Behold the Power of the Scalpel

I’m very rarely surprised by bias when reading about circumcision, but this example from the Jerusalem Post is the worst I’ve seen to date.

Israeli experts are urging a visiting World Health Organization (WHO) team to promote circumcisions of both adults and of newborns in the Third World to help reduce HIV transmission.

Current research shows that six in 10 circumcised men are immune to HIV infection, but only about a fifth of men around the world have been circumcised for religious, medical or cultural reasons.

Wrong. Please show me one study, no matter how absurd its foundation, in which the results shows that 60% of circumcised men are immune to HIV infection. So 60% of circumcised men no longer need to wear a condom if they have sex with an HIV-positive partner? One study (yes, just one) suggested that it reduced infection risk by 60%, but that remaining 40% applies to every male. This is irresponsible journalism.

This also raises the larger issue of bias, namely, the assumed bias to promote circumcision on flimsy evidence by anyone who practices ritual circumcision. I ignore these because the pro-circumcision arguments offered are usually the same whether the justification is ritual or cultural. Also, I don’t believe there is anything nefarious in these efforts. Misguided, but not intentionally. Logic is absent, so rarely do the arguments reach beyond trying to make the person feel better about what he wants to do anyway. That’s par. Countering such rigidity from one angle isn’t worth my time. But sometimes, as here, the argument falls into the ridiculous. Passing such nonsense off as science is dangerous.

What’s the downside of such misguided logic?

[Director of the Jerusalem AIDS Project Dr. Inon] Schenker said, however, that “as a public health person, I am very worried from the message to Israeli teenage boys and men who may think that since they’re circumcised, they can go from bed to bed and will be immune to HIV infection. This is not true, as four in 10 will still get infected.”

Regarding the lack of a foreskin as an “invisible condom” could, he said, offer the same sense of false security that comes from sunscreen that can help protect against skin cancer but not completely prevent it; people who use sunscreen may stay out in the sun longer as a result.

Dr. Schenker’s concern highlights one useful facet of human psychology. Promoting circumcision as an immunity, or even as a way to reduce risk, is a sure-fire way to encourage people to engage in risky behavior. Who is surprised by this, other than people who believe, without reservation, that circumcision is always Good&#153 if it’s performed with the silly notion that it’s in his best interest?


Something else in the article warrants mentioning, although I’m not surprised that someone opposed to infant circumcision has to point it out. Consider:

Dr. Tim Farley of the WHO’s department of reproductive health and research and WHO consultant and University of Edinburg expert Dr. Timothy Hargreaves viewed the ritual circumcision Monday at Jerusalem’s Misgav Ladach surgical clinic of a 21-year-old Jewish immigrant from Russia who had not undergone a brit mila as a baby.

Dr. Inon Schenker, director of the Jerusalem AIDS Project (JAIP) and a senior HIV/AIDS prevention specialist, told The Jerusalem Post that over the years, 20,000 Israeli males – immigrants from Eastern Europe and Ethiopia and converts – have undergone ritual circumcisions as non-infant children, teenagers and adults.

If the male remains intact until an age when he may choose the surgery himself, is he not a full member of the faith until he is circumcised? All evidence points to “No,” so why the rush to circumcise, other than a fear that it might be set aside? I’ve argued in the past that it’s reasonable to assume that a man who chooses circumcision for himself is more likely to consider it an act of faith, with meaning. I do not comprehend how circumcising infants provides this to the same extent.

Okay, one more point:

The WHO officials said they were most interested in adult male circumcision rather than on infants, as it would take 15 to 20 years for babies in sub-Saharan Africa, where AIDS is endemic, to become sexually active.

However, the two dozen Israeli experts who met the WHO officials urged that infant boys be circumcised in large numbers because the operation involves a very low rate of complications if performed in sanitary environments; anesthesia is not necessary [ed. note: Bullshit.]; a trained non-medical practitioner can learn to do it quickly and safely; and early contact between the infant’s family and family health services can promote health promotion and disease prevention.

That last one is a new argument I’ve not yet heard. I’m fascinated that anyone can promote removing healthy tissue from an infant in order to promote health and disease prevention. Again, the logical extreme is such things as excising breast tissue from little girls. It promotes disease prevention, and does not exclude the families of infant girls. But that’s crazy. No crazier than cutting off healthy foreskins to stay healthy, of course.

Cutting infants should be exclusive to making them healthy when disease is present and no less invasive method will suffice.

One thought on “Behold the Power of the Scalpel”

  1. “Current research shows that six in 10 circumcised men are immune to HIV infection” That’s obscenely wrong. It implies an innumerate (or extremely stupid) reporter and sub-editor. Why am I not surprised?

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