position he was placed in by Mr. de Blasio.
The mayor’s proposal, which requires approval by the board and will be presented on Wednesday, is supported by ultra-Orthodox rabbis who are among Mr. de Blasio’s most important political supporters. It would waive a requirement that parents sign a consent form before the ritual, which involves sucking blood from the incision on a baby’s penis.
Instead, the mayor’s plan would create an alternative system that would test a circumciser, or mohel, for herpes, although only after a baby is found to be infected. If the circumciser tests positive, penalties would be pursued if DNA tests can prove that the mohel and the baby were infected with the same strain.
The consent rule, introduced under Mayor Bloomberg, was assailed by Orthodox leaders as an infringement of their religious rights. Mr. de Blasio pledged to rescind the rule, and his aides later said the consent forms had been difficult to enforce, saying that herpes infections linked to the practice actually rose in 2014.
“This approach hasn’t been working in the past, and we need a new approach to truly reduce the health risk for infants,” Mr. de Blasio’s press secretary, Karen Hinton, said in a statement on Tuesday.
Ms. Hinton added that the mayor had an “obligation to ensure that the Board of Health is fully staffed with highly qualified health experts.”
Since 2000, the circumcision ritual has been linked to more than a dozen cases of herpes infection in infants and at least two deaths. Several health organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, have warned that the ritual can significantly raise the risk of an infant’s being infected.
Aides to Mr. de Blasio have sought to characterize the mayor’s plan as sound science, and they dismiss the earlier Bloomberg approach as a mockery that was ineffective and strained ties with the Orthodox community. Ms. Hinton said that the city would distribute information about the ritual.
A simple majority of the 11-member Board of Health is required to adopt the new circumcision rules.
Dr. Mary T. Bassett, the city health commissioner, has a vote. So does Pamela S. Brier, a Bloomberg appointee who supports the mayor’s plan.
Ms. Brier, the chief executive of Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, has her own ties to Mr. de Blasio. About a decade ago, she created a job at the medical center for his wife, Chirlane McCray.
Dr. Thomas A. Farley, who served as health commissioner under Mr. Bloomberg and spearheaded the consent rule, said on Tuesday that he was concerned about the board’s undoing the older policy.
“This is an inherently risky procedure,” Dr. Farley said. “Focusing on one or another specific mohel is not going to address that fundamental risk.”
Mr. de Blasio’s new appointees include Karen B. Redlener, who oversees several pediatric programs at the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore. Ms. Redlener and her husband, Irwin, the special adviser to the mayor, contributed $1,900 to Mr. de Blasio’s 2013 campaign. Two of the appointees, Rosa Gil and Gail Nayowith, gave $400 and $800.