The Obvious Drawback to Educating Via Lists

This article demonstrates how most media irresponsibly reports on issues surrounding infant circumcision. The Pro list:

  • Reduces risk of urinary tract infections.
  • Reduces risk of contracting STDs (still under debate. A recent study in South Africa found that circumcision may reduce HIV transmission, but the study was not completed.)
  • Reduces risk of penile cancer.

The caveat on point two is shocking because most media outlets are far too breathless to include that. But notice the complete lack of context on the risks listed. The article mentions a bit of context that the actual risk of UTIs and penile cancer are tiny, so why not include that in the list? The support becomes even less compelling when context is included.

The Cons:

  • The foreskin is densely packed with nerves and blood vessels and forms a protective covering over the head of the penis. It also provides lubrication. Many advocates claim that removing it therefore reduces sexual sensitivity.
  • Circumcision has led to complications from excessive bleeding and infection in the past. But many say that complications resulting from circumcision are far fewer than those averted by it.

I don’t believe the qualification on point one is necessary. The basic fact leads to one logical conclusion. Anecdotal evidence also seems to readily verify this statement. But I understand the contention over the issue.

There is no excuse for the qualification in the second point. Circumcision is an individual surgery. The risk of complications applies to each individual circumcised, regardless of the reason. People believe that circumcision is safe. I’ll set aside my factual claim that it causes harm in 100% of instances and accept that such a belief is statistically supported in the collective.

But complications occur. It is not fool-proof. The existence of inherent surgical risks requires that we bring the issue to medical need alone. Adding the caveat permits people to incorrectly believe that the potential benefits outweigh the potential complications. (Risks are not potential.)

Also, since no context is offered for the earlier benefits, stating now a conclusion from a cost-benefit analysis is poor journalism. If the article does not provide the analysis, it can’t responsibly provide the conclusion.


The article concludes with this:

Dr. Stephen Wainer, a pediatrician at the Peter Lougheed hospital, feels many people are giving the issue more attention than it’s worth.

“In the greater scheme of things, it’s a trivial issue,” says Wainer, who routinely performs circumcisions.

Perhaps it’s interesting that Dr. Wainer believes unnecessary infant circumcision is a trivial issue. So what? His patient’s opinion is the only opinion that matters. Dr. Wainer doesn’t ask his patients because they can’t give their opinion. Their opinions may be no less subjective that Dr. Wainer’s stance, but that doesn’t matter. The patient’s opinion is the only opinion that medically and ethically matters.