Opinion

Why circumcision should be abhorred

Why circumcision should be abhorred

A couple from the US state of Georgia was recently arrested for tattooing six of their seven children with crosses. The mother bemusedly commented:

I’m their mother. Shouldn’t I be able to decide if they get one?

No, madam, you shouldn’t. Children are not possessions; parents do not own them. They are human beings with inalienable human rights. To permanently and unnecessarily scar a child without their express and informed consent (and when they are not old enough to comprehend the consequences) is a violation of those rights.

Another case, in 2008, involved devout Christian John Freshwater, a science teacher with creationist beliefs, who used an electrical device to brand crosses on some of his pupils – and he was was rightly sacked for this outrage

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Tattooing (or branding) children, is, of course, a rare occurrence. Far more prevalent is a form of child mutilation that barely raises an eyebrow: circumcision.

Anyone with a sensitive cell in his or her body instinctively abhors the idea of female genital mutilation, yet male circumcision is seen as perfectly acceptable.

It is not. Circumcision is unnecessary, irreversible, and intensely painful. Yet it is often justified on aesthetic or religious grounds – or it may simply be a fashion followed unquestioningly by parents, ignorant of the fact that the practice is not only unethical, but is tantamount to criminal assault if not carried out for genuine medical reasons.

It is simply an ancient and barbaric ritual with no place in any modern society.

Circumcision happens thus (the squeamish should skip this paragraph): First the infant’s arms and legs are strapped down to prevent movement. The child’s genitals are then dabbed with an anaesthetic and lubricating solution. A pair of what can only be described as scissors are then used to cut down the length of the foreskin. A metal hood is then firmly placed over the head of the penis, keeping the foreskin outside. A sharpened metal ring is then placed around the child’s penis, and the ring closes over the foreskin, trapping it between the blade of the ring and the protective metal hood. The pressure severs the foreskin completely, completing the circumcision.

And that’s when it is done properly, under modern hygienic conditions. Now ask yourselves how many millions more circumcisions are carried around the world in a grossly unhygienic manner?

Consider that circumcision has taken place for thousands of years, and we must acknowledge millions of infants circumcised throughout history, cut with knives, sharp stones, razor blades or other instruments – without pain relief.

Jewish law has a proviso that allows parents who have had three boys die from circumcision to leave the fourth unmutilated (what charity!)

More sinister still, Jewish circumcision has a more traditional form, during which the mohel will suck the blood from the cut penis with his mouth. This practice went relatively unpublicised until baby boys in New York City became infected with herpes thanks to a practitioner who had the condition.

If my description of the procedure alone is not enough to convince you of the barbarity of circumcision, I challenge you to watch an online video of any standard circumcision of a baby boy. It is harrowing. I am not ashamed to admit that, while watching one, I had to mute the sound: the infant’s screams of pain were too much for me to endure.

HOWEVER, if a consenting adult male wishes to have his foreskin removed (or any other part of his body mutilated), then so long as he does not endanger his own life, he is welcome to do so. It is consent that is paramount.

You may have heard that there are medical advantages for circumcision – and it is true that the American Academy of Pediatrics notes a 1 percent drop in urinary tract infections among circumcised boys. Women, however, are 30 times more likely to get UTIs than men, yet no-one in their right mind would suggest the cutting of the labia and clitoral hood in order to improve hygiene and reduce the risk of infection.

Shamefully, the World Health Organisation recommends circumcisions in areas badly affected by HIV, instead of recommending educating the public regarding the use of contraceptives. The idiocy is profound: mutilate a man’s penis instead of leaving it intact and educating him. Cut him instead of teaching him. I have no doubt that the widespread influence of the Catholic Church in AIDS-hit countries has affected the WHO’s decisions about the dodgy fixes they endorse regarding the HIV. We well know the Vatican teaches that condoms don’t prevent HIV (for the Holy See, AIDS might be bad, but condoms are worse.)

