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Aug 28 2012

Giles Fraser versus human rights

Giles Fraser strongly disapproves of the idea (and the judicial finding) that non-medical circumcision is what it is: genital cutting of an infant for religious reasons.

Generally, the logic behind these moves is that circumcision is an act of unnecessary violence against a child and that it is imposing a belief system against a child’s will. If an adult wants to be circumcised, so be it.

But child circumcision violates the rights of the child over his body. I recently defended circumcision in the Guardian and was inundated with letters telling me I was a child abuser, that male circumcision was like female genital mutilation. But mostly, the arguments against were all about choice.

That’s surprisingly clumsy – it would be much easier to follow if the last sentence of the first para and first sentence of the second were one sentence -

 If an adult wants to be circumcised, so be it, but child circumcision violates the rights of the child over his body.

So I’ll do him a favor and re-write it, so that we can follow.

Generally, the logic behind these moves is that circumcision is an act of unnecessary violence against a child and that it is imposing a belief system against a child’s will. If an adult wants to be circumcised, so be it, but child circumcision violates the rights of the child over his body.

I recently defended circumcision in the Guardian and was inundated with letters telling me I was a child abuser, that male circumcision was like female genital mutilation. But mostly, the arguments against were all about choice.

Apparently, only choice makes it ok.

There; at least now we know where we are.

Choice doesn’t exactly make it ok, but it certainly (and obviously) does take the act out of the hands of the parents, and that certainly (and obviously) does make a difference. Doing something to someone is different from doing something to yourself. So yes – in that sense, choice does make it a hell of a lot more ok than the total absence of choice does.

Obviously this doesn’t apply to everything. It doesn’t mean don’t feed an infant, or don’t provide an infant with shelter from rain and cold, or don’t take an infant to the doctor. It does mean don’t cut bits off the infant unless it’s medically necessary.

But Giles Fraser doesn’t see it that way. He wants to do a reductio, instead, so he tells us to imagine parents not teaching their child a language, on the grounds of choice.

See above. Don’t play silly buggers.

I offer this bonkers experiment as a reductio ad absurdum of the sort of thing that is often said about imposing religion on children.

It is a rubbish argument because to be inducted into a community of values is a precondition for making sense of the world in a moral way — it is even a precondition of the very freedom that the mad liberal parents are after, a precondition of the child deciding that he or she is going to believe something different.

But this particular issue is not about imposing religion on children. It’s about not imposing genital cutting on infants for non-medical reasons, including religious reasons. The core of it is not the religion but the cutting.

Fraser is apparently simply taking for granted the idea that the religion and the cutting are inseparable; that if the cutting is delayed until adulthood, the infant/child is therefore not in the religion – is denied the religion, excluded from the religion.

How ugly. How ugly not to give the religion the chance to grow up a little and decide that cutting can be both optional and delayed. How ugly to insist that snipping infant penises is somehow mandatory for a particular religion, and that it’s “mad” to think otherwise.

Choice has become a cuckoo value in our society — driving out other values like fairness and community.

Fairness? Driving out fairness? What about the unfairness of snipping penises without consent? And how on earth is it “cuckoo” to think that people should have a right to choose whether or not to modify their genitals?

And the same goes for community. That too should be a matter of choice. It’s not for Giles Fraser to decide that all children should be drafted into one “community” or another from birth via genital branding.

64 comments

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  1. 1
    Tony! The Fucking Queer Shoop!

    Ophelia:
    I didn’t realize how polarizing the topic of male circumcision was until I started reading many of the bloggers at FtB. I long thought it was an unnecessary practice, and far too often religiously motivated. Take away the religious element and what support is there for continuing the practice?

  2. 2
    Josh, Official SpokesGay

    He pulls a very cheap Godwin at the end of the article, too. Germany and Jewish people? Well, no one’s allowed to talk/do/think anything now. That settles it.

  3. 3
    Josh, Official SpokesGay

    Take away the religious element and what support is there for continuing the practice?

    Ridiculous rationalizations. So embarrassing you’re surprised to see them from commenters you know to be intelligent:

    1. Hygiene

    2. Urinary tract infections

    3. He won’t look like daddy

    Yes, it’s that stupid. The real motivation? “I can’t bear to acknowledge that I allowed a stupid and unnecessary practice to be done to my son so I’ll do everything in my power to come up with a justification for it because otherwise I’m a BAD PARENT.”

  4. 4
    Zinc Avenger (Sarcasm Tags 3.0 Compliant)

    @Josh, #3:

    You also missed out “I’m circumcised, so therefore a circumcised penis is PERFECT, and not doing it to my son involves an implicit declaration I have IMPERFECT PENIS! ZOMG!”

  5. 5
    Raging Bee

    Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?! This guy is so incoherent I can’t even tell what he’s arguing for! Are you SURE he’s arguing for circumcision of baby boys?

    And if you have to rewrite his stuff before you respond to it, then you should have just not bothered. Re-wording his crap only opens you to the charge of misrepresenting him, and that’s not worth the trouble. It’s his job to be clear, not your job to clarify him.

