Pitting anecdote against anecdote ignores reason and logic.

There is much to commend in this article, but like all attempts to be unbiased on a topic where introducing subjectivity is the only method for achieving balance, the conclusion veers into scare tactics.

[Opponents] declare [circumcision] mutilation.

But there is another side to the story.

Dave, who didn’t want his full name used to protect the privacy of his circumcised 19-year-old son, objected to the practice after his son’s birth.

“I went through it, and I didn’t want him to go through it,” said the 48-year-old electrical engineer from Chantilly in Northern Virginia. “They cut millions of nerve endings that would be nice to have.” [ed. note: thousands of nerve endings]

But, as his son grew, he couldn’t pull the foreskin back far enough to clean it without significant pain. He stopped cleaning, and infection after infection of the penile head and foreskin ensued, turning his penis beet red.

“We ended up doing the circumcision when he was 5,” Dave said. “It was awful. For years after, he got into the bathtub only gingerly, putting his hand over those parts the whole time.”

Now, Dave advocates having the procedure done as soon as possible after birth.

“My son suffered by not being circumcised early,” he said. “And I wonder what long-term impact that has had on him.”

This is not another side to whether or not it’s appropriate to circumcise healthy male infants/children. This is an emotional appeal to a child’s ability to remember surgery and the unlikely-but-possible risks of life. Even a cursory look at circumcision statistics in other Western countries will confirm this article’s anecdote to be devoid of any merit as a defense in favor of imposing surgery on healthy children to avoid risks later.

It should be clear that I understand some males will need medical intervention on their genitals if left intact. (And if circumcised.) That is not then justification to circumcise children. Many females (and some males) will eventually need some kind of medical intervention for breast cancer. We do not see that as a defense for removing the breast tissue from infants because we are not irrational on that front. Apply a speck of reason and the similar excuse for male child circumcision fails.

To the anecdote directly, I can only speculate. It is not unusual for the foreskin of a five-year-old boy to at least partially adhere to his glans and inner foreskin. Pulling the foreskin back further than it can easily retract is bad and can cause pain. (Almost as bad as forcibly separating the foreskin from the penis prior to circumcision.) Perhaps that occurred here. I’ve certainly heard of parents being aggressively determined that the foreskin should retract fully before it naturally separates. This can lead to problems.

But, again, I’m only speculating. Speculating is pushing limited facts into a preferred narrative. Dave speculates to the reporter. (Circumcised males get infections.) I’m speculating here to illustrate the process. I don’t need speculation to defend my position. I’m willing to concede that Dave’s anecdote is exclusively an example of the risk of being intact. It happens, unfortunately. But where his stance needs speculation and anecdote, I have reason and evidence:

“… And, urinary tract infections are so rare in baby boys that the increased risk of it isn’t significant,” [pediatrician Roxanne Allegretti] said.

Anecdote of the “my best friend’s cousin’s first-grade teacher’s next-door-neighbor’s driving instructor once had <insert problem here> with his foreskin, leading him to get circumcised at <insert age here>, and he definitely remembers the horrible pain” is not a compelling reason to perform surgery on healthy children. Healthy and surgery are mutually exclusive for those who can’t consent.

One thought on “Pitting anecdote against anecdote ignores reason and logic.”

  1. I think this story points out the need for better education not just in terms of leaving boys intact but also in proper care of intact boys. Though it is impossible to know from the information in the article, I would imagine the boy’s problems were precipitated with the constant attempts to retract and clean. It should be known by Pedis that most boys aren’t necessarily retractable until at least 11/12 and even then any concern should begin until 15 or 16 and if they get to that point there are a few less invasive options to try before circumcision. Hopefully that will get better as more parents choose not to circumcise.
    I do like the fact that the Dr pointed out that circumcision is entirely unnecessary even putting the purported benefits in context. I just wish they were more direct with that information more often with parents.

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