And Judaism certainly has a lot to answer for, too, having provided the blueprint for this revolting practice. Without genuinely believing that God wants infants to be mutilated, there would be no religious justification to continue doing it. Those who believe in a Divine Creator who wants children mutilated should accept that such a deity must be extraordinarily racist and cruel. He is a semite-supremacist, because he favours the tribe and descendents of Israel over all other humans. And he is exceptionally cruel because, though God supposedly knows all there is to know, he could think of no better way to make a covenant with humans than through ritual mutilation.

Furthermore, they must conclude that morality is defined by the wishes of God. That is, something is good because God says it is. And if that is the case, the act of murdering one’s parents and the act of stealing a pencil are wrong for the same reason. That this God-defined morality would justify circumcision just goes to show that the oft-quoted, “If God is dead, anything is permitted” is downright wrong: God need only command you to do something and it would be a moral action – be it killing your child as a sacrifice, murdering homosexuals or mutilating your children’s genitals.

One of the greatest Torah scholars of all time, Maimonides wrote:

The bodily pain caused to that member is the real purpose of circumcision.

Telling indeed. It also seems that Maimonides was right when he said:

The fact that circumcision weakens the faculty of sexual excitement and sometimes perhaps diminishes the pleasure is indubitable.

The foreskin is the male version of the clitoral hood (during embryonic growth, the hood becomes the foreskin) and as such, is packed with pleasure-sensitive areas. According to a study of sexual pleasure in adult males, it was concluded that the most sensitive areas of the penis are on the foreskin (Sorrells et al). Severing it irreversibly limits sexual pleasure.

This is precisely what Maimonides had in mind, but whilst he viewed it as a justification of circumcision (sexual lust being an excessive indulgence and all), nowadays we may cast off such Bronze Age notions.

While 30 percent of all men are circumcised worldwide, only 0.8 percent of those are Jewish. The majority, 68.8 percent, are Muslim. Justifications for the practice are predominantly cultural and scriptural: the Prophet Mohammed was circumcised and he circumcised his children, too, and that is justification enough for Islam. Since the Prophet can do no wrong, anything he does is what God wants.

These religious notions of divine covenant and sexual “purity” were born in the fearful infancy of our species, and we should now free ourselves from such primitive nonsense.

Finally, be wary of any modern justification of circumcision. The American Academy of Pediatrics stated unequivocally in 2005 that:

There is no absolute medical indication for routine circumcision of the newborn.

It is therefore unconscionable to inflict genital cutting on children, male or female. That male circumcision does not provoke the same instinctive disgust as female genital cutting is a profound indicator of the power of tradition and convention.

The vile influence of religious dogma is like a magnet to the moral compass. The old adage holds true: Good people will do good things, and bad people will do bad things. But for a good person to do a bad thing, that takes religion.

In this case good people are mutilating their children’s genitals, utterly unaware that, without religion, this barbaric and grotesque practice would never have existed at all.

Update:

My attention has just been drawn by Intact America to the fact that, in the wake of the three recent studies in southern Africa linking circumcision to reduced HIV infection rates, both the AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) and the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) have reconvened their official task forces on circumcision and are beginning a new round of deliberations. These meetings, says IA’s Eion Cahill:

Could culminate in a unilateral endorsement of circumcision by the American medical machine.

• This piece first appeared on the Freethinker site on Jan 21, 2010

 

67 responses to “Why circumcision should be abhorred”

  1. Joseph4GI says:

    This story of the children and the tattoos shows us that there are limitations to parental prerogative, whatever those intentions were, be them religious or social. But let’s get away from that for a bit.

    It always amazes me how people who supposedly circumcise out of faith have to dole out all the supposed “medical benefits” of circumcision, when, benefit or detriment, circumcision is this non-negotiable “covenant.”

    Is religion simply not enough anymore?

    I think herein lies the reason to why there are so many “studies” surrounding male infant circumcision; “potential medical/health benefits” are the difference between medical surgery and genital mutilation.

    You’ll notice that while there is a long litany of “studies” that circumcision “might/may/could/perhaps” “reduce the risk” for this or that disease, there’s not an overwhelming amount of “research” surrounding female circumcision. There aren’t very many “potential benefits” to female circumcision, bet then again, no one seems too eager to “study” and “investigate” it.

    Is there a reason for all these “studies?”