  6. 6
    Ophelia Benson

    Tony – I’ve realized it for quite awhile, because of the way that any discussion of FGM gets derailed into a discussion of circumcision. That drives me nuts – but hey, when it’s not a derailment of a discussion of FGM, I’ll be as disgusted at circumcision as anyone.

    There are a lot of men who are furious about circumcision. I take them seriously (unless the subject started as FGM).

    Josh – typical GF, innit.

  7. 7
    Ophelia Benson

    RB…Yes, I suppose you’re right, but I couldn’t figure out what the hell he meant until I realized the “But” really belonged in the previous sentence – so I pretended I was his editor for a second. :- )

  8. 8
    R Holmes

    Some people attempt to justify FGM on the grounds that it is a cultural tradition and that an uncut girl will be an outcast in her own community.

    However, I understand that Fraser is opposed to FGM.

    So I’m wondering: exactly how harmful does a cultural practice need to be before he is willing to condemn it and prioritise the bodily integrity of children?

  9. 9
    sqlrob

    @Josh:

    Apparently the American Association of Pediatrics at least half-heartedly endorses it for (1) & (2):

    http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2012-08-27/lifestyle/sns-201208271300–tms–kidsdocctnkd-a20120827-20120827_1_circumcision-risk-of-penile-cancer-health-benefits

  10. 10
    smrnda

    I’m not sure any medical endorsement of circumcision can’t be tied back to the days when it was believed to reduce masturbation and hence insanity. Once a position has been adopted for so long and so strongly, the burden of proof seems to be to prove harm rather than just that it doesn’t have that many benefits.

    All said, I would actually be in favor of granting children the right to refuse to be forced to attend worship services over the objections of their parents. I can allow people to expose their kids to their religious ideas (even if I think those ideas are wrong) but once a kid takes a stand that they don’t believe, that has to be respected.

  11. 11
    eric

    Fraser is apparently simply taking for granted the idea that the religion and the cutting are inseparable; that if the cutting is delayed until adulthood, the infant/child is therefore not in the religion – is denied the religion, excluded from the religion.

    Even if true, that argument alone would probably not fly in the U.S. I believe other sects have tried the “this practice is absolutely critical to our faith – it isn’t our faith without it” defense and gotten nowhere with it.

    It will be interesting to see what legal case defenders of the procedure bring in to US courts when it comes up (which I’m sure it will, now that its become an issue elsewhere). I have little to no idea what defense they’ll mount. But I would bet money that Fraser’s argument won’t be the only – or even primary – one they rely upon.

  12. 12
    wholething

    I’ve been seeing headlines that the American Academy of Pediatrics is saying that the health benefits outweigh the risks. They also want insurance to pay for it. One of the benefits they cite is reduced chance of infection with HIV and other STDs. It seems they keep coming up with new excuses for performing circumcisions.

  13. 13
    Rrr

    For a while it confused me that nobody seemed to mind the hijacking of this thread onto MGM as per usual — until I saw that this was actually the subject at hand! And let the record show that I do object to male as well as female genital mutilation of any person not legally capable. Tattoos are also ok for consenting adults; babies, not so much. That’s my take.

  14. 14
    psocoptera

    # 12 – Wasn’t AAP the same organization that, briefly, endorsed “nicking” as an alternative to FGM?

    @Josh – you missed a few good ones (that people have told me):

    4. if he is less sensitive, won’t he last longer? I want my kid to be better in bed

    5. (from a woman) but it looks weird. I don’t want my kid to have an ugly penis. Girls won’t like it.

    I had to walk away from both coversations for a breather…

  15. 15
    One Way Monkey (formerly 'Nym Too)

    Josh – during a very heated online debate, an American woman told me (I swear on my boobs I’m being serious):


    “Uncut cocks are unnatural and freakish”

    I showed my girlfriend, who started laughing so hard that she wet herself!

    As a Brit it’s all just weird to hear “But hygiene! Disease! Infection!”. I’ve worked in healthcare, sexual healthcare, and British blokes aren’t suffering from an excess of prepuce. Man-fanciers don’t run screaming from the little dude in the polo (turtle) neck!

    I was informed (by a very intelligent ex Orthodox Jew) that medical evidence of keratinisation of the exposed penile mucosa, and increased risk of strictures of the urethral meatus, are “anti-Semitic lies” . Sigh.

  16. 16
    Dalillama, Schmott Guy

    Take away the religious element and what support is there for continuing the practice?

    In hopes of preventing masturbation, historically.
    The AAP can also kiss my ass. Hey, if we just cut the whole thing off, that would really reduce the transmission of STIs, wouldn’t it? You know what reduces the spread of STIs a lot more? Availability of condoms and sex education.

  17. 17
    Mattir, Another One With Boltcutters

    “I can’t bear to acknowledge that I allowed a stupid and unnecessary practice to be done to my son so I’ll do everything in my power to come up with a justification for it because otherwise I’m a BAD PARENT

    Wait, my choices are that I *am* a BAD PARENT or that I’m required to defend routine circumcision for religious reasons? What happened to our family scenario?

    SonSpawn: Why did you decide to have me circumcised?

