Delicate Decision: Post 1 of 4

On Monday the Los Angeles Times offered a typical analysis of infant male circumcision. There are many points to address from this story, so I’ve broken them up into multiple posts. (Posts 2, 3, and 4.)

Point one:

Dr. Peter Kilmarx, chief of epidemiology in the CDC’s division of HIV/AIDS prevention, says the CDC is looking at how the findings apply here. “The early opinion from the consultants — and not the position of the CDC, which involves a peer review process and public comment — is that, given all the previous data on circumcision plus the recent HIV African studies, the medical benefits of male infant circumcision outweigh the risks and that any financial burden barring parents from making this decision should be lifted,” he said.

Nationalizing health care will no more end routine infant male circumcision in America than the elimination of Medicaid funding has ended it in the states where Medicaid no longer pays for the unnecessary procedure. There is a political constituency that strongly supports imposing this on children. Until the universal principle that each individual owns his or her body is codified into law for males the way the Female Genital Mutilation Act now protects female minors, medically unnecessary circumcision will continue. And the state will pay for it when parents can’t (or won’t). Any protection of the individual based on entrenching an existing, or establishing a new, collective will fail.

Here’s a half-point in which I doubt Kilmarx understands the missing half:

“The procedure is so ancient, and steeped in cultures, I’m not surprised that the rate of adult circumcision in civilized countries doesn’t track with medical evidence,” Kilmarx says. “But as scientists, we don’t solely rely on what other countries do as a guideline.”

But as Americans, we don’t (mustn’t) solely rely on what science tells us as a guideline. Ethics matters. The rights of the individual matter, particularly the healthy individual. There is a hierarchy for decision-making concerning surgery on children. Kilmarx, among many, does not start at the beginning (i.e. medical need). That leads to mistakes, as clearly shown by the million-plus unnecessary infant circumcisions performed every year in America.

More analysis of this article and the CDC’s obtuse approach can be found here and here at Circumcision and HIV.