    You bet there is;

    Without all that scientific “research” for “benefits,” male circumcision stands as naked as female circumcision, and people who wish to preserve circumcision are simply not going to let that happen.

    Look who’s behind all this “research” and you’ll start seeing the same usual suspects, some of who come from countries where circumcision is, or was prevalent. Some men happen to be Jewish, and apparently this isn’t a conflict of interest (Fink, Halperin, Schoen etc.).

    If circumcision is such an important aspect of your religion/tradition, what does any of it have to do with health and medicine?

    Would that science showed that circumcision is medically worthless, if not detrimental to a child, would it somehow really, honestly cause you to abandon circumcision?

    Something at the back of my mind screams “no!!!”.

    So then, it’s really surprising, amazing, mind-boggling to hear people who do things out of “faith” try to justify their actions with the polar opposite of it which is scientific research.

    By definition, faith is belief in that which cannot be scientifically explained. If it needs to be proven to a doubting Thomas, that’s not faith, it’s doubt.

    To those of you who call on “medical” or “health” benefits to justify your actions against your children, would you be supportive of research that seeks to find an alternative to circumcision?

    Usually, research tries to find alternatives to surgery. Don’t doctors usually try to find a solution to cancer before it means a mastectomy? A prostatectomy? Don’t they run tests first to make sure that surgery is absolutely inevitable?

    Researchers usually say “we have found the cause of x, and we’ve devised this pill, treatement etc., and now you don’t have to get this operation! Isn’t this great news?”

    If a doctor told you this, would you be jumping for joy saying “yes! my son won’t have to be circumcised!”? Or would you take your child to a doctor that will circumcise your child for you and tell you the soothing words of all the “medical benefits” circumcision might have to justify what you want to do to your son? Pay attention to your answer. This will define whether you really are concerned for your child’s well-being, or merely your own.

    It is peculiar that instead of searching for an alternative to surgery, “researchers” are busy trying to legitimize it, if not necessitate it.

    Imagine, if you will, “studies” that try to find “medical benefits” to blood letting. Trephination. Breast ironing. Neck stretching. Female circumcision. Would you not think that those studies are completely turned on their heads?

    You’ll notice that there is no “female circumcision” task force. No “taskforce on trephination.” No “taskforce on neck stretching” at the AAP. That’s because the absence of virtue in mulling these things would be immediately obvious.

    The time has come for us to call out circumcision for the quackery that it is; doctors and “researchers” need to be looking for ways to displace circumcision, not ways to see it continue. “Studies” that seek to necessitate surgery in the healthy defy all logic and reason.

    Let Jews argue amongst themselves regarding bris; a doctor’s duty is to medicine, not to blood rituals. They need to be searching for ways to prevent needless surgery in children, not necessitate it. Charging to perform medically unnecessary procedures is medical fraud. In helpless, non-consenting infants, it is, irrefuteably, child rape.

  2. Joseph4GI says:

    If a man had sex with a girl in a coma, and she woke up and she couldn’t remember, is it still rape?

    Likewise, when you take someone and forcefully circumcise him, does age matter? When you take a child and mutilate his organs, does it really make it better that the child can’t remember it, as opposed to taking a full grown man and forcefully tying him down to have his foreskin cut off?

    Really?

    Some people claim that circumcising a woman is so much “worse” than male circumcision, because it is done in the bush, with dirty utensils, by untrained amateurs, with no pain killers, at an age when she remembers.

    Would that circumcision was performed in newborn baby girls, with sterile utensils in the most pristine conditions, by a trained doctor, with pain killers, would that make female circumcision “better?”

    Why does this only work for male circumcision?

    Regarding cleanliness, Tess, people claim that the circumcised penis is “cleaner.” But cleaning an anatomically correct penis is really not that much harder to clean than an anatomically correct vulva. In fact, a woman may have a harder time than an intact man to clean her organs, as smegma accumulates in more copious amounts in a woman.

    The answer is clear; soap and water.

    Usually, hygiene commands that when something gets dirty, we clean it, not cut it off.

    We have the means to keep a penis clean without having to cut a part of it off. Why pray, are doctors obsessed with mutilation?