    Me: Because it was very important to your father and grandfather and I wasn’t knowledgeable or brave enough to stand in the way. If I could do it over again, I would never have allowed it to happen, no matter how big the fight was.

    SonSpawn: Oh, okay. Just so you know, it’s not something I’m angry about particularly, but I do think it was wrong.

    Me: It was wrong and I regret it a great deal.

    That was the end of the conversation. SonSpawn does not seem terribly traumatized, and really, there have been many other parenting decisions, for good and ill, that seem to have had greater consequences. How pathetic it is to think that the quality of one’s parenting can be reduced simply to whether one allowed one’s son to be circumcized.

    Infant circumcision is wrong. That does not mean that everyone who allowed it is a (ZOMG) BAD PARENT, and if this is actually the level of motivation behind public health research into circumcision, then we have some serious problems with why these researchers are receiving public health grants…

  18. 18
    Ophelia Benson

    Mattir, no, the idea is that that’s the thinking of people who come up with horrible rationalizations. Doesn’t apply to you!

    It did occur to me toward the end of the post that I don’t want to beat up on parents who did circumcize. I tried to tread carefully. I think the custom is bad and should fade rapidly, but I don’t blame people who did it. (I do kind of blame people who go on and on about their doubts and their decision to do it anyway and make it all about them and not really about the owner of the penis, like whoever that woman was who wrote a self-indulgent piece in the Times awhile ago…But that’s all.)

  19. 19
    Ophelia Benson

    I found the post I was thinking of – the self-indulgent piece was in The Atlantic, not the Times.

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/butterfliesandwheels/2011/12/mutilate-the-baby-tastefully/

    Includes a graphic by Stewart.

  20. 20
    Felix

    Mattir,

    “SonSpawn does not seem terribly traumatized”

    I think the suggestion of mental trauma is a red-herring after all the child is generally 1 week old and will not remember.

    The problems are lack of consent to a risky procedure with very minimal health benefits to the child (90% of the _suggested_ health benefits would still apply to circumcision at a later age), which is believed to reduce the sensitivity of the penis, and which is a ‘mutilation’ (dictionary definition) of a healthy part of the body.

  21. 21
    Mattir, Another One With Boltcutters

    Ophelia, it’s ok, I was mainly joshing with Josh, who has been a stalwart virtual uncle for the Spawns, even though he’s never even met them, or me for that matter. He’s a great virtual role model for DaughterSpawn in particular, which once made him ask whether I was comfortable with the idea of my 14 year old girl growing up to be a cynical middle aged gay atheist.

    The conversation with SonSpawn was just so … undramatic, given how my dread of it was growing over the last 3-4 years, as I actually thought about the issue and realized how wrong I’d been not to prevent it happening to him. The horrid thing was when SonSpawn tried to have a similar conversation with his dad. That did not go well. Godwin’s Law was again manifest in opposition to SonSpawn’s stated right to bodily integrity. (I was not home at the time, or explosions might have been witnessed from space.)

  22. 22
    Chris Lawson

    Yeah, the AAP did endorse “nicking” female genitals as a way of meeting cultural demands for FGM while minimising physical damage. Unsurprisingly, this argument did not meet with approval from a number of groups and the AAP soon retracted their endorsement.

    I have read the AAP’s published statement on male circumcision and it is terrible. The AAP have completely botched their analysis, failed to understand the epidemiological principles they quote, been two-faced in adding up risks vs. benefits (any benefit, no matter how dubious, is added to the ledger; and risk, no matter how severe, is left uncounted whenever there is the slightest uncertainty in the evidence), and its main reference saying that circumcision is cost-effective was a horrendously flawed paper based on mathematical modelling of shaky assumptions and erroneous data that ought never have been published.

    To give an example of the AAP’s twisted logic, I quote the following non-sequitur from page e775:

    “The authors did not include adverse effects that make newborn circumcision less cost-effective, such as bleeding, infection, and revision. Considering all these factors, however, the authors concluded that male circumcision was a cost-effective strategy for HIV prevention in the United States.”

    So the authors of a paper ignored adverse effects and yet found that circumcision was cost-effective considering all these factors — and this was one of the key papers quoted in support of the AAP’s new position! This is the sort of statement that would get my undergraduates a fail on their critical appraisal assignments.

  23. 23
    Ophelia Benson

    Mattir – oh. :)

  24. 24
    wytchy

    @9
    I’ve seen that article and a similar that claim that AAP changed it’s view, saying that the benefits of circumcision outweigh the risks. But, looking at the revised opinion on circumcision from AAP, I don’t actually see it: http://tinyurl.com/9a6vht3

    All I see is AAP acknowledging “potential” benefits and risks, and asserting that the decision should rest solely with the parent. They even include a bit that the decision should take into account all the religious, cultural and ethnic traditions, alongside medical interests. I think several news sites are hyping it up to be more than what it is.

    Be that as it may, I still find the opinion to be disturbing. To justify a procedure, which is done to a healthy organ without consent and which carries risks, because of religious or cultural interests is sickening.

  25. 25
    kraut

    I just don’t get it: why don’t they fucking wait till the kid is sixteen and can give consent? No, that would mean he could have a choice if he wants really belong to the religious groups his parents try to force him into.

