I’ve been in an on-and-off circumcision debate on Twitter recently with an individual named NotStyro. (My Twitter link.) I find the debate useful because I find his responses inadequate. However, 140 characters isn’t enough to debunk the flaws in the link he typically provides. I have a different qualm, but first, a representative tweet from NotStyro on the subject.
just to inform, not debate… [link redacted] …let me know if you would like more information
I find this understandable within the limitations of Twitter, but unsatisfactory overall because the site he links makes this offer:
Why should you consider circumcision ?
With the anti-circumcision propaganda on the net, consider the following facts:
If parents will make a choice (that isn’t ethically theirs), I want more than a list of seven facts of questionable legitimacy. To the extent these facts are facts, they still do not support what NotStyro recently promised a father questioning his son’s pending circumcision to go forward with the surgery:
… he’ll appreciate your decision later in life.
As he’s been in our debate, NotStyro is indifferent to the reality that men, including me, do not appreciate that decision by our parents. This is our fundamental disagreement. I demand only that each individual retain the choice to decide about his body. NotStyro argues differently. But we can’t get to it until we agree on facts.
There’s too much information in his link for one post, so I’m going to break this up into its logical parts. The list NotStyro links to has seven items. Each item will get an entry. Once I’ve posted an entry, feel free to debate (i.e. defend) a position. No e-mail or web address is necessary to comment. I’m establishing only one rule beyond normal etiquette: inappropriate links will be deleted. Most links will stay if they’re defended. (No canned answers, please; address the items from the list.) But I will not allow a direct link to the list of seven items under any circumstance. The site is a pro-circumcision fetish site, complete with circumcision fiction. I will not promote it. If you must visit it (NSFW), follow the link through NotStyro’s tweet above. Anyone may participate, of course. To NotStyro directly, I’m asking for more information.
On to item #1:
1. The foreskin increases the risk of male and female infections.
- ‘Current new-born circumcision may be considered a preventative health measure analogous to immunisation in that side effects and complications are immediate and usually minor, but benefits accrue for a lifetime’
“May be considered” is a claim, not a fact. Nor is infant male circumcision analogous to immunization. The threats are distinct. Unvaccinated, I could catch measles by simply going out in public. I am not going to become HIV-positive without specific sexual behavior I can control, regardless of whether or not I have my foreskin.
There is a further complication to the comparison. The recent, actively-touted studies looked only at female-to-male HIV transmission. This is the least common transmission among those involving men. For example:
Female-to-male HIV infection was not observed in long term stable monogamous relationships. These results emphasize the relative uni-directionality of heterosexual transmission in non-promiscuous couples.
That suggests what we already know. HIV is transmitted through promiscuous, unprotected sex. Pretending that circumcision is a significant benefit when neither of those conditions exists is wishful thinking. Circumcised or not, if an individual behaves recklessly, there are consequences. That is the lesson. Parents will be more successful at keeping their sons (and daughters) safe from HIV if they teach them about responsible sexual behavior. No medical expert proposes that circumcised men may now ignore condoms. Circumcision is superfluous and unnecessary. This is particularly true in the United States, where HIV infections result primarily from IV drug use and male-to-male transmission. Circumcision is irrelevant to the former and ineffective to the latter.
The rest of the claim is questionable, as well. Minor complication is subjective, as determined by the victim. You may think a skin tag is “minor”; I would not. I prefer to think of complications as treatable and not treatable. In this case, yes, most complications are treatable. That raises the obvious ethical question of imposing surgical risk on a non-consenting, healthy individual, which I will save for another post in this series.
But what about those complications that are not treatable? These can be lesser problems such as tight, painful erections. If we move up the spectrum, we can discuss males who lose portions or all of their glans. Are we still in the territory of “minor”? What if we go to the extreme, death. It happens. I won’t pretend it happens often, but how many times may it happen before we suggest that maybe healthy boys dying from by-definition unnecessary surgery is unacceptable? The lack of medical need demands the answer be 0. It isn’t, which demonstrates that we do not rely on facts when circumcising healthy infant males.
Continuing from the list:
- Circumcision reduces the risk of vaginal infections.
Probably, based on some of the studies I reviewed. If, of course, the results were properly controlled and the results are transferrable to industrialized nations. Maybe, maybe not, but I’ll concede the point for argument’s sake. This is a factual claim. So what?
The underlying issue here is the ethical flaw. It is unethical to alter a non-consenting individual’s body to reduce the risk that his future partners – if he is heterosexual – will suffer vaginal infections. That is a decision for him to make. He may include his female partners in the decision-making process. But that is within only his discretion. All else is a speculative guess. A speculative guess involving another’s healthy body is indefensible, even if his parents make the speculative guess.
To put it in perspective, a male can’t cause vaginal infections if we prohibit him from having sex with women. He can’t cause vaginal infections if we remove his entire penis. These are extreme, ridiculous hypotheticals. But they demonstrate that just because we can do something does not mean we should. There is more involved in permitting parental proxy decisions than just the fact that Action X generates Result Y.
Whether or not this generates a debate, and how long that debate transpires, will determine when part 2 appears. I will continue the series, regardless.