Monday, September 3, 2012

Not This Again: The Circumcision Debate Continues

The American Academy of Pediatrics on Monday announced its first major shift on circumcision in more than a decade, concluding that the health benefits of the procedure clearly outweigh any risks.

"There is clear evidence that supports the health benefits of circumcision," said Susan Blank, who led the 14-member task force that formulated the new policy being published in the journal Pediatrics.

The statement, and accompanying technical report, marks the first revision of the organization's position since 1999, when the academy backed away from circumcision. At that time, the group, which represents about 60,000 pediatricians nationwide, concluded that there was no clear evidence for or against circumcising newborns. The group affirmed that position in 2005.
 Since then, the popularity of circumcision in the United States has declined. Only about 56 percent of newborn males are circumcised.

The academy's task force spent seven years combing through the latest research, analyzing more than a thousand studies. Their conclusion?
For starters, Blank says, circumcision helps baby boys pretty much immediately.

"The health benefits of male circumcision include a drop in the risk of urinary tract infection in the first year of life by up to 90 percent," she says.

But there's a much bigger reason to do it, Blank said. Circumcised males are far less likely to get infected with a long list of sexually transmitted diseases.
"It drops the risk of heterosexual HIV acquisition by about 60 percent. It drops the risk of human papillomavirus [HPV], herpes virus and other infectious genital ulcers," she says.

It also reduces the chances that men will spread HPV to their wives and girlfriends, protecting them from getting cervical cancer.

"We've reviewed the data and, you know, we have gone through them with a fine-tooth comb, and the data are pretty convincing," she says.

Critics, however, were not convinced. They liken the procedure to female genital mutilation.

"We have no right as parents or as physicians or adults to strap them down and chop off a normal part of their body. To do that is a human rights violation and an ethical travesty," says Georgeanne Chapin of the anti-circumcision group Intact America.

Chapin and other critics argue that the scientific evidence is questionable. For one thing, the studies about HIV have only been done in Africa, where AIDS is much more common among heterosexuals.

"They're cherry-picking their evidence," she says. "They act as though there's this huge body of literature. It's all the same couple of studies that have been regurgitated and reprogrammed. Over the past 150 years, all kinds of medical benefits have been proposed as resulting from cutting off the foreskin, and they have all been disproven."

Critics also question the safety of the procedure, saying too many boys are damaged for life by botched circumcisions.

But many experts say the academy is making the right call. They dismiss any comparison to female genital mutilation as grossly misleading and say male circumcision is about as safe as any procedure could be.

Some think the academy's position is long overdue, and that the group should have gone even further and more forcefully recommended circumcision.

"I think that all healthy newborn babies should be circumcised," saysEdgar Schoen, a professor emeritus at the University of California, San Francisco. "I feel about newborn circumcision the way I do about immunization: It's a potent preventive health procedure that gives you a health advantage."

For its part, the pediatricians group hopes the new recommendations will encourage more parents to circumcise their sons — and more insurance plans to pay for it. As Shots reported last week, a lot of state Medicaid programs have stopped covering circumcision.

"Those families who choose circumcision should have access to circumcision. Cost should not be a barrier," Blank says.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been promising for years now to issue the government's first guidelines about circumcision. But the CDC keeps delaying it and still has not said when that will happen.


SEAN said...

Isn't all this dependent on hygiene? In western countries where hygiene and education shouldn't be an issue then most of the problems should be taken care of. As for std's, circumcised or not, all penises should where a condom during sex which would again eliminate most issues and again should not be an issue for western countries.

Anonymous said...

I agree with SEAN. Almost all of it is hygiene. If you're going to cut off a foreskin on baby boys, why not remove the breasts of baby girls - instant immunity to breast cancer! I just don't understand why the medical community insists that we mutilate boys. Drives me crazy.

Peace <3

Will said...

I've never been happy that I was robbed of a vital part of my penis without my consent. I have gone through life with something of a foreskin fetish, or at least a major attraction to men with foreskin, as a result. Yes, I do consider myself genitally mutilated.

Uncutplus said...

I CANNOT believe that the American Academy of Pediatrics would take this stand!!! At last the USA was making progress leaving penises intact, and now this! It is MUTILATION!

I did not even post this in my blog last week when I read it, because to do so would seem to imply that their decision was good. Thank you, commenters, for taking a stand on this.

JoeBlow said...

Guys, I agree with all of you. It is a hygiene issue and too many parents are too lazy and prudish to have talks with their kids about hygiene. The teenager I teach everyday astound me with the lack of knowledge about their bodies. Most of you would probably not believe some of the ignorance I hear on a daily basis. Instead of mutilation, let's teach hygiene. Also, did you notice that the expert was a woman. She doesn't have to deal with being mutilated in America, but she pushes for all boys to be. The whole issue makes me angry. Leave our penises alone.

Sunne said...

Duh...I'm a woman and I can't understand the whole debate. It's pure laziness to teach the kids hygenie, something that shouldn't be limited to the penis anyway. Both my sons are uncircumcized, my husband, too. Duh..he would miss his foreskin and me, too. None of them ever had an infection because of this.
As an European I just can say: Sometimes some Americans are very strange.
Do they really believe Europe is suffering from results of the majority of uncircumcized men?
I can't help but every time I see a circumcized penis and see the scar around the hurts me to see it.

Steve said...

Just to give the contrary opinion -- I was circumcised at birth. I have NO regrets. I like the look better, I have all the sensation I could want, and enjoy the convenience. There's no need for the foreskin to be out there now that we have clothes. I don't like wearing a condom; have done so only a very few times, but I'm not exposed to any STDs because I'm the farthest thing from promiscuous you can imagine.