  3. Kathleen says:

    Randy (above) tries to “reason” with (us) why parents should redesign the healthy, functional male anatomy:

    Randy: Easier hygiene. Circumcision makes it easy to wash the penis — although it’s simple to clean an uncircumcised penis, too.

    >>>The vagina is also a haven for bacteria and other build-up. Why is a bar of soap sufficient for girls but not boys? Oh, you say boys aren’t as bright? I see….

    Randy: Decreased risk of urinary tract infections. The risk of urinary tract infections in the first year is low, but these infections may be up to 10 times as common in uncircumcised baby boys. Severe infections early in life can lead to kidney problems later on.

    >>>girls suffer from UTI’s a hell of a lot more than boys. By 5 years old, about 8% of girls and about 1-2% of boys have had at least one. We do we give girls antibiotics instead of cutting off part of their genitals? Oh, you say that’s too drastic to do to a girl?

    Randy: Prevention of penile problems. Occasionally, the foreskin on an uncircumcised penis may be difficult or impossible to retract (phimosis). This can also lead to inflammation of the head of the penis.

    >>>Let’s talk vaginal problems for a moment. FREQUENTLY, women get yeast infections. Talk about inflammation! According to your reasoning that is a good reason to cut off parts of someone else’s genitals. Oh, you say that’s too drastic to do to a girl? Phimosis is a scam. It is a medical condition that is easily rectifiable with minor medical intervention. Oh, you say that minor medical intervention (meds) for a yeast infection is one thing, but minor medial intervention (meds) for “phimosis” is something different altogether??? What?

    Randy: Decreased risk of penile cancer. Although cancer of the penis is rare, it’s less common in circumcised men.

    >>>More women will die from breast cancer than any other type of cancer out there.
    Does that mean that we should all start nipping the breast buds on baby girls in order to prevent future disease? Oh, you say, certainly not?! I think scare mongering is more common in circumcised men than intact men.

    Randy: Decreased risk of sexually transmitted diseases. Safe sexual practices remain essential, but circumcised men may have a slightly lower risk of certain sexually transmitted diseases — including HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

    >>>The USA has the highest rate of HIV in the developed world. For decades we have been circumcising children. How do you explain why our rates are still so high?
    You also preach that penile reduction reduces STD’s and HIV, as if it were scripture. It’s not. It’s more scare mongering & that topic is also hotly debated in medical circles.

  4. Kathleen says:

    Randy (above) tries to “reason” with (us) why parents should redesign the healthy, functional male anatomy:

    Randy: Easier hygiene. Circumcision makes it easy to wash the penis — although it’s simple to clean an uncircumcised penis, too.

    >>>The vagina is also a haven for bacteria and other build-up. Why is a bar of soap sufficient for girls but not boys? Oh, you say boys aren’t as bright? I see….

    Randy: Decreased risk of urinary tract infections. The risk of urinary tract infections in the first year is low, but these infections may be up to 10 times as common in uncircumcised baby boys. Severe infections early in life can lead to kidney problems later on.

    >>>girls suffer from UTI’s a hell of a lot more than boys. By 5 years old, about 8% of girls and about 1-2% of boys have had at least one. Why do we give girls antibiotics instead of cutting off part of their genitals? Oh, you say that’s too drastic to do to a girl?

    Randy: Prevention of penile problems. Occasionally, the foreskin on an uncircumcised penis may be difficult or impossible to retract (phimosis). This can also lead to inflammation of the head of the penis.

    >>>Let’s talk vaginal problems for a moment. FREQUENTLY, women get yeast infections. Talk about inflammation! According to your reasoning that is a good reason to cut off parts of someone else’s genitals. Oh, you say that’s too drastic to do to a girl? Phimosis is a scam. It is a medical condition that is easily rectifiable with minor medical intervention. Oh, you say that minor medical intervention (meds) for a yeast infection is one thing, but minor medial intervention (meds) for “phimosis” is something different altogether??? What?

    Randy: Decreased risk of penile cancer. Although cancer of the penis is rare, it’s less common in circumcised men.

