Hanna Rosin Is Still Mistaken On Circumcision

Hanna Rosin summarizes the responses to her circumcision post from yesterday “into three basic categories”:

1. How can we do this to a child without his consent? There are so many things we do to children without their consent – change their school, banish their friends, give them drugs, abandon and neglect them. Removing a foreskin should not even fall in the top 20 ways to ruin your child’s life.

Right, ethics. She again fails to address this valid concern. Stating that “X is worse than Y” grants no legitimacy to Y.

2. “Foreskins are, well, fun,” writes one gay reader. My authority here is obviously limited. That said, all that research of specific areas of male sensitivity (Andrew cites some here) has always struck me as dubious. Erotic pleasure is a rich and complicated thing. Specific percentages of sensitivity can’t possibly sum up the experience.

Those last two sentences are true. Yet, she’s said nothing in defense of infant circumcision with either statement. Even if she’d explained why the research of specific areas of male sensitivity strikes her as dubious, what would that prove about infant circumcision? An extension of the ethical argument she’s failed to confront involves each individual deciding what constitutes preferred pleasure and sensitivity from and for his normal body. Erotic pleasure is a rich and complicated thing unique to the individual. Specific percentages of sensitivity evaluated by another can’t possibly sum up the experience for the individual.

3.Preventative surgery is a “bizarre notion.” This is somewhat more convincing. But for one thing, “surgery” is a bit of an exaggeration. We certainly cause infants minor pain for the greater public good many times, in the form of vaccines. It depends, I suppose, whether you consider HIV and STD’s a widespread public health crisis, or something affecting only a very few. I could get into the specifics of the research here, but I won’t.

Why is surgery in quotes? It is not an exaggeration to call circumcision surgery. Even her source from yesterday’s article, WebMD, defines circumcision as “the surgical removal of the foreskin, the tissue covering the head of the penis.” If there is a risk of death, no matter how small, circumcision is surgery. Her statement suggests a lack of curiosity on the subject for anything beyond what she wants to believe.

The vaccine argument is interesting and related. However, circumcision is the (surgical) removal of healthy, functioning tissue. The associated pain is a separate, secondary aspect for consideration. Our ability to control pain and its temporary presence are not defenses for performing the offending surgical procedure. Controlling pain does not render the intervention humane.

Nor are a boy’s genitals subject to the alleged needs of the public good. STDs require specific, individual actions. Those are actions that infants will not be undertaking for many years. When they begin engaging in those actions, they must use condoms, regardless of whether or not they still have their foreskin. Conveniently, a condom’s effectiveness is considerably higher than that of circumcision.

On the specifics of the research, it would be useful for her to state them. I’ll probably agree with her. It’s not necessary, though, because the discussion must circle back to ethics because she’s advocating circumcision on healthy infants, not adult volunteers. What we can do is not synonymous with what we should do.


I didn’t include this in my objection yesterday because it disappears as an issue once we get the question of infant circumcision correct, but it’s an interesting point to pursue because a willingness to comprehend circumcision from perspective of the child’s rights is essential to ultimately grasping why circumcision is wrong. From her entry today:

…, my post defending circumcision taps into the current fears about “big government trying to mandate certain types of medical procedures,” as one reader wrote in.

As a circumcised male, why do I care whether circumcision is mandated by the government or merely by my parents? The result – forced circumcision – is the same for me. Basically, Rosin engages in the “if you don’t like circumcision, don’t circumcise your son” defense. This is wrong. The case against circumcision centers on the boy as a (healthy) human being, not the boy as a son of parents making a choice.

5 thoughts on “Hanna Rosin Is Still Mistaken On Circumcision”

  1. Pwned! A great refutation! I get so tired of “Parents have to make many decisions for their children…” Most such decisions are apples vs pears. There is no decision like this, whether or not to cut a non-renewable part (the most intimate part) of his body off. And it’s only “a decision parents have to make” because it’s pushed on US parents. In most of the developed world, including most of the rest of the English-speaking world, it’s not a decision they have to make because it’s not offered.
    As an inhabitant of a country with a good public health system (I had an operation last year – marvellous care and money never mentioned), I find it remarkable that opposition to the CDC’s proposal comes from the “keep Big Government out” lobby. I only hope that can thwart circumcision without bringing down Obama’s proposals to give your country a health system that’s worthy of it.
    If Hanna Rosin had got[ten] into the specifics of the HIV resarch in the US, she would find that several studies have found circumcision has shown no statistically significant protective effect. What is alarming and somewhat sinister is how the circumcision forces are now playing the race card in the US. This is going to further complicate the argument.

  2. The vast majority of the choices parents make for their children aren’t irreversible. Changing schools, banishing friends, administering medicine – those can be reversed. Circumcision, not so much. (I’ll ignore ‘abandoning or neglecting’ – I thought we were talking about parents trying to do the best for their kids here?)
    Vaccination is an interesting exception. We do vaccinate infants for many diseases that threaten their lives. Sexually transmitted diseases aren’t among them, though. Unless you count Hep B, but kids catch that from bites and scrapes, not sexual activity. Early childhood infection with HIV, on the other hand, is vastly rarer.

  3. It seems disjunctive to brush off male circ. as trivial, as Rosen does, when women, and the rest of us, are rightfully outraged at female circ. (“genital mutilation”) in other cultures.

  4. Honestly, I don’t think Ms. Rosin engaged any arguments. Rather, she considered psychological explanations for the vehemence and overall nastiness of the responses she surely got.
    So, I say, respond in kind. Understandable defensiveness given probably very rude responses plus a culturally Jewish perception of what’s normal resulted in her propensity to focus on the arguer rather than the argument.
    Unfortunately, those who believe in no routine circumcisions as a matter of respect for autonomy get no help from the sometimes pretty hysterical anti-circ. crowd. And, so, this is just how these things go down.

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