AAP Task Force reveals cultural bias while denying it
by Hugh Young
Last August, the American Academy of Pediatrics released its new circumcision policy in a flurry of publicity. The policy claimed that "the benefits outweigh the risks" (without actually comparing them). It fell short of recommending universal infant circumcision, though it was widely reported as having done so, and it recommended that insurance pay for this "non-recommended " procedure.
This week, Pediatrics published a rebuttal from 38 heads or spokespeople for the paediatric associations of Austria, Britain, Denmark, England, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands, and senior paediatricians in Canada, the Czech Republic, France and Poland, accusing the AAP of cultural bias, and finding fault with its methodology, its conclusions, and its ethics.
The AAP has published their letter with a reply from its "Task Force on Circumcision" that just underlines the same cultural bias for which it was criticised. It basically says "You're another!" without noticing that leaving a child's genitals alone, doing nothing to them, is medically and ethically a different kind of thing from cutting part off.
They reveal their bias even while denying it: they refer to the whole penis as "uncircumcised" and discount the sexual value of the foreskin found by some studies because "the relevance to individuals undergoing circumcision during infancy was questionable." but with no consideration of their relevance to individuals not undergoing circumcision during infancy.
They falsely claim that "approximately half of US males are circumcised, and half are not." In fact, a chart in their own policy indicates the rate is more like 80%. This is in order that they can say "Although that [50:50 ratio] may lead to a more tolerant view toward circumcision in the United States than in Europe, the cultural “bias” in the United States is much more likely to be a neutral one than that found in Europe, where there is a clear bias against circumcision."
In fact, in Europe, the default position is to do nothing, simply to leave the child's body alone. No need for any "cultural bias" or any Task Forces on Leaving Children's Genitals Alone.
They go on "... a culture that is comfortable with both the circumcised penis and the uncircumcised penis would seem predisposed to a more dispassionate analysis of the scientific literature than a culture with a bias that is either strongly opposed to circumcision or strongly in favor of it."
In what mad world is the United States "a culture that is comfortable with" the whole penis when the Task Force won't even call it that? When a TV show can include nine negative references to foreskins and the men with them without exciting comment? (Positive references are virtually unknown.) To rebut the claim of the 38 that the foreskin has a sexual function, the Task Force says:
The 38 European critics do not need to "speculate": its male members or their male partners will have foreskins. Of course the inner foreskin resembles a mucus membrane, because it is one - like the lips. The lips also "have nerve fibres". Whose first thought about those would be about how to minimise the pain of lip-removal? Who either doubts, or can find a study to prove, that the nerves of the lips are intimately involved in the pleasure of kissing? Who needs one?
The Task Force, both in its policy and this response to its critics, criticises the only study that actually attempted to measure the sensitivity of the foreskin itself by ignoring its main finding - that "male circumcision [removes] the most sensitive part of the penis."
They now admit that the critics' "argument about the basic right to physical integrity is an important one, ..." yet they ignored this important argument in their 2012 policy, and now they contrast it with a new, unmeasured and undocumented claim that "...it is also true that some males will be harmed by not being circumcised." By that reasoning, the man who had to cut his own arm off after it was trapped under a boulder in the desert was "harmed by not having had it previously amputated" but nobody would ever think that meant infant amputation should be given even a moment's consideration - yet this is just "to prevent zipper injury" writ large.
The Task Force says nothing about the critics' case, based on the AAP's own policy, that the diseases circumcision reduces are so rare, or of such late onset, or so readily prevented or treated, that circumcising infants to prevent them is a bad option compared to letting the child grow up to decide the fate of his own genitals.
Its claim that "the benefits outweigh the risks" is now nowhere to be seen, and goes undefended.