    And as to hygiene? Utter bollocks, wash you cock regularly and you’re fine.

    A friend of mine tried to play this angle in a discussion re: environment and hygiene in the desert environment the practice supposedly evolved in – if you have water for a cup of tea – you have enough water to keep your pecker clean.

  26. 26
    Riptide

    Imagine if a “new” religion tried to inculcate the *tattooing* of its newborns as a ritual practice and quasi-ethnic identification. Would that be tolerated? Would it even be entertained for a moment? Or would the practitioners be hunted down and imprisoned for child abuse? Because it seems to me that the only thing separating tattooing children and cutting off their genitals is that the former would be novel, while the latter is shielded beneath the auspices of tradition.

    Oh, and I have a friend of a friend who got circumcised, and can definitely verify that it hasn’t kept him from masturbating. But as with most religious claims, contrary evidence never seems to convince people.

  27. 27
    bad Jim

    Circumcision has some mild health benefits, though, as far as I can tell, none that aren’t provided by condoms. Still, the downsides are nearly as insignificant.

    The problem with consent is that the same argument could be made for vaccines or any of a variety of medical choices that parents make for children. Some things are best done, or can only be done, before the ages at which we allow kids to make their own choices.

    There seems to be something about the prepuce that provokes people more than actually life-threatening things like antibiotic misuse. Sometimes it really is all about the penis, which I can’t help but find amusing.

    {Disclosure: I’m an American male, 60, circumcised, like my brothers but unlike my father, typical for my generation.}

  28. 28
    kraut

    “The estimates are based largely on a recent study in Uganda in which men underwent circumcision — a surgery that removes the foreskin on the penis — or remained uncircumcised and then were followed, along with their female partners. Three such “gold-standard” randomized trials in Africa now back up observational studies around the world, including in the United States, Tobian says.

    Read more: http://rss.tmsfeatures.com/websvc-bin/rss_story_read.cgi?resid=201208201733GANNETT_GANNETTN_Benefits-of-male-circumcision-reconfirmed#ixzz24ubkfY5e

    So a study in a country with doubtful hygienic practices is the fucking gold standard for developed countries?

    I get the feeling pediatricians need to supplement their income more than a dire need to protect the “penile” health of their subjects.

    And can one explain to me what the transmission of HIV has to do with a missing foreskin? THAT connection with a disease transmitted through “bodily” fluids seems strained to say the least. There is also a counter study available ( I think from Harvard)that refutes such claims.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1758146/pdf/v074p00368.pdf

    “In summary, substantive evidence supports the
    premise that circumcision protects males from
    HIV infection, penile carcinoma, urinary tract
    infections and ulcerative sexually transmitted
    diseases.”

    and then there is that, in the same study:

    “Neonatal circumcision
    reduces the risk for penile carcinoma by at least
    10-fold, and probably by much more. It has
    been argued, however, that as most cases of
    disease occur in men over the age of 50, and as
    the disease is relatively rare (annual incidence
    of about 2 per 100 000 among uncircumcised
    men in North America),3 neonatal circumcision
    is not a cost effective intervention with
    respect to the prevention of penile carcinoma
    alone.58″

    “Sexually transmitted diseases
    The relation between the presence of the
    foreskin and sexually transmitted diseases
    (STDs) other than HIV is complex and varies
    with the individual STD. There is strong
    evidence for an association between ulcerative
    STDs (particularly chancroid and syphilis) and
    lack of circumcision in at least 11
    studies.12 18 35–43 We were unable to identify any
    studies with sufficient statistical power which
    reported increased risk with circumcision or no
    association. For genital herpes, two studies have
    reported statistically significant associations
    with lack of circumcision,37 44 and four have
    reported no association.43 45–47 For gonorrhoea,
    five studies have reported significant associations
    with lack of circumcision,35 37 43 48 49 and
    two have reported no association.47 50 For
    chlamydial, non-gonococcal, or other types of
    urethritis, two studies have reported a significant
    association with lack of circumcision,34 48
    three have reported increased risk with
    circumcision,42″

    “In a Ugandan study, although no differences were
    found in various self reported hygienic practices
    between circumcised and uncircumcised
    men,30 both men and women felt that it was
    more difficult to maintain genital cleanliness in
    uncircumcised men. Further research is required
    to clarify the relation between genital
    hygiene and risk for HIV and other genital
    infections”

    That is the study referred to as I could find out. And this level of “conclusiveness” is what is health policy is based on?

    At that level of confidence give me an antivaxxer any time.

  29. 29
    kraut

    “The problem with consent is that the same argument could be made for vaccines or any of a variety of medical choices that parents make for children. Some things are best done, or can only be done, before the ages at which we allow kids to make their own choices”

    This is a really stupid argument, when one considers the actually proven and not all mild health benefits of vaccination.
    Think pertussis, think measles, think rubella, think polio – and you fucking compare that to circumcision?

