Monday, July 23, 2012

The ethical issues of non-therapeutic circumcision of infants.

Please note, this discussion of circumcision is not meant to make circumcised men feel bad about themselves. It's meant to create awareness about the issues of circumcision, not for self-pity, but to promote a better future for the upcoming generations. What's done to us is done. Our parents thought they were doing what was right, even if they were lied to. We need to be aware of the potential issues to make better decisions for our children. Denial of these issues only perpetuates the cycle.

Circumcision of infants presents ethical issues. It is a non-therapeutic procedure, it's not meant to treat a disease; at best, if we believe in the (dubious I say) health benefits, then it's prophyilactic or preventive of things that may or may not happen many years from now; otherwise, it's just a cosmetic surgery. In both cases, it's an ELECTIVE surgery (which the baby did not elect) and it can wait until the baby becomes an adult.

However, even for a prophylactic procedure, it exposes the baby to non-trivial risks such as death from bleeding, death from infections, damage or loss of the penis and damage to the sexual function such as pain during sex for life. More often than acknowledged, additional surgeries are required to correct damages from the initial procedure. Most people do not know this. -Of course this does not mean that the intent of circumcision is to cause harm, but harm do happens.

Most people don't know that most of the circumcisions in the U.S. are performed without any form of anesthesia, exposing the baby to horrible pain while the doctor (or an untrained intern) cuts in cold blood the most sensitive area of the penis, normally about 50% of the skin of the penis.

In fact, every surgery has risks. However, with a therapeutic surgery, you would be choosing between imminent suffering and the possibility of treating such damage. For example, a person might die during heart surgery, but it may also save that person from an imminent death. However, you might want to think it over before sending your son into a "preventive surgery" when the surgery might kill your son or affect him for life.

An adult undergoing an elective surgery can make an informed choice and face the consequences if something goes wrong. When circumcision goes wrong, it's your child who suffers a lifetime of consequences.

Circumcision also changes the form and function of the penis, decreasing the array of experiences that the adult will enjoy. The foreskin is a sensory organ on its own, and it also protects the glans. Its removal damages the glans in the long term. There are plenty of reports of loss of sensibility as the adult grows older. Lubricants and viagra are big selling products in the U.S. thanks to circumcision.

Many adult men have hair on the shaft of the penis. This is not natural. This is a result of skin from the scrotum being pulled onto the penis to compensate for the skin cut during circumcision.

Some men can't have a normal erection without pain due to a too tight circumcision. Sometimes there is so little skin that it splits open bleeding during erection. This is a potential consequence of circumcision that is not apparent until the teenage years.

The foreskin is not a useless flap of skin. It's a highly specialized tissue with immunological and sexual functions. 150 years of cultural conditioning made people forget what a foreskin is, how it looks and what it does. The foreskin is not a gross flap of skin covered in bacteria and germs, as people would like to think.

Circumcision removes the child's possibility to decide over his body. Parents do not own their children, or their children's body; they should not be allowed to choose which parts of the body the babies get to keep or have to discard. Every baby has the right to have a whole body.

Did you know that circumcision started in the U.S. in the late XIX century and early XX century because some doctors believed that masturbation caused epylepsy, tuberculosis, blindness, paralysis and several other conditions? They knew that circumcising would make masturbation more difficult (which is why lubricants are so popular) and with the pain from the procedure the kids would associate sex with pain. Lovely, isn't it? Thank you Dr. J. H. Kellogg.

The idea of circumcision being cleaner really has its roots there too: a circumcised boy wouldn't have to touch his penis to wash it, and if he didn't touch his penis he wouldn't be tempted to masturbate. A circumcised boy could just stand in the shower and get clean without touching "himself". That's hygiene for you.

In the 30s, some doctors starting spreading some wrong advice that unfortunately has perdured to our time. They said that if you didn't circumcise your child, you should retract his foreskin to clean the glans. This is wrong. In most babies, the glans and the foreskin are sealed. Retracting it is like trying to clean under your nails with a q-tip. It hurts. It creates wounds, which with time become scars and adhesions, which in time become "acquired phimosis" - effectively preventing the foreskin from retracting and now making circumcision necessary. Great advice doctors, you suck!

Caring for an intact penis is extremely easy. Wash it like it's a finger: just the outside, rinse it with water. That's all. NEVER retract it. The only person who should retract the foreskin is the kid himself, when he starts to do it spontaneously. This can take several years. This might not even happen until he is a teenager.

Finally, circumcision is big business. Not only the hospitals get to charge for the procedure itself, but they sell the foreskins. With close to 2 million circumcisions per year, this is not trivial. Foreskins are used to manufacture cosmetics, to grow cells for skin transplants and for research. 50 micro-grams of human foreskin sell over the internet for over 300 dollars. A single foreskin can be cultured over and over to create new cells for any purpose.

When we know better, we do better. Let's save the upcoming generations from non-therapeutic infant circumcision.

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