    >>>More women will die from breast cancer than any other type of cancer out there.
    Does that mean that we should all start nipping the breast buds on baby girls in order to prevent future disease? Oh, you say, certainly not?! I think scare mongering is more common in circumcised men than intact men.

    Randy: Decreased risk of sexually transmitted diseases. Safe sexual practices remain essential, but circumcised men may have a slightly lower risk of certain sexually transmitted diseases — including HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

    >>>The USA has the highest rate of HIV in the developed world. For decades we have been circumcising children. How do you explain why our rates are still so high?
    You also preach that penile reduction reduces STD’s and HIV, as if it were scripture. It’s not. It’s more scare mongering & that topic is also hotly debated in medical circles.

  5. Marianne says:

    Fantastic article.
    Very glad this is getting more coverage and heartened by how many people agree, and extremely grateful to those giving their own stories, especially regarding adult necessary operations and how missed the bodypart is; therefore why ever do it to a child! Exactly.

    The amount of circumfetishists (yes they exist) that go on about how all the adults that get ‘cut’ absolutely love it… it’s depressing. They neglect to speak to these people more than a year after it’s been done or if they do they just ignore that part.

    The only problem I have is the point about it being done ‘properly’ – there is no proper way to do something like this. You mean if it’s done in a hygienic setting with customised tools. =/= ‘proper’.

    I’ve written some stuff on the subject at http://noodlemaz.wordpress.com/tag/MGM

  6. Eric says:

    Anyone who sees circumcision as a good thing has a level of wilful ignorance that rivals any creationists as well as a disregard for basic human rights that I would have expected from the Bible’s authors!

  7. Bjorn says:

    While I will agree the idea of circumcision is brutal, I cannot ignore the health benefits: Circumcised males have between 44% and 71% lower risk of getting HIV/AIDS. These numbers are taken from the CDC’s website. Even if the lower number is more correct, I would want my child to have a better chance to NOT get HIV/AIDS.

  8. Headless says:

    There’s a lot of vitriol on this site. I’m a Jew, and for hundreds of generations The Brit Milah, as commanded by G-d, has been practiced by the Jewish people. We do not force this practice on anyone. It is elected by the parents of a male child. I have never heard any practicing Jewish Male complain about the “horrors” of circumcision.
    On the other hand, Judaism proscribes against other forms of self mutilation/abominations such as tatoos and body piercings. Again, Judaism doesn’t impose its beliefs on anyone…there is always freedom of choice. Enjoy your tattoos and piercings.

  9. Jeffrey says:

    Headless wrote:
    There’s a lot of vitriol on this site. I’m a Jew, and for hundreds of generations The Brit Milah, as commanded by G-d, has been practiced by the Jewish people. We do not force this practice on anyone. It is elected by the parents of a male child. I have never heard any practicing Jewish Male complain about the “horrors” of circumcision.
    On the other hand, Judaism proscribes against other forms of self mutilation/abominations such as tattoos and body piercings. Again, Judaism doesn’t impose its beliefs on anyone. there is always freedom of choice. Enjoy your tattoos and piercings.

    I write in reply:
    Headless, my father is a semi-practicing Jew. I was circumcised as a four day old infant because he felt it was his religious duty. As a grown man now, I am harmed and in utter disgust of his decision, and am entirely unhappy with my own penis. I would prefer to make my own decisions about my most sacred, and only sexual, body part. It was forced on me, without my consent.

    This practice is FORCED upon the infant by his parents, without so much as a drop of compassion for giving the child his own chance to choose a religion and follow whichever and only whichever practices he decides to. I am not Jewish; I do not wish to bear the ugly, horrible, disfiguring, life-altering, life-demeaning mark of being one either.

    In addition, its a horrific practice because it no longer makes the penis a man’s own. Instead, the scar and shape and function of the penis has been decided by the person who performed the despicable act. My penis isn’t my own–it’s been forcefully stolen and crafted by a thief, and is not my own. I see it every time I look at it–the massive scar and little tissue that is left is the solemn reminder.

    What words of comfort do you have for me?

