4 Feb 2011
Is male circumcision a violation of children's rights or a procedure that prevents disease and saves lives?
The National Post - Canada January 24, 2011
Jackson Doughart on circumcision: Infants can’t choose
In November 2010, CBS News in San Francisco reported on a proposal to ban male circumcision, which may be included on a municipal ballot this fall. The measure, which would make it a misdemeanour to “circumcise, excise, cut or mutilate the genitals of a person under 18,” has catalyzed a debate about the legality of male circumcision among medical professionals, religious leaders and those opposed to ritual and medically-unnecessary circumcisions, also known as intactivists.
This is an issue that should also be debated in Canada, where about a third of infant boys are circumcised. Canada has no laws restricting male circumcision, despite recommendations from the Canadian Paediatric Society that the procedure not be routinely performed on infants. Ritual male circumcision, better described as genital mutilation, amounts to strapping down a child and cutting off his foreskin. This practice is an indefensible violation of individual rights, as the person being circumcised is too young to understand the procedure and thus cannot consent. Accordingly, the Canadian government should pass legislation to prevent parents, religious leaders and health-care professionals from performing and authorizing ritual circumcisions on children.
Perhaps the oldest justifications for male circumcision are religious superstitions rooted in the dogmas of Judaism and Islam. While today many religious traditions are not considered threatening to individual freedom, there could not possibly be a grosser violation of a child’s personal liberty than having parts of his genitals cut away in the name of a faith to which he cannot possibly have chosen to follow. We acknowledge this in the case of female genital mutilation, which is universally condemned despite its religious justifications, but we fail to apply the same logic in the case of male genital mutilation, which continues to enjoy widespread legitimacy.
There are several other justifications that parents give for having their sons cut. Perhaps the most common ones are appeals to aesthetic preference, derived from the Western tradition of routinely circumcising infant boys, which was standardized even among non-Jews in the 20th century as a means of discouraging masturbation. The prevalence of circumcision in some parts of Canada is also cited, as many parents fear that leaving their sons intact will subject them to teasing from their peers.
While parents’ intentions may be honourable, this demonstrates precisely why the practice should be outlawed. As long as the moral question of circumcision is left only in the hands of parents, their decision will be impacted by the choice of other parents to go through with the procedure. The ethics of routine circumcision is an important social question which involves everyone.
In recent years, research has shown that the procedure can reduce a man’s chances of contracting and spreading HIV. This discovery has added a new dimension to this debate, as advocates of circumcision can cite such findings to encourage the practice. While it appears that there may indeed be value in the procedure for lowering HIV transmission, there are far better ways of achieving this goal than routinely mutilating the genitals of children. Educating adolescents about sexual health and condom use before they become sexually active is a far better means of curbing the spread of HIV. Irresponsible sexual behaviour — not foreskin — is at fault for spreading sexually transmitted diseases.
These are all perfectly legitimate reasons for an adult man to choose to undergo a circumcision. The difference is that the procedure would not be imposed upon him before he understands what is being performed. The debate about whether or not circumcision is a worthwhile operation should involve those who can actually make a decision about their own circumcision status, not infants who have no say in the matter. Outlawing routine circumcisions would protect the liberty of children too young to make informed decisions about their own health, children who would otherwise be forced to live with the results of their parents’ choice for the rest of their lives. It is time to rid our society of the shameful practice of routine male genital mutilation and move on to a more enlightened state of affairs, where adults can make such decisions for themselves.
Jackson Doughart is a student of political science at the University of Prince Edward Island and a member of the Canadian Secular Alliance, an organization advocating church/state separation.
This article was found at:
The National Post - Canada January 24, 2011
Barbara Kay on circumcision: A painless, live-saving surgery
In 1970, some 97% of American males, and about 70% of Canadian males were circumcised. Those numbers have fallen dramatically, thanks in large part to ardent activism by anti-circumcision “rights” groups.
