Circumcision: The Ongoing Class War

From a Time article on circumcision:

Medicaid no longer covers the surgery routinely, leaving many poor children without the option.

Poor (and rich) children, when left with the option, choose to do nothing to their foreskin. The author meant to imply that poor parents are less likely to have it done because they can’t afford it. But it is not legitimately their choice.

The article quotes pro-circumcision propagandist Dr. Edgar Schoen¹ on a separate, no less stupid point beyond the scope of this entry. Still, Schoen is a useful figure in the quote from above. He put these nuggets into the circumcision debate, from his book² Ed Schoen, MD on Circumcision:

Since the anti-circumcision groups have been unsuccessful in decreasing circumcision among the general public in the U.S. they have turned their frustration and desperation into an attack on the most vulnerable and defenseless part of the population – poor children. Parents on welfare have no political or economic power, and are at the mercy of State bureaucracies and legislatures for decisions on the medical care of their children. …

Schoen is either intellectually incompetent or intellectually dishonest. He’s graduated from medical school, so he’s clearly not stupid. And he’s been involved in this debate long enough to have encountered more than enough opponents of routine infant circumcision to know that the economic class of the child’s parents is irrelevant. (It is not irrelevant to Schoen, as he’ll demonstrate in a moment in one of his many nods to non-medical excuses.)

Regarding his second statement, children – regardless of economic class – have no political or economic power, and are at the mercy of their parents and medical professionals for decisions on their medical care. That demands that we act conservatively on their behalf. Yet Schoen doesn’t advocate such reservation. Instead, he attempts to score cheap sympathy through blatant mischaracterization.

Some have spoken out against this disregard of the wishes of poor parents. An editorial in the St. Petersburg Times criticized Florida legislators who “never stop boasting about an agenda they say promotes families and “more personal freedom.” Then they halt Medicaid coverage for newborn circumcision – a surgical procedure that the nation’s most respected medical professionals say should be a decision left to families and their doctors.” In quoting one state legislator who said that halting funding for circumcision was a “no-brainer” the editorial went on to say: “This is a terrible message – that poor people don’t deserve the right to make a medical, cultural, and religious choice that is available to everyone else.” So much for the claim of the anti-circumcision groups that they are out to protect the rights of the child.

Letting parents remove their son’s healthy foreskin promotes more personal freedom. For whom, the parents and their non-existent “right” to circumcise or children and their valid right to remain free from harm? And note the quoted editorial’s opinion that denying state funding is “denying the right” to circumcise. I admit I seek to deny this “right”, but I can only pray it gets that easy some day. Refusing to finance circumcision is not the same as prohibiting circumcision.

Also note Schoen’s dishonesty in his last sentence. The child has a “right” to be circumcised. I’ve witnessed more intelligent taunts on an elementary schoolyard, but this nonsense appears every so often under the belief that parents are denying the boy the chance to grow up circumcised, with all the subjective benefits. Frankly, I think this is idiocy because anecdotal evidence that intact men almost never choose circumcision supports the principle the every individual should be free from harm. The right to grow up with the healthy body you’re born with is easily defended. The alleged right to grow up with less of the healthy body you’re born with is not, absent parental psychic powers.

With the great majority of mainstream, middle class boys in the U.S. being circumcised, an uncircumcised [sic] boy in this country is marked as either an immigrant, a son of recent immigrants or a child of poverty (with the exception of a few middle class followers of the anti-circ movement). To cope with this social disadvantage of the foreskin, some poor parents, sadly and courageously, have scraped together enough money to pay for newborn circumcision from their meager assets, in order to giver their sons the appearance of mainstream American boys. The cost of newborn circumcision for middle class boys is covered by health insurance but in 13 states poor parents will have to raise the money themselves if they want their sons circumcised.

Of course, the locker room teasing theory. It’s “American” to circumcise, except for the few middle-class followers who reject circumcision. The “appearance of mainstream American boys” is a goal worth pursuing, so much that poor families should spend their meager assets on medically unnecessary surgery for a child who can’t consent. I can see the advertising now: “Can’t afford a BMW? Don’t worry, your kid’s circumcised penis can show that you’re upwardly mobile!” The mind reels at such stupidity.

But look past the supposedly distasteful class warfare he so readily uses to bludgeon infant circumcision opponents, he undermines his arguments by admitting that poor parents can and do circumcise their children, in spite of not having government funding. The debate becomes a legal/political/economic issue. He’s moved beyond medical facts – those he acknowledges – yet is unencumbered by the absurdity of the doctor as sage mentality. He thinks parents should choose, but there is only one correct choice. He’d be more honest if he advocated for mandatory circumcision of all infant males.

The anti-circumcision groups have argued unsuccessfully that by agreeing to have their newborn sons circumcised, parents are robbing the infants of their human rights. In a brazen example of hypocrisy apparently they feel that newborns should have the right to choose or refuse circumcision, but not poor people. The opponents of circumcision have met with some success in punishing the weak and helpless, but have had no effect on the general American public.

I didn’t understand it when I first read Schoen’s book, and I don’t understand it now. How are opponents of infant circumcision hypocritical? Schoen inserted class into the discussion.

This “infant circumcision opponents hate poor people” canard is a classic straw man, but it’s so pathetically transparent that even a moment’s thought destroys it all. Yet, he’s quoted as an expert in Time magazine and anyone who believes children should keep their choice when surgery isn’t medically necessary must defend the normal against the common, as if we’ve lost our minds and might come back to the “reasonable” view that parents have a right to surgically alter their healthy children if we’re humored long enough.

¹ I will not link to his website, where, like he does in his books, he selectively omits any information damaging to his maniacal pursuit to have all boys circumcised.

² Schoen, MD, Ed. Ed Schoen, MD on Circumcision. Berkeley: RDR Books, 2005, pp. 82-84.

7 thoughts on “Circumcision: The Ongoing Class War”

  1. Tony, I don’t remember whether I ever got back to you, but I did finally win the battle with my wife over my son’s circumcision. He’s 18 months old, intact and happy and healthy as can be. Haven’t heard a negative word since from my wife or anyone else who changes his diaper.
    Keep up the good fight, dude.

  2. i really appreciate the way you took his misinformation and clearly explained his lies.
    its true that almost any circumcision advocate uses faulty arguments to explain their justification.
    the “locker room” is the one i think of the most. the locker room i grew up in didn’t have all of us boys getting naked in front of each other anyways. but even if they were, since when is children being teased an excuse to lop off healthy parts of their body?
    anyways. good work!
    and yes that Schoen guy makes my skin crawl as well, everything he says REAKS of alterior motives and hidden agendas.

  3. I’m not religious, but I hope a place like Hell or Hades is real because monsters like Schoen deserve eternal torment for the evil they have brought on our world.

  4. I read an interesting article a while ago about how, after an unpleasant experience or undergoing trauma that people revise their past opinions or feelings about the event so that they are positive about it. (This article is proving a nightmare to find with google)
    It has to do with the mind’s management. Rather than be powerless against circumstance, the mind alters itself to have been all-for-it and hence not a victim.
    The pro-circumcision camp smacks to me quite strongly of this sort of advocacy.

  5. Stuart,
    If you find that article, I’d definitely be interested in reading it.
    The pro-circumcision camp definitely engages in that. It’s bizarre, but I’m indifferent to whether or not someone wants to recognize the changed forced upon him as the reduction it is. I just expect it to stop going forward. Too many pro-circumcision people miss that, which is likely explained by the phenomenon you mention.

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