Hanna Rosin Is Mistaken On Circumcision
Hanna Rosin, guest-blogging for Andrew Sullivan, attempts to dismiss opposition to yesterday's news about the CDC potentially recommending infant male circumcision.
But the procedure is only "controversial" because people have emotional, psychological and religious reactions to it. Scientifically speaking, it's not remotely controversial. ...
Ms. Rosin's statement is nonsense because she ignores the ethics of implementing the findings. Her statement is nonsense because it ignores the evidence-based reality for infant males. The child's genitals are healthy at the moment of surgery. This is not "emotional," it is fact. Potential benefits do not make the surgical intervention on healthy infant males any more defensible.
Ms. Rosin continues:
... The anti-circumcision sites always refer to the American Academy of Pediatrics' 1999 policy statement on circumcision, which declined to recommend the procedure. But that statement was issued before the most compelling studies emerged about the role circumcision plays in reducing the risk for transmission of HIV and other STD's. ...
The "most compelling studies" from Africa were performed on adult volunteers, which is the key point before we get to an assessment of the significant differences in the HIV epidemics in sub-Saharan Africa and the United States. The ethical issue can't be resolved simply by noting that American culture already values the circumcision of males. American culture gets it wrong on what should be permitted on healthy children who do not need medical intervention and can't consent to cosmetic surgery. Proxy consent must require medical need first, and medical ethics should demand only the least-invasive effective treatment for sick children. Prophylactic infant male circumcision fails both standards.
Ms. Rosin later acknowledges the differences between Africa and the United States, but she seeks to pretend that "the evidence is still pretty strong, and even stronger for STD's" qualifies as a rebuttal. It doesn't. The only supported suggestion is that adult male circumcision reduces the risk of female-to-male HIV transmission. Even if that accurately described the American situation, which it doesn't, wasting finite medical resources on infant males who will not be engaging in any sexual activity, protected or not, for many years is asinine. And unethical, since we must loop back to the evidence-based reality that healthy infant males do not need circumcision.
At the end of her post, Ms. Rosin raises a separate issue, apparently as a "gotcha".
Over on DoubleX, KJ Dell'Antonia makes the good feminist point. With the HPV vaccines, conservatives raise a fuss that removing the risk of STD's will make girls more sexually promiscuous. In the circumcision debate, silence on the promiscuity front.
There's a double standard. What does that prove with respect to justifying infant male circumcision? Because a group of people make a stupid, sexist assertion about one point, their silence on another human sexuality topic confers credibility to the intervention? Focusing on this gives the unserious nutters too much credit.
Anyway, it's far more logical to highlight the double standard inherent in having anti-FGM laws in America that prohibit parents and doctors from altering the genitals of female minors for any reason other than medical need, including the cultural and religious claims of the parents, while leaving open the option for parents to circumcise healthy male minors for any reason. There are important caveats to raise in the differences in male and female genital cutting, but the ethical question involves basic human rights. When considering that less invasive cutting is prohibited on female minors compared to what is permitted (and potentially encouraged) on male minors, the difference is in degree, not in kind, and can't be swept away with the same tired deference to potential benefits. But that would involve addressing the issues rather than side-stepping them to score cheap rhetorical points and declaring victory.