    Circumcision is NOT about health benefits, it is about religious practices that somehow weaseled their way into mainstream thinking without much or any objective or evidential justification.
    So – why the fuck do it?
    Yes, and I am proudly still in possession of a foreskin attached to the rest of my penis, pecker, schwanz, dick or what you might call it.

  30. 30
    WMDKitty -- Survivor

    “But child circumcision violates the rights of the child over his body”

    So do vaccinations, but we force children to get those for the benefit of society.
    </snark>

    Regardless of how any of us feel about it personally, circumcision, like abortion, like ALL surgical procedures, needs to be safe, and done only under strict adherence to medical standards & practices — that is:

    * Performed by a trained and licensed surgeon

    * Using only sterile tools, in a sterile environment

    * Appropriate anaesthesia for the patient (whether that’s a nerve block or full-on knock out gas)

    * Proper follow-up care on the part of the patient or patient’s parent(s)/guardian(s)/caregiver(s).

    Any religious hoo-hah the parents feel is “needed” can be done before or after the procedure. Hell, I’d even be okay with a Rabbi scrubbing in and reading incantations or whatever, so long as the actual practice of medicine is left to the pros, and sterility is maintained.

  31. 31
    bad Jim

    No, Kraut. Vaccination is actually useful, but its subjects are typically too young to consent, which is the point I was trying to make.

    Circumcision, at least in the U.S., is done for its purported health benefits rather than for religious reasons. As far as I can tell it’s a low-risk, low-benefit operation, kind of like shaving. I happen to be bearded, so if you’re clean-shaven I’d tend to regard you as less than natural and you’d rightfully regard me as a slob.

    My point, if I had one, would be that vaccines and antibiotics are actually important. Circumcision and shaving, not so much.

  32. 32
    F [i'm not here, i'm gone]

    R Holmes @ 8

    Some people attempt to justify FGM on the grounds that it is a cultural tradition and that an uncut girl will be an outcast in her own community.

    This does not have to be the case:

    The Orchid Project have a success rate of over 70% of encouraging communities in Africa to give up FGM – and to publicly announce that they are doing so. In 2011, two thousand communities rejected the practice. This means not just passing laws, but informing all local people that you are doing so – to raise awareness of why, to point out that the practice is not required by any holy book, and to let your neighbours know that any girls they marry from your town will not be cut and why.

    http://www.aliceingalaxyland.blogspot.com.au/2012/08/astronomy-talks-for-orchid-project.html

  33. 33
    bad Jim

    Hacking off part of the clitoris is not actually the same sort of thing as removing the foreskin. Infibulation is a word whose definition I wish I’d never learned. In a better world the atrocities inflicted upon women would actually be unspeakable, but that’s not our world.

    On the thinnest of evidence, an episode of “Nip/Tuck” on F/X, I’d hazard the guess that male circumcision is not least a cosmetic procedure necessitated by its ubiquity: an uncut American teenager couldn’t get laid, because the girls thought his penis looked funny.

    Whether having been subject to this procedure actually enhances your reproductive success has probably already been tested in recent history with inconclusive results.

  34. 34
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    Well, the debate is big in Germany right now after a court ruling that said it was bodily harm. The case at hand was of a boy who had suffered extensive bleeding that required ICU care after a standard circumcision with no mistakes.
    Since that the debate is running high, with the extra special problem that it’s, of course a Jewish practise and this is Germany.
    I found the cries of “end of Jewish life in Germany Holocaust revival” a bit over the top.

    An argument the judge made was that it also violates the religious freedom of the child. That’s another thing that never gets mentioned when debating “religious freedom”. It’s always about the parents, never about the children.*

    The most interesting article about this was by a jewish doctor who grew up in Germany and who lives in Israel now. He described his own mental voyage which started when his sister announced that she wouldn’t have her son circumcised. So he went looking for arguments to convince her and didn’t find any. So, when his own wife announced that they would be having a son he had a crisis, because the arguments he couldn’t find before hadn’t magically appeared.
    As for the jewish identity, he figured that it was a lazy shortcut. People circumcised their sons and then thought that this was enough and then never bothered to teach their children anything else about judaism. So, although he is a believing jew he decided not to have his son circumcised and leave it to him to say one day that he want to be circumcised as a marker of his own identity.

    *Oh, and the head Rabbi who came from Israel to advice German legislature about this declared that the fact it should be done without anaesthetics was non-negotiable.

  35. 35
    One Way Monkey (formerly 'Nym Too)

    Bad Jim – Infibulation != all FGM. That’s a sloppy, overused argument in favour of MGM. In Indonesia the most common process is identical to male circumcision, removal of the prepuce that covers the glans. In other places the prepuce may just be notched, or have any overhang trimmed off.

    Either way, it’s all bad, based on denial of bodily autonomy, and faulty ‘logic’.

    WMDKitty – sterile, you say? These guys wouldn’t like http://failedmessiah.typepad.com/failed_messiahcom/2012/08/chabad-rabbis-endorse-dangerous-penis-sucking-ritual-345.html that:

  36. 36
    bad Jim

    It’s generally not a religious issue in the U.S., for good or ill.

