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Welcome to the world.

How many more stories like this must we read? I'm certainly frustrated seeing them because they wouldn't occur in a sane world. This time, from the U.K.:

Detectives are investigating the death of a seven-day-old baby after he was circumcised.

Stunned relatives at the Jewish ceremony saw the toddler experience breathing difficulties.

He was taken to hospital but died eight days later. A post mortem found the infant died from cardiac arrest and oxygen starvation.

Forget the religious aspect of this particular story; it has no bearing. The risk is the same, regardless of the reason the surgery is performed, so the implication is broad enough to cover every male infant circumcision.

Is there some threshold for the number of baby boys who must die before we become outraged at this unnecessary procedure? We're not there yet?

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In explaining the background of circumcision for this story, The Mirror provides a precise example of the kind of "balanced" coverage too many take with circumcision. No one wants to offend because male circumcision is seen as normal. Parents who do it are somehow justified in putting their child through the risks of surgery for non-medical reasons. I reject that, as everyone should.

In a connection clearly missed by the The Mirror in its effort to be unbiased, it presented this:

Circumcision of boys is an operation in which the foreskin is removed from the penis. With small babies, local anaesthetic is often sufficient and avoids the risks of a general anaesthetic.

Local anesthetic is "often" sufficient, except it's not. It takes no leap to realize that cardiac arrest and oxygen starvation might result from surgery on an inadequately anesthetized patient. This would be offensive in nearly every circumstance, but is particularly so when the surgery is unnecessary.

Contrary to a common misconception, babies feel pain. Lest anyone doubt this, listen to the end of this podcast. In the segment titled The Horror of Circumcision, you'll hear nothing but the baby's screams as his foreskin is removed¹. If you doubt what I say about circumcision, listen. You won't come away disagreeing with me.

Also in the article:

Some people believe the skin is redundant and gets in the way of hygiene.

Those people are ignorant.

This back-and-forth nonsense of presenting all sides is maddening. All sides do not warrant equal presentation. Circumcision is wrong. Parents do not have the right to impose such a decision on a child for any reason other than immediate medical need. If newspapers can't admit this, they should stay quiet and let the facts speak rather than furthering illegitimate excuses.

Update (02/25/07): Based on comments to this entry, I've altered this post to better reflect what I meant. I've replaced "those people are stupid" with "those people are ignorant". I know that word can also be seen as a pejorative, but I intend for the word to be taken in the specific context of its definition, "lacking knowledge or comprehension of the thing specified". In the future I will aim to be more precise.

¹ The use of effective anesthetic should be mandatory as long as we're going to perpetuate the mistaken view that infant circumcision is acceptable. That is an argument for minimum decency. The use of effective anesthetic does not miraculously erase the basic, serious unacceptability of routine infant circumcision.

Comments

"Some people believe the skin is redundant and gets in the way of hygiene."

This fatuous comment is the most ignorant and offensive bit of tripe I've ever seen in a mainstream news story. The guy who wrote it should be fired.

"Lest anyone doubt this, listen to the end of this podcast. In the segment titled The Horror of Circumcision, you'll hear nothing but the baby's screams as his foreskin is removed¹."

Disclaimer: I haven't gotten a chance to listen to the podcast, but don't believe it diminishes this point. . .

Based solely on your discription of it, I worry about the inclusion of the audio bit. A piece entitled "The Horror of Circumcision" comes across as blatant fear-mongering.

I recently experienced my daughter getting stitches. The area was so well anesthetized I can not fathom she felt anything (locally) during the actual suturing. That did not preclude her from screaming bloody murder in protest to being restrained. She screams similarly outside an ER setting when restrained.

I understand the difficulty in discussing a subject one feels strongly about, but encourage a bit of detachment. The "propoganda alert" sensors go off, and detract from otherwise logical and valid points.

Not that the topic usually is discussed (publicly) in a logical and intelligent fashion, but overall you do a good job.

On another note, are there really people who think babies don't feel pain? "They can't remember the procedure," I understand. "Can't feel it?" That sounds frighteningly ignorant. Do they have rationale behind it?

Ian,

Thank you for your thought-provoking comment. I agree that The Horror of Circumcision is an aggressive title for the podcast. I only included that bit because the full podcast is broken up into three segments. Still, you make a good point. I definitely aim for a more measured, if not nuanced, approach to this topic. I didn't think of phrasing it differently to diffuse that part of any objection. I should have. Even though I've written a lot about this, and I have a specific, unchangeable viewpoint, I'm still working to communicate more effectively.

To your last point, yes, people believe that infants don't feel pain. It used to be a belief that an infant's ability to feel pain hadn't fully developed at birth, so circumcision then was fine. That still persists, to an extent. Now, it's more commonly the idea that the foreskin is just a useless flap of skin that serves no other purpose than potential harm instead of the truth that it's normal, healthy tissue full of nerve-endings, with a protective function.

"A piece entitled 'The Horror of Circumcision' comes across as blatant fear-mongering."

So let's not call it what it is anymore, right?

Same old double standard.

I've heard many people warn anti-MGM activists against the use of "propagandistic" terms (like genital mutilation, for example), but until I see these same people issue similar warnings to the anti-FGM crowd, I'm not inclined to follow their advice.

Tony,
Simply a matter of your intended audience. Generally, your subject matter, tone, etc. would seem to appeal to a more educated, intellectual crowd. This particular one started out fairly measured, then degraded into "Those people are stupid." That tone/style, while probably not as effective in intellectual circles, probably has exactly the intended effect on the unwashed masses. First thing they teach you in a public speaking class: know your audience. It is not for me to dictate your tone, nor do I know anything about your readership. I also realize how difficult it is to remain objective on a touchy, personal interest. Just trying to be constructive.

By all means, keep doing what you are doing, and I will continue to visit.

Scott,

Call it whatever you like, just don't expect it to work every time. I had to think for a minute to realize what "anti-MGM" meant, therefore your post lost a lot of its punch. Without your example, it would have taken much longer.
Terms like genital mutilation pack a lot of punch. I would use it, were I a crusader for the cause. It makes people squirm, which the term circumcision does not. Making most people squirm is likely the first step to changing their minds.

That being said, yelling at me that my infant feels pain or may die in routine surgery (yes, it is routine, not matter how unfortunate that is) is not news to me. It does not have the effect intended. I only caution to market your argument to your audience. The masses eat up propoganda, the intellectuals prefer logical arguments. Well, some of us do anyway.

Ian,

"Fairly measured" is a good description of my philosophy on presenting this. A big problem is marketing, for lack of a better term. Speak to your audience, as you said. Shouts of "baby mutilator" or whatever won't help, usually. I don't intend to imply that a significant number of boys will die from the surgery, nor do I pretend that most men are upset by what was done to them. I'm not trying to change their opinion about themselves if they're happy or indifferent, only what they view as acceptable procedure with children.

I fretted a bit about "those people are stupid," but I left it in because it's what I believe is the basic truth specific to the excerpted idea. I can have a general argument about the validity or applicability of potential benefits, although I've gone into enough detail that the use of potential to justify surgery on a child is unsustainable. But I think it's absurd if someone is so uninformed as to believe that the foreskin has no purpose. And the hygiene argument is silly.

Still, I understand what you're saying. I'm not 100% convinced it was wise to say it that way. Perhaps "those people aren't thinking at all" or some variation would be closer. But it's an honest assessment of my opinion on that specific point.

"Terms like genital mutilation pack a lot of punch."

And as long as the anti-FGM folks are the only ones using it, that's a-okay because everyone knows girls suffer more than boys do and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah....

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