Overheard on the Internet

Anyone who follows discussion of circumcision on the Internet will encounter regular moments of an overwhelming desire to hate mankind. It’s impossible to avoid. People are so devoid of any logic or consideration for the child that disgust is the kindest emotion I can achieve. For example:

But I was also thinking, for all you mummies to be out there, are you thinking of getting your son circumcised? And for those of you with girls or who don’t know what you’re having, would you get your baby circumcised ? Does anybody know the pros and cons in doing so ?

If you’ve paid attention to my Circumcision category, you know that actual discussion of pros [sic?] and cons will likely not follow, which is how it plays out. Like here:

It’s completely a personal decision … You cannot make your decision based off of anyone elses opinion. …

I am here in the US and it is a very common practice. It wasn’t even a question for us. Here it is done one day after birth. Neither one of my boys even flinched when it was done. The PlastiBel that they use here takes all of 2 seconds to perform and it’s done.

You should really research it so that that you and OH feel that you have made the decision that best suits your beliefs. Good Luck!

Notice¹ that this response ignores the original question. Instead, it’s a typical defense of parents making a “personal decision” not based on any other person’s opinion, with any other person being inclusive of the healthy child. Whatever suits them is somehow acceptable.

But it gets more blatant:

I am not the sort of person to push my views on anyone else but that is what we would do.

Hope you make a decision that you and babies (sic) daddy are happy with.

She is mistaken; she is exactly the type of person to push her views on someone else. Her husband is that type of person, too. Neither of them considered that their son might not want to be circumcised. They imagine that only their opinion about his body mattered.

Some inject a little sanity into the discussion, saying it should be illegal. But then comes the inevitable softening to saying it should be a personal decision for the parents based on good reasons. Why? Has one parent on this board who chose to circumcise given any indication that common sense intervened? It should be illegal. That is the only reasonable stance based on more than one analytical approach. Why step away from that? To avoid offending? The legally-permitted violation will continue for some time. There is no reason to enable it longer. Don’t be afraid to call people out on their selfish delusions².

<sarcasm> With all of these arguments for and against the procedure </sarcasm>, I can’t say I’m surprised by the original commenter’s decision:

yeah I think I’m going to get my boy circumcised, seeing as it protects him from all sorts of infections and sexually transmitted diseases, but I heard a story about a man who lived here in winnipeg
He got circumcised when he was a baby and they ‘accidentally’ cut his penis off! Can you believe it ?

It protects him from UTIs in the first year of life, but the risk is minute without circumcision. (Girls suffer more than intact boys.) And the data on STDs is equivocal, at best. (Condoms? Bueller? Bueller?)

The man she speaks of is David Reimer. His circumcision was attempted using cauterization, which is not an accepted method. While he is important to remember because he was a victim of a botched, unnecessary circumcision, there is (unfortunately) at least one recent example from Canada. The child died.

To the first response I quoted above, the circumcising doctor used a PlastiBell ring on the child.

¹ Notice also that the (unverifiable) claim that it didn’t hurt the child is irrelevant. The ability to make a surgical intervention pain-free could justify any number of barbaric procedures. Need matters first, which didn’t exist here. Then, when need exists, a scientific conclusion that the most extreme intervention that is circumcision is warranted because no lesser interventions will correct the malady.

Also, did the child suffer any during the healing period?

² From one mother’s rambling comment excusing her selfishness:

I am happy with my decision, and I am sure my sons will never come to me saying they wish they still had their foreskin.

I’ve heard this so many times. No parent ever thinks it will happen to them. I know she’s psychic enough to know what her son will want, but what if he asks? And what if he asks because he’s not happy about it? Or is he not allowed an independent thought?

5 thoughts on “Overheard on the Internet”

  1. Tony:
    I must say that the circumcision debate (to the extent it can even be called that) has made me feel relieved that my wife and I are having a girl since we don’t even have to consider the issue. Circumcision is frequently done almost without thought, essentially as a ritual. Until Andrew Sullivan started blogging about it in the last few years, it was an issue that I didn’t even consider – I thought it was something that was just what was done. People like you and Sully are starting to open eyes that the practice largely lacks any kind of basis other than as a cultural norm.
    The main reason to perform circumcision, as far as I can tell, is that it may create some awkwardness when the child becomes a sexually active adult. The thing is that by the time that becomes an issue, the child will be more than capable of making the decision on his own.
    If we had our child a year ago (and it was a boy), I think I would have opted for circumcision just based on the fact that it is a social norm and that there is little publicity about the arguments against circumcision. Were the decision to come up now, I would almost certainly not circumcize.
    I’m not sure the procedure should be made illegal, though, but only because I’m generally opposed to adding new laws. However, parents need to be better informed about the risks and generally nonexistent benefits of circumcision.
    I will say this, however. In a class my wife and I attended last week at the hospital, the nurse made a point of telling everyone that there are minimal, if any, benefits to male circumcision, and that fewer people are opting for circumcision than in the past. So it would seem that people like you are starting to win the battle, bit by bit.
    Keep up the good work!

  2. Mark,
    Thanks for the comment. I do think the tide is changing. But there’s still much work to be done. When my brother and his wife were seeking out a doctor last year during her pregnancy, the nurse pressured them to reconsider their refusal of circumcision. He said it wasn’t was clear the nurse thought they were being irrational.
    That may be a reflection of the area where I live in Northern Virginia, although it’s also true that there is a large immigrant population, so knowing that parents can and do refuse should be obvious. More, I think this reflects how a significant portion of immigrants eventually Americanize their children through social pressure.

  3. A libertarian argument for a new law.

    Mark, who writes the excellent Publius Endures, left an excellent (and appreciated) comment over the weekend. Normally I would reply there, as I do with most comments. But Mark included one point that I’d like to discuss (emphasis added).I must…

  4. the nurse pressured them to reconsider their refusal of circumcision. He said it wasn’t clear the nurse thought they were being irrational.
    Tony, did you mean He said it was clear or did you really mean wasn’t? The former makes more sense I think.
    And of course the nurse would pressure them; the more intact boys that appear the harder it is to cover up this crime. How much faster do you think things would improve if they didn’t do the hard sell.

  5. Joe,
    You’re correct. I meant “was”.
    I wasn’t there, obviously, but my sister-in-law said the nurse’s behavior was over the top, even by her non-jaded expectations.

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