    This is the first time I’ve wandered into a circumcision debate. I’m sorry if I’m stumbling over everyone else’s toes. It blows my mind that it’s an issue that makes people passionate, since most of us guys haven’t actually tried it both ways (Wait! Is that generalizable?) and neither side is credibly claiming to be getting more.

    Certainly, declaring a certain concern to be too minor to consider is a suspect move, but compared to a cupcake everything has a priority, and I’d sort circumcision below global warming or obesity.

  37. 37
    Chris Lawson

    wytchy, you are not referring to the new statement by the AAP but an old webpage. The new statement quite clearly says “Evaluation of current evidence indicates that the health benefits of newborn male circumcision outweigh the risks and that the procedure’s benefits justify access to this procedure for families who choose it.”

    Big Jim, of the main purported benefits of circumcision, only reduction in UTI and dermatosis/phimosis apply to children. The main benefit touted is protection against STIs including HIV. That is not a realisable benefit until the boy is sexually active.

    Overall, though, what makes my blood boil about this position paper is that it is incompetent epidemiology. It is full of basic, quite stupid errors. To argue that we should be genitally mutilating infants based on health benefits requires solid evidence of those health benefits. The authors of this position paper aren’t competent to evaluate the health benefits of shooting people in the temple to prevent headaches.

  38. 38
    Orlando

    The phrase ‘genital branding’ is a description as vivid as it is accurate. But it also sounds like a kink subculture trend.

  39. 39
    jenny6833a

    Given that Jews are a tiny minority in the United States, I think the prevalence of arguments about religious motivation are way off base. Moreover, I’m not aware of any Christian group of any size that calls for circumcision for religious reasons. Religion is just not a common motivation for circumcision.

    It seems to me that the disease-related argument in favor of circumcision is valid. Although the evidence is not overwhelming, from what I’ve read it does indicate that circumcision is worth doing.

    We’re I male, I’d far prefer that circumcision be done when I was newborn than when I was adult for reasons relating to pain, remembered pain, odds of infection, etc.

    I don’t buy the idea that cleanliness is easy in the United States and similar environs. Easier, yes. Easy, not at all. And, even if it were easy, that doesn’t mean it would be done regularly nor done prior to intercourse. See next paragraph.

    My husband, who is no kid these days, still has vivid memories of acute daily pain as his foreskin was forcibly pulled back to break the adhesions where the foreskin welded itself to the glans. He had to continue doing so regularly well into his 20s. Perhaps such adhesions don’t happen these days, and are thus no longer a problem, but I’ve read nothing to that effect.

    When adhesions occur, they create pockets that can’t be accessed with soap and water, and where bacteria can and do flourish.

    Foreskins vary greatly in size. Adhesions aside, I can envision good reasons for leaving small ones in place and good reasons for removing large ones. I don’t think the discussion ought to be as binary as it appears to be: it should not be just cut or don’t cut.

    I don’t regard circumcision as a purely cosmetic procedure, but even if it were I think parents do have the right to authorize it — just as they have the right to authorize the removal of, say, warts. No one argues that wart removal should wait until the a child attains legal age. Moreover, I note that warts do no harm whatever, whereas at least some arguments can be made for circumcision.

    Now, I don’t claim to be an expert on all this, but I do think the discussion here and elsewhere has suffered from a lack of calm, rationality.

    I look forward to rebuttals that meet that criterion.

  40. 40
    R Holmes

    F @33,

    Thank you for that link. Very encouraging stuff.

  41. 41
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    jenny

    My husband, who is no kid these days, still has vivid memories of acute daily pain as his foreskin was forcibly pulled back to break the adhesions where the foreskin welded itself to the glans.

    Uhm, that’s generally called a medically justified case (unless I’m missing some data here)

    I don’t think the discussion ought to be as binary as it appears to be: it should not be just cut or don’t cut.

    Nodody has done that

    I don’t regard circumcision as a purely cosmetic procedure, but even if it were I think parents do have the right to authorize it — just as they have the right to authorize the removal of, say, warts.

    Uhm, you realize that you just compared a foreskin to an infectious disease?

  42. 42
    jenny6833a

    42. Giliell, not to be confused with The Borg says:

    jenny

    My husband, who is no kid these days, still has vivid memories of acute daily pain as his foreskin was forcibly pulled back to break the adhesions where the foreskin welded itself to the glans.

    Uhm, that’s generally called a medically justified case (unless I’m missing some data here)

    So, you wait until the problem becomes acute, then subject the now much older kid to an even more painful cure?

    I don’t regard circumcision as a purely cosmetic procedure, but even if it were I think parents do have the right to authorize it — just as they have the right to authorize the removal of, say, warts.

    Uhm, you realize that you just compared a foreskin to an infectious disease?

    A foreskin holds an infectious disease. Removing the foreskin prevents that from happening. A wart holds a wart-producing virus; removing the wart does NOT remove the virus that causes it. The virus remains in the body, and will cause another wart at some later time. Thus, circumcision eliminates a problem whereas wart removal does not. Yet no one objects to surgically removing warts.

  43. 43
    One Way Monkey (formerly 'Nym Too)

    Erm… Jenny, you do realise that the foreskin is supposed to be stuck to the shaft? It stays affixed for up to ten years, apart from the very tip of the glans to allow urine out.

