Once again, here’s an editorial that correctly points out that infant circumcision is almost never a medical decision.
Are all little boy babies being circumcised these days? No, though I’d have to say that among my patients it remains a fairly common parental choice¹. Still, circumcision, or the removal of foreskin from the penis, is actually not so much a medical issue as it is a personal or cultural decision.
If you’re having a boy, it’s probably best to think the circumcision issue through during pregnancy so you can make a comfortable, confident choice for your son after delivery.
Okay, good, so we got that out. That leaves us with the awful truth that it’s medically unnecessary surgery chosen by parents and imposed on children. That should bring forth a most obvious point: what about the ethical implication that maybe the boy will not want healthy, erogenous skin removed from his penis.
Being an editorial written in the United States, you can read the editorial as many times as you like, you’ll never find this discussed. Since I’m used to newspapers not printing my letters to the editor because I don’t live in the local area, I’m reprinting what I sent to the Daily Herald.
In Dr. Helen Minciotti’s article, “Circumcision a personal decision, not a medical issue” (May 28, 2007), while correctly suggesting that there is no medical need for infant circumcision, she missed the most vital aspect of infant circumcision. There is a significant ethical issue involved in cutting the healthy genitals of infant males for non-medical “personal or cultural” reasons.
A doctor’s ethical obligation is to his/her patient, not the patient’s parents. When surgery is unnecessary, as is the case with almost every infant circumcision, the patient himself must consent. We grant parents the ability to make surgical decisions for their children by proxy, but in every other surgery, we require medical need for the child, not the fear that something might go wrong or that the parents think the child will be more accepted by society after the medically unnecessary surgery.
Given the purely elective reality of infant circumcision, it is unethical to cut a boy’s genitals for any reason other than need, whether those reasons are “personal”, cultural, or chasing potential benefits for medical maladies that Dr. Minciotti admits are unlikely to be necessary for most intact males. Parents and doctors should not impose unnecessary surgery on a boy until the boy can consent to the permanent, unnecessary change in his body.
I don’t expect doctors to be the new philosophers for civilization. But shouldn’t they at least get this kind of basic lesson in ethics during medical school? They’re being unleashed on society with a scalpel. Some sense of reservation in wielding that scalpel should be required rather than our current system of cutting children on request.
¹ The author practices medicine in the Chicago area. Infant circumcision rates are generally higher in the Midwest, as they are in the South. Parents in the Northeast and West are less likely to circumcise their