Delicate Decision: Post 3 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 1, 2, and 4.)

Point three:

Robert and Cara Moffat of Los Angeles, who are expecting their first child, a boy, in May, had no trouble deciding, and plan to have their son circumcised. Robert, who is 30 and circumcised, said, “I grew up with it, and my wife has a preference for it, so that’s what we’ll do. We’re doing what the family is comfortable doing.”

His father is happy being circumcised, so the boy will be happy with it. This is an unverifiable assumption at birth. His mother prefers having sex with circumcised partners. This is irrelevant because I presume she does not intend to have sex with her son. So it leaves the conclusion that his future sex partner(s), who they apparently know will be female, will prefer that he be circumcised. This is an unverifiable assumption at birth. Finally, “what the family is comfortable doing” is hardly a principle of ethics, liberty, or science.

Also note that the parents have said nothing about (potential) medical benefits in forcing this on their son. Yet, they’re allegedly qualified to decide that their son will want this. And legally we’re all supposed to think this is reasonable.

As parents and task forces sort through the variables surrounding this intimate decision, [Dr. Andrew] Freedman offers parents in turmoil this comforting advice: “Rest assured. No matter what decision parents make for their son, most men think whatever they have is just fine.”

There are four potential realities for an adult male when he is finally legally protected to make his own genital decisions the way females are protected from birth. He can be intact and happy. He can be circumcised and happy. He can be intact and unhappy. He can be circumcised and unhappy. In the first scenario, he could do something but he wouldn’t. In the second, he can’t do anything but he doesn’t care. In the third, he can do something and he will choose either the perceived benefits of circumcision he seeks or not facing the drawbacks from adult circumcision. In the fourth, he can do nothing and society rejects his opinion as an individual.

In the first two scenarios, we conclude that the child validates the parents’ decision. We mistake an unrelated outcome for causation. In the third scenario, whatever we conclude, we’ve achieved the minimum standard of liberty that the male retains his right to choose (or reject) medically unnecessary procedures. In the fourth scenario, we either deny its validity or babble on about the rights of the parents. This generally involves some hand-wringing about parents making lots of tough choices while actively missing that none of the other choices involve removing parts of his anatomy. (You didn’t forget that parental rights are greater when speaking of sons, did you?)

Dr. Freedman’s opinion tells every man in scenario four his parents’ opinions about his penis matter more than his own. Anyone who argues this refuses to reconcile the complete lack of medical need with any notion of ethics and individual rights. Just because science can (allegedly and potentially) achieve an outcome does not mean it should try to achieve that outcome. That is a slippery slope unbounded by any consistent rule or principle.

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