Friday, April 29, 2016

ILLINOIS: American Academy of Pediatrics backs down, a bit, sort of.

May 2016

The Circumcision Debate: Beyond Benefits and Risks

by Andrew L. Freedman and M.D. Faap

In 2007, following a flurry of reports describing a benefit of circumcision in the fight against HIV, the American Academy of Pediatrics reconvened the task force on circumcision to update its policy statement of 1999.[1] Rather than simply incorporating this new information, the committee chose to start from scratch and rereview the medical literature. The task force’s work culminated in a policy statement published in 2012, the centerpiece of which was the statement that “the health benefits of newborn male circumcision outweigh the risks.”[2] This formulation of the debate, “benefits versus risks” rather than “medical necessity,” [or "benefits and harms", or "functions of the foreskin" or "ethics"]  resulted in wide-ranging ramifications.

To many, especially in the lay press, this was interpreted as moving the needle from a neutral stance, as the 1999 guidelines were viewed, to being pro circumcision. It was vigorously criticized by anticircumcision activists, as well as many, primarily European, physicians and medical societies. Difficulties with this approach included the lack of a universally accepted metric to accurately measure or balance the risks and benefits.  [In fact, the AAP made no effort to balance them at all] In particular, there was insufficient information about the actual incidence and burden of nonacute [or acute] complications [or death].[3] In this issue, Sneppen and Thorup[4] use meticulous epidemiologic technique to assess the likelihood of needing a circumcision in a society in which the cultural norm is to preserve the prepuce. [And they find that likelihood to be less than one in 200] Work such as this, along with the subsequent avalanche of reports evaluating the risks and benefits [What "avalanche" apart from a flurry of advocacy articles by wild-eyed Brian Morris?], has helped to inform and animate the dialogue among physicians with a stake in the circumcision debate. But has this really helped to inform the public? Or are we just arguing among ourselves?

What is often lost in the reporting on the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines was the second half of the benefits/risk sentence, “the procedure’s benefits justify access to this procedure for families who choose it, ” and later “health benefits are not great enough to recommend routine circumcision.” [This line was missing from most summaries.] What was the task force really saying?

To understand the recommendations, one has to acknowledge that when parents decide on circumcision, the health issues are only one small piece of the puzzle. In much of the world, newborn circumcision is not primarily a medical decision. [In most of the world it is not a decision at all.] Most circumcisions are done due to religious and cultural tradition. In the West, although parents may use the conflicting medical literature to buttress their own beliefs and desires, for the most part parents choose what they want for a wide variety of nonmedical reasons.

There can be no doubt that religion, culture, aesthetic preference, familial identity, and personal experience all factor into their decision. Few parents when really questioned are doing it solely to lower the risk of urinary tract infections or ulcerative sexually transmitted infections. Given the role of the phallus in our culture, it is not illegitimate to consider these realms of a person’s life in making this nontherapeutic, only partially medical decision. [The owner of a phallus, unlike a mere penis, is an adult man. He is the only one with any right to make this nontherapeutic, only partially medical decision.] The task force was sensitive to the fact that as physicians, although we claim authority in the medical realm, we have no standing to judge on these other elements.

The ethical standard used was “the best interest of the child,” and in this setting the well-informed parent was felt to be the best proxy to pass this judgment. [But there is no need for a judgement, and hence no need for a proxy.] Protecting this option was not an idle concern [Who said this option has to be protected, or that paediatricians have any role in protecting it?] at a time when there are serious efforts in both the United States and Europe to ban the procedure outright. [No, only to agre-restrict it until the owner is of an age to decide for himself whether  he wants less penis. ]


In circumcision, what we have is a messy immeasurable choice that we leave to parents to process and decide for themselves rather than dictate to them. [False dichotomy. The real choice is between leaving the baby alone and anyone being allowed to cut healthy parts off her or him or them.]  This may seem odd in a society in which circumcision is rarely sought, but makes perfect sense in the multicultural world in which many of us live. [The elephant in the room here is the ethics of performing unnecessary, nontherapeutic, only partially medical reductive genital surgery on a non-consenting person.]

To the medical community, your efforts to improve our ability to accurately educate parents are needed. [Physician, educate thyself. Learn about the complex structure and many functions of the foreskin before you claim any right to educate others about it.] But we have to accept that there likely will never be a knockout punch that will end the debate.


To the anticircumcision activists, I would suggest that rather than directing an angry focus on the negative and the courts, your efforts would be better spent to educate and promote the prepuce positively [which is why we call ourselves "intactivists"] , to win in the court of public opinion, and to change the culture, so as to make having a foreskin be the “popular thing to do.” {He still doesn't get it. Having a foreskin is not something you do, because it is "popular". A foreskin is something you have as of right because you were born with it, unless someone steals it from you.]

I know it sounds naïve, but my challenge to all of us is to imagine a day we can peacefully live in a world in which not all penises have to look the same. ['Why can't we just get along?' They don't have to look the same, but how they look should be up to their owners, nobody else. And it's not all about looks.]


 1. American Academy of Pediatrics. Circumcision Policy Statement. Task Force on Circumcision. Pediatrics. 1999;103(3);686-693. Reaffirmation published on 116(3);796

 2. American Academy of Pediatrics Task Force on Circumcision. Circumcision policy statement. Pediatrics. 2012;130(3):585–586

 3. Blank S, Brady M, Buerk E, et al; American Academy of Pediatrics Task Force on Circumcision. Male circumcision. Pediatrics. 2012;130(3).
Available at: www. pediatrics. org/ cgi/content/ full/ 130/ 3/ e756

4. Sneppen I, Thorup J. Foreskin morbidity in uncircumcised males. Pediatrics. 2016;137(5):e20154340
POTENTIAL CONFLICT OF INTEREST: The author has indicated he has no potential confl icts of interest to disclose. [Except being paid to cut babies' genitals, and cutting his own son on his parents' kitchen table, contrary to all surgical protocols.]

To cite: Freedman AL and FAAP M. The Circumcision Debate: Beyond Benefi ts and Risks. Pediatrics. 2016;137(5):e20160594

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