    That’s because nature accounts for babies sitting in their waste, and young children not being able to clean themselves.

    What causes problems like your husband’s is forcible retraction of the foreskin by people unused to handling intact penises. The only handling they need is a quick wipe of the tip.

    So I’m sad for your husband.

  44. 44
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    So, you wait until the problem becomes acute, then subject the now much older kid to an even more painful cure?

    Uhm, yes. Because the prevalence of the problem is small. You don’t routinely do a mass appendicitis either.

    A foreskin holds an infectious disease.

    I think you really need to read up on the medical facts.
    “an infectious disease”
    Which disease?
    Whom does it infect an how?

  45. 45
    Dave

    With all this incompetent knob-handling going on, it’s a wonder we manage to breed at all.

    This is a non-issue, and the reason it is a non-issue is demonstrated above – it brings out the nutters quicker than you can say “JFK”. Nobody is really badly harmed by circumcision, unless it goes really wrong – but it usually doesn’t; there may be some health benefits, but they are debateable. Meanwhile 2 of the world’s 3 big monotheisms regard it as an essential practice. You want to attack that head on, go ahead, I look forward to the entertaining spectacle of the NYPD tailing shadowy underground mohels, and the less-entertaining prospect of parents feeling compelled to DIY with a pair of kitchen scissors or condemn their sons to gehenna.

    Save your energies for something less of a loon-magnet, and more likely to lead to a realistic prospect of change.

  46. 46
    Ophelia Benson

    But attacking it head on isn’t the only way to go – there is also the possibility of simply changing opinions about it. That’s all I’m attempting, for instance.

    Opinions about it are already changing. That change could spread. The practice could slowly (or not so slowly) die out.

    That doesn’t seem like such a bad thing.

    Except, I agree, for the loon-magnet problem.

    But then if Giles Fraser will talk nonsense…

  47. 47
    Ms. Daisy Cutter, General Manager for the Cleveland Steamers

    bad Jim:

    I’d sort circumcision below global warming or obesity.

    You might want to reconsider the second one.

    Jenny6833a (who is a known troll on Pharyngula btw):

    I don’t buy the idea that cleanliness is easy in the United States and similar environs. Easier, yes. Easy, not at all.

    Soap, water, facecloth. How hard is that.

    I think parents do have the right to authorize it — just as they have the right to authorize the removal of, say, warts.

    So a piece of flesh that every boy is born with is on a par with a growth caused by a viral infection. I see.

    Now, I don’t claim to be an expert on all this, but I do think the discussion here and elsewhere has suffered from a lack of calm, rationality.

    Rather as you’ve chided victims of sexual assault in the past to discuss their trauma more “calmly” and “rationally.”

    A foreskin holds an infectious disease. Removing the foreskin prevents that from happening.

    And teeth hold tartar, which draws bacteria. Better pull all of the kid’s teeth as soon as they come in and get them fitted for dentures.

    Dave, I congratulate you on a perfect derail, with its pungent bouquet of accommodationism.

  48. 48
    Dave

    Thanks; I’m glad that you have such an abundance of time and energy. Most of us, not so much.

  49. 49
    Ophelia Benson

    Well…I don’t really understand that. I wouldn’t call it “such an abundance”…it’s just that I use it the way I use it. I use it to write about stuff. It’s just a blog; nobody has to read it. I don’t really see the point of rebuking me for using my time and energy to write on a blog.

  50. 50
    Art

    If I have a son he is getting circumcised. The potential harm of such a minor and untraumatic medical procedure is insignificant if done early. Waiting until he is eighteen isn’t the same thing as the operation is much more complicated, risky, costly and traumatic. On the other side the health benefits are, under present conditions, small, but not insignificant.

    I hear all the whining and crying about his ‘autonomy’ and how foreskins are ‘natural’ … get over it …. get over yourselves. Face it, kids are parasites until they grow a bit. They have no autonomy and by the time they do the option has passed. Making choices in the interest of children is what parents do.

    When the boy grows up he can add this violation of his autonomy to the very long list of things his parents did wrong. Every kids has to have a list. Otherwise we would be depriving them of their chance of making it big in country music.

    Claims of how natural foreskins are is simpleminded nature worship. Would you make the same claim about an appendix? A guy I camped with had his removed before a major expedition. One less thing to worry over was his explanation. Works for me.

    Anyone claiming that perhaps it makes sense in parts of the world where keeping clean is hard, but not here, lacks imagination. Things change. We fight over oil now. Next it will be water. By my estimation the US is well on its way toward third-world status for the vast majority of its population. Situation change.

    I read words about how the studies showing some protection from HIV, and other diseases, after circumcision are wrong but other than as simple assertion there is no actual evidence offered. That isn’t science. Even if you claim it is. If the actual effect is a fraction of what the studies claim it seems worth it based on that alone.

    Yes, there is some chance of harm but life is inherently risky. Nobody gets out of here alive. I’m not going to deprive my kid of the advantages of riding a bicycle even as it is one of the more risky activities. And I’m not going to deprive my son of the benefits of circumcision because it insults someone’s sensibilities of child autonomy and what is natural related to another person’s child.

