Thursday, August 30, 2012

T.J. Walker speaks about the 2012 AAP Policy on Circumcision

Also The AAP report on circumcision: Bad science + bad ethics = bad medicine - Practical Ethics, Oxford University Blog, which states:

In view of this empirical uncertainty on the medical question, it is problematic to assert, as the AAP does in its new report, that a person does not have the right to decide whether he wishes to keep his own healthy foreskin at birth, and that the right belongs instead to his parents. A more reasonable conclusion is that the owner of the foreskin should be allowed to consider the evidence (in all its murkiness) for himself—when he is mentally competent to do so—and make a personal decision about what is, after all, a functional bit of his own sexual anatomy and one enjoyed without issue by the vast majority of the world’s males.

You may be surprised to learn that the word “condom” does not appear even once in the 28 page AAP report.

In making their risk/benefit calculations, then, the AAP simply leaves out a critical bulk of factors relevant to the equation, including the existence of a range of proven healthcare tools like condoms, vaccines (including an effective HPV vaccine), and antibiotics. If they had bothered to consider human rights and bodily integrity issues, the function of the foreskin, its value to the individual, and his possible wishes in later life, as well, their computations would quite plainly yield a very different answer.
Critics have also pointed out that the “60%” figure that is typically sold as the relationship between circumcision and reduction of HIV infections is the misleading output of a statistical sleight-of-hand: the absolute reduction between the circumcised and intact groups in these flawed studies was a mere 1.3%.
But let’s put all that to the side. For even if it were true that circumcision offered some minor protective effect against HIV/AIDS or other STDs such as HPV (for which, as I stated before, there is an effective vaccine)—despite the best evidence to the contrary, and against all the points I have just laid out—it would still not follow that the procedure could be ethically performed on infants. This is crucial. Given that there is a cheaper, more effective, less invasive, less coercive alternative—namely condom-use in adulthood—it cannot be considered even remotely consistent with biomedical ethics to endorse the risky genital cutting of a pre-verbal child toward the same ostensible end.
It took the AAP circumcision “task force” several years to choreograph its latest tap-dance routine. Why it has produced a document so far out of line with both world opinion and the most basic of bioethical principles is a fascinating—and disturbing—question, but one which I cannot hope to answer in a single blog post. Whatever the reason, however, one can be sure that it has far more to do with culture than with science. As medical historians and cultural analysts have meticulously documented, circumcision as a birth ritual remains deeply, and uniquely, embedded in American medical culture and in the naïve expectations of doctors and parents alike. This sets the U.S. apart from everywhere else in the developed world—certainly outside of religious communities for whom the ritual is still self-consciously sacramental, and by whom it is performed without needing the rationalization of “health benefits.” Like any ritual, American proponents of circumcision are loath to give it up, for dread of the unknown consequences.

And this other blog entry: When bad science kills, or how to spread AIDS

The worst part about all of this is not just that the science behind “the circumcision solution” is so shaky, but that the actual implementation of these recommendations—so vociferously pushed-for by the circumcision advocates doing this research — would very likely lead to more HIV infections, not less. The big idea here is “risk compensation” 

In Uganda, as Boyle and Hill uncovered, the Kampala Monitor reported men as saying, “I have heard that if you get circumcised, you cannot catch HIV/AIDS. I don’t have to use a condom.” Commenting on this problem, a Brazilian Health Ministry official stated: “[T]he WHO [World Health Organization] and UN HIV/AIDS program … gives a message of false protection because men might think that being circumcised means that they can have sex without condoms without any risk, which is untrue.”

Van Howe and Storms spell this all out:

How rational is it to tell men that they must be circumcised to prevent HIV, but after circumcision they still need to use a condom to be protected from sexually transmitted HIV? Condoms provide near complete protection, so why would additional protection be needed? It is not hard to see that circumcision is either inadequate (otherwise there would be no need for the continued use of condoms) or redundant (as condoms provide nearly complete protection).
The studies we’ve looked at, claiming to show a benefit of circumcision in reducing transmission of HIV, are paragons of bad design and poor execution; and any real-world roll-out of their procedures would be very difficult to achieve safely and effectively. The likeliest outcome is that HIV infections would actually increase—both through the circumcision surgeries themselves performed in unsanitary conditions, and through the mechanism of risk compensation and other complicating factors of real life. The “circumcision solution” is no solution at all. It is a waste of resources and a potentially fatal threat to public health.

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