Circumcising adult men is an effective way to limit transmission of the virus that causes AIDS. The National Institutes of Health announced today that two clinical trials in Africa have been stopped because an independent monitoring board determined the treatment was so effective that it would be unethical to continue the experiment.
“We now have confirmation — from large, carefully controlled, randomized clinical trials —showing definitively that medically performed circumcision can significantly lower the risk of adult males contracting HIV through heterosexual intercourse,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease. “While the initial benefit will be fewer HIV infections in men, ultimately adult male circumcision could lead to fewer infections in women in those areas of the world where HIV is spread primarily through heterosexual intercourse.”
The key word here should be obvious: adult. Ultimately, I don’t care if adult men want to make less-than-optimal choices for themselves regarding circumcision. Personal responsibility (condoms, monogamy, etc.) are much more effective at preventing HIV infection. Adult circumcision is consistent with my position (body, his rights), regardless of the wisdom involved in the adult male’s choice. People should retain the right to be stupid with their own body.
The predictable outcome, though, is that the word adult will inevitably drop out of the article as it’s picked up by other news outlets and blogs. Parents will think that it’s good enough for adults, so better to save their children now. In a worse development, by promoting an idea outside of its legitimate scope, the government will continue its complicity in the unnecessary and unethical surgical alteration of children. The legitimate function of government is to protect the rights of individuals, not encourage parents to violate the rights of their children.
The often-overlooked details, as evidenced by this paragraph, shows how selective information can derail the best of intentions:
This finding appears to apply only to heterosexual transmission which is the main mode of spread in Africa. Officials estimate that at least 25 million people in Africa are currently infected with the AIDS virus.
Both studies undertaken so far apply only to heterosexual transmission. What’s missing here is the key component, that the study investigated female-to-male transmission. Female-to-male is the least common involving men. When someone says circumcision offers a 48% or a 53% reduction in infection, keep in mind that the benefit only applies to a small percentage of the risk. Absolute numbers matter. Women will still become infected. Gay men will still become infected. Straight men will still become infected. There is no immunity. Personal responsibility still matters more.
The findings are useful for scientific progress, given that everyone involved volunteered. But consent is still the primary ingredient. It is absent in America in the overwhelming majority of circumcisions. Those who use this announcement to perpetuate circumcision against non-consenting, sexually inactive infants participate in violating every circumcised child’s rights. That is wrong, no matter the potential protection against HIV.