    I’ll fight you over this one and will not brook using the state to enforce your opinions. I’m willing to hear what you say but so far most of what I see is crap. On the political side I would think you would want to save your powder for bigger issues like AGW, secularism, abortion rights, and sexual equality but if this is where you want to spend it so be it.

    I will add that it is hard to take people seriously who get hung up on minor issues to the detriment of larger ones. This issue is starting to sound a lot like a purity test and another fracture line. How the hell are you supposed to form a strong coalition if you demand purity on such a personal issue. No wonder we liberals can’t get our act together.

  51. 51
    Rrr

    it is hard to take people seriously who get hung up on minor issues to the detriment of larger ones.

    Art, I got this bit but the rest of your sausage may have gotten a little hacked up, because I cannot make “head” or “tale” of most of your mess.

    Someone else had an elective surgery, and since this “works for” you, you are happy to forgo the holy principle that you just paid reverence to: “…but other than as simple assertion there is no actual evidence offered. That isn’t science. Even if you claim it is.”

    Are you quite certain you have actually read and understood the prior to-and-fros in this conversation? Maybe look again? Because I for one am not so convinced. Oh, and maybe some of my words got a bit cut up too, above. That’s what happens when one tries to type with their sloppy dicks, as you well know.

  52. 52
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    Art, I really hope it never comes to you having children

  53. 53
    Ophelia Benson

    Uh…what?

    On the one hand, the health benefit of circumcision is small but significant, so IMA DO IT, DAMMIT. On the other hand, yes there is some chance of harm but life is inherently risky so IMA DO IT, DAMMIT. Those two reasons for DOING IT cancel each other out.

    And after looking fairly hard I can’t really find any genuine reason for doing it. The HIV namecheck looks very perfunctory. Are you DOING IT because HIV?

    And what’s with the crazy “I’ll fight you over this one and will not brook using the state to enforce your opinions”? I don’t have the state at my beck and call, actually. I’m not trying to get the state to enforce my opinion. (On the other hand, if we’re talking about “enforcing” – surely it’s people who circumcize infants for religious reasons who are enforcing something, not people who frown on the practice.)

    And what’s all that about strong coalition and purity and we liberals? Are you thinking this is some Party Line or something? It’s not. I haven’t seen anyone else talking about this, apart from a couple of mentions on Twitter.

    I think you may have accidentally entered the wrong house. Check the address again.

  54. 54
    Ophelia Benson

    Oh and how did Dear Muslima get in here?

    Who is hung up on anything? It’s one post and some comments. That’s not “hung up.” And what “detriment of larger ones”? What “larger ones” am I damaging by talking about this one? And who appointed you the decider of which issues take priority over which?

    Honestly. Where do they come up with this stuff.

  55. 55
    Rrr

    Oh, now I geddit! He’s Art, right? So this is, like, a happening, an installation, another non-original Pissoir at a Dada exhibition, yes?

    Fortunately, this piece of Art has not yet graduated to dadahood, it seems. Let it so be. Something is missing.

    Or maybe I jest rong. What are the odds – 7 Billion to what?

  56. 56
    lorn

    Rrr @ 51 –
    Sound out the big words. Take it one section at a time so you don’t get confused. I know, its hard to think about several levels at once. Take notes if you need to. And no, my dick is not sloppy. It’s quite well groomed, downright handsome, even if it is just my girlfriend saying so.

    I also don’t type with it. Even on clacky AT keyboard (love me some clacky keyboard) it would be quite impossible to hit any single key. If I avoid the edges seven at a time is as good as it is likely to get. Not that I’m going to try. Perhaps you have more luck with your tiny member. Small enough to text on a smartphone or work a Micro has its advantages so don’t feel bad Tiny.

    Giliell, not to be confused with The Borg @ 52 –
    Too late. I guess that means my grievously mutilated penis and damaged individual autonomy still function well enough, even after all the damage. Works for me; works for her. Everyone who is personally involved is happy but, somehow, that isn’t good enough for y’all. Sounds to me like some people are going to have to get used to staying unhappy.

  57. 57
    Ophelia Benson

    Bye bye Art.

  58. 58
    Rrr

    I know, its hard to think about several levels at once. Take notes if you need to.

    I know you know. Trust me about on this. Or not.

  59. 59
    anat

    To WMDKitty (@#30):

    You know, both in Israel and the US there are mohalim who are licensed MDs. I wonder how their practice of circumcision matches medical standards and what their respective medical societies think of said manner of practice.

  60. 60
    Dave

    OB, for the record, I was being sarcastic at the commenter after you [47]. Your point was perfectly well-made; theirs, not so much.

  61. 61
    Dessie Usry

    Good Job, very interesting…

  62. 62
    Jafafa Hots

    First (and when we say first boy do we mean first) do harm.

  63. 63
    Jafafa Hots

    Art, is this child of yours your firstborn, or do you own others?

  64. 64
    Ophelia Benson

    It is weirdly as if that’s what he’s arguing, isn’t it. Fascinating that he’s so willing to say so.

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