Jackson Doughart believes [see article above] that the Canadian government should pass legislation that would prevent religious leaders and health-care legislators from performing or authorizing the ritual circumcisions of newborn children. He bases his argument on two often-adduced moral grounds: that the circumcision of infants violates their human rights, because they cannot give informed consent to the procedure, and that male circumcision is a “mutilation,” comparable to female genital mutilation (FGM), already outlawed.
Before addressing Mr. Doughart’s moral concerns, I stipulate to set aside any religious argument for our debate. I can assure Mr. Doughart that Jews, myself included, would unequivocally renounce the ritual of male circumcision if scientists provide a causal link between circumcision and increased risk for morbidity. But after 5,000 years of what is essentially a massive controlled study of Jewish and Muslim men, from which no negative effects can be ascribed to male circumcision, that is unlikely to happen.
Conversely, Mr. Doughart should stipulate to endorse male circumcision if it can be shown to decrease the risk for morbidity. Which it can.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends male circumcision on the basis of irrefutable evidence that it dramatically lowers the rate of HIV, not just in men, but in women and children (according to one British researcher, “The foreskin of the penis is a magnet for HIV.”)
The WHO’s bullishness regarding circumcision rests on a widely-hailed, uncontested South African study (randomized and controlled) concluding that “male circumcision provides a degree of protection against acquiring HIV infection, equivalent to what a vaccine of high efficacy would have achieved.” Extrapolating from the study, it is estimated that in the next 20 years, circumcisions in sub-Saharan Africa can prevent 6 million infections and 3 million deaths. The study “demonstrat[es] that surgery can be used to prevent an infectious disease.”
Yet Mr. Doughart shrugs off this miracle, claiming there are “far better ways” to eliminate HIV, like “educating youth about sexual health and condom use.” Actually, both have been tried. They don’t work in significant numbers (although sexual-fidelity campaigns have been effective: is Mr. Doughart on board for those?).
Passing to the moral realm, the argument of “informed consent” is easily demolished by the fact that we routinely vaccinate our children against disease without their consent for their own good. Even before we knew of the HIV connection, amongst those circumcising their sons, health and hygiene were always the reason. STDs are much more common in uncircumcised men, and circumcision causes a 12-fold reduction in the incidence of urinary tract infections. Complications from circumcisions performed by experienced surgeons and mohels are as rare as those springing from dental procedures or vaccinations: that’s to say, statistically negligible.
On to the pernicious myth that male circumcision, a 30-second procedure, is a “mutilation” and the obscene canard that it is the equivalent of sexist FGM. FGM is a horribly protracted and painful cutting of girls under terrifying circumstances, with the specific intention of eliminating the capacity for sexual pleasure, and rightly considered a criminal action. According to UNICEF, at least 100 million women have been genitally mutilated. Compared to their uncut peers, these women are 69% more likely to hemorrhage after childbirth, and up to 55% more likely to deliver a dead or mortally ill baby. For every 100 deliveries, the WHO estimates FGM kills one or two more children.
“Mutilation” is a disgusting word to apply to the excision of a non-essential bacteria trap, nearly painless and instantly forgotten (those who claim otherwise are fantasizing; no credible study demonstrates lasting effects). Unlike ordinary circumcised men, FGM victims know they have been mutilated in the real sense of the word. Feminists constantly remind us that men have all the power. If true, how is it that after so many thousands of years — coincidentally up to the advent of the sexual revolution and the privileging of erotic freedom over ethical mating — so many millions of intelligent and even powerful Jewish and Muslim males never spoke up about their alleged victimhood?
Set aside the rights-based rhetoric. It’s about sex: Circumcised men have greater pre-orgasmic endurance; non-circumcision permits more frequent ejaculations. What matters most to the anti-circumcision activists is their diminished pleasure with frequently changing sexual partners, as befits an era where the number of conquests is a more common metric of romantic success than long-term relationships. Our legislators have better things to worry about than this.
This article was found at:
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Posted by Perry Bulwer at 13:08