Dear John: I would like to know how you feel about circumcision. Do you think we should allow this society to continue to mutilate our babies? How does that affect them later in life? – Cutting Remarks, in Seattle, Wash.
Dear Cutting: Current research shows there is no valid health reason for circumcision. I am unaware, however, of any research on circumcision that demonstrates traumatic effects.
He’s correct, of course, that there is no valid health reason for (pre-emptive) circumcision (on a non-consenting individual). He doesn’t imply this, so I’m merely extending beyond his words, but the lack of research on traumatic effects does not mean they don’t exist. This seems obvious to me, but I’ve engaged in enough conversations in which someone has said something like “if it caused harm, they would’ve studied it by now.” Not if you’re convinced through years of hearing nothing but glowing reviews, with negative consequences dismissed as fringe inaccuracies.
Circumcision may provide even more protection against AIDS than was realized when two clinical trials in Africa were stopped two months ago because the results were so clear, according to studies being published today.
Read the rest of the article and you’ll find nothing about potential negative consequences of this announcement. There isn’t even a mention that the study did not involve men circumcised as infants. It’s amazing that the story even mentions the original announcement in December of the trial’s tentative results. The first version¹ published on Friday did not include it, instead leaving the impression that this was more good news about the supposed wonders of circumcision. That’s different than a fuller evaluation of the actual results. That puts the decision to breathlessly announce the trial findings irresponsible. Anyone want to suggest that further evaluation revealing a lower “protection” than previously thought wouldn’t be buried on page A-27?
When reading or hearing these stories, remember two key points. Infants are not having sex. Circumcision only provides potential protection from HIV if the male is having unprotected sex with an HIV-positive woman. No sane person would argue that infants should start having sex or that circumcised men do not need to worry about their sexual practices. This news, however interesting, is irrelevant to the reality of what we should and will teach our children. There is a debate to be had about Africa, where HIV is a true epidemic, but that is exclusive to that situation. From what I’ve read, I still contend that education and economic development are more important. However, if some think circumcision is useful, I can accept that, as long as it’s offered exclusively to adult men who consent. Anything else is unethical.
¹ Unfortunately, I did not save a copy of that article. The New York Times has since updated the article to include a reference to December’s news.