I read a lot more than I could ever or would ever post here about the recent studies linking circumcision to HIV prevention. My basic opposition to using that possible link hasn’t changed. It’s illogical to assume that the future, possibly risky sexual activities of a newborn should force a decision on his genitalia so prematurely. Such an irreversible decision should be delayed until he can decide. Nothing has changed in my stance.
Today, though, I thought of an example. Using basic generalizations, most new parents won’t have to worry about their child engaging in sexual activities for 15 to 20 years. Maybe a little optimistic, as I’m sure most will skew to the earlier range, but the point is the same. This long time frame gives science a chance to catch up. It also provides parents with a huge window in which to sneak in a few lessons in responsible personal behavior and the power of unintended consequences, but parents have mostly bypassed that in the nascent rush to change their reason for circumcising. The underlying desire to cut remains unchanged.
Here’s the example which shows the flaw in that rationale. Almost 15 years ago, I sat in my brother’s dorm room with a group of friends. We’d all heard there would be a shocking press conference. When it finally aired, we all watched as Magic Johnson retired from the NBA because he was HIV-positive. None of us could believe it, because more than losing one of the game’s greats, we knew his announcement was his own death sentence. He had HIV, which meant a horrible death from AIDS was soon to follow. That was the accepted wisdom.
Today, 15 years later, Magic Johnson is very much alive. He returned to the NBA twice, and now owns a successful chain of movie theaters. To my knowledge there are no indications that he is hampered or near death. Science caught up enough to keep him alive. More than that, his life isn’t merely an existence held together by machines and hospital beds and inactivity. He’s living with HIV. Where it used to be a death sentence, he can now manage his disease. I imagine it’s worrisome, but we no longer operate under the assumption that it must be fatal, and imminently so. That’s the power of science.
So, knowing that we’ll likely make significant progress in the next 15+ years, no one should use a possible correlation between HIV and the male prepuce as an excuse to abandon common sense. Life will always have risks, but those risks can be mitigated by responsible behavior. Responsible behavior can be taught and learned at any age. Given that the foreskin, once removed, can never be replaced, surgical amputation is extreme by today’s standards. But today’s standards are the wrong measure when dealing with infants. The future is where HIV risk will be relevant to today’s infants. Parents should look there and imagine what the answer should be.
Whatever it is, the answer is not circumcision today.