  10. Truth Teller says:

    BUt it’s for religious purposes so nothing is too evil, cruel, stupid, lacking in commonsense, or even simple human decency that the religious will not insist that is is ordained by god. Hence slavery, subjugation of women, genocide, torture, and mutilation of children are not only tolerated but protected.

    Religion does ruin everything.

    Most of the problems of the world have been caused by religion. Think of the crusades, the inquisition, the dark ages, the witch burnings, the restrictions on learning, free speech, instilling guilt and shame into children, and the wars fought in the name of religion.

    More recently, think of family planning clinic bombings, oppression of gays and non-believers, murders of doctors and homosexuals, imposition of religious beliefs by force of law, and illegal use of public funds to promote particular religions.

    Mankind will never truly be free until the black yoke of religion is lifted by the clear light of truth and rational thinking.

  11. Truth Teller says:

    Your child would be better served if you taught him about safe sex and the responsibilities of it.

    Instead, you turn your thinking over to someone else. What a foolish, irresponsible person you are.

  12. GregH says:

    This is an excellent article. All children, regardless of gender, culture or parental religion, have a fundamental right to keep all their healthy, functional genitalia. Since an infant is incapable of religious beliefs, imposing an irreversible body alteration on him violates the freedom to choose his own religion as an adult. It differs from education, which can be changed. My body belongs to me!

  13. bystander says:

    Wanted to add that what is being referred to as “female circumcision” and “female genital mutilation” is not the same thing as male circumcision. When a man is circumsized, he can still enjoy sex and have an orgasm. A female once the clitoris is removed can not. I find it ignorant that the two are being compared as the same thing. A better comparison would be removing the penis.

  14. JohnMWhite says:

    Cutting off part of the genitals of a child is cutting off part of the genitals of a child. They are totally comparable, regardless of whether one leads to greater dysfunction than the other. It is not ignorant to have a problem with both these ghastly traditions.

  15. Vivian says:

    The American Urological Association, Inc.® (AUA) believes that neonatal circumcision has potential medical benefits and advantages as well as disadvantages and risks. Neonatal circumcision is generally a safe procedure when performed by an experienced operator. There are immediate risks to circumcision such as bleeding, infection and penile injury, as well as complications recognized later that may include buried penis, meatal stenosis, skin bridges, chordee and poor cosmetic appearance. Some of these complications may require surgical correction. Nevertheless, when performed on healthy newborn infants as an elective procedure, the incidence of serious complications is extremely low. The minor complications are reported to be three percent.

    Properly performed neonatal circumcision prevents phimosis, paraphimosis and balanoposthitis, and is associated with a decreased incidence of cancer of the penis among U.S. males. In addition, there is a connection between the foreskin and urinary tract infections in the neonate. For the first three to six months of life, the incidence of urinary tract infections is at least ten times higher in uncircumcised than circumcised boys. Evidence associating neonatal circumcision with reduced incidence of sexually transmitted diseases is conflicting. Circumcision may be required in a small number of uncircumcized boys when phimosis, paraphimosis or recurrent balanoposthitis occur and may be requested for ethnic and cultural reasons after the newborn period. Circumcision in these children usually requires general anesthesia.

    When circumcision is being discussed with parents and informed consent obtained, medical benefits and risks, and ethnic, cultural, religious and individual preferences should be considered. The risks and disadvantages of circumcision are encountered early whereas the advantages and benefits are prospective.

    Three studies from African nations published in 2005 and 2007 provide convincing evidence that circumcision reduces by 50-60% the risk of transmitting the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) to HIV negative men through sexual contact with HIV positive females. While the results of studies in African nations may not necessarily be extrapolated to men in the United States at risk for HIV infection, the American Urological Association recommends that circumcision should be presented as an option for health benefits. Circumcision should not be offered as the only strategy for HIV risk reduction. Other methods of HIV risk reduction, including safe sexual practices, should be emphasized.

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  16. Tony says:

    Good piece ——-

    See : http://www.mendocomplain.com

    and

    See : http://www.norm-uk.org

    Now is the time to criminalise ‘Male Genital Mutilation’ (MGM)

    Men fighting to protecting boys bodies.

    Love and Peace

    Tony

    http://charlesbradlaughsociety.wordpress.com