Leave that thing alone


I read an article on a blog yesterday, where the guy talked about circumcision
— how he needed to get it done to his son when he was about 5, and he
wished he had gotten it done when he was born. He says “I listened to all
that nonsense about butchering and psychological
damage and curcumcision being unnatural. What a mistake.”
I couldn’t disagree
more. I don’t believe that circumcision causes psychological damage, but in
general, there is no anaesthesia used, so (I’m guessing – I don’t actually
remember) it really freakin’ hurts. Do you want to cause your son that much
pain, even if there won’t be lasting psychological damage? Not without a damn
good reason — and thus far, I have not been able to find one.

The main argument that people use when arguing for
circumcision is that it allows the child to avoid painful infections that could
require circumcision later in life. When Gail was pregnant with Ryan, we asked our
family doctor about this, and she said that most of the time, proper washing of
the penis eliminates this problem. When Ryan was 3, he could wash his penis by
himself, so it’s not a difficult thing. She (our doctor) also said that people get
ingrown toenails all the time, but nobody advocates removing them at birth.

Another argument I’ve heard (this, to me, is unbelievable) is that if the
father is circumcised, it’s important for the child’s penis to look like that
of his father. Hogwash. If that’s true, then you’d better hope that your kids
all have the same eye and hair colour as their father as well. Quite simply,
people look different — my kids know this. Neither of my sons have ever
asked why I look different than them.

It’s true that in some cases, infections or inflammations or whatever may
cause circumcision to be required in older children, or even adults. But that
doesn’t mean that we should just do the surgery in advance just in case
it’s necessary later. Hey, the tonsils and appendix
serve no purpose in the human body, and they may also get infected (and if an
infected appendix ruptures, it could be life-threatening), so we should
remove them at birth too, right? Gail had her gall bladder removed 12 years ago
because of gallstones, and she’s just fine now, so should we remove all gall
bladders from babies so that they avoid the pain of gallstones? The logic is the
same.

Bottom line: it’s painful for the child, expensive (health insurance doesn’t
cover it), and generally unnecessary. So why would you want to do this to your
child? I don’t believe that circumcision is butchery or psychologically scarring,
I just don’t understand why you’d elect to have it done to your child.

Note: Some people have the procedure done for religious reasons. That is not
an issue for me, which is why when Ryan was born, I simply looked into the
medical reasons to get it done (and found none). As an atheist, I can’t say I
understand it, but if your faith dictates (probably using the wrong word
there) that your male children must be circumcised, then it doesn’t really
matter whether or not it is medically necessary. If you honestly believe that
God wants your infant son to feel that much pain for no medical
reason, then nothing I say in this article will mean anything to you.

Aside: I wonder how many more google searches will hit my blog now
that I’ve used the word “penis”. Maybe I should rewrite this article using
various other words for penis, and watch my readership numbers skyrocket!

Update (Dec 2006): As Yappa pointed out in the comments, there have been studies that show that circumcised heterosexual men are less likely (some studies say half as likely) to get HIV than uncircumcised men. John mentioned in his blog (also in the comments) that Wikipedia lists other advantages, including lower incidence of penile cancer.

Here’s a link (thanks John) to an article saying that the results were so striking that they actually ended the study a year early, saying that it would be unethical not to offer circumcisions to all the men in the study. These results are certainly interesting, and if I lived in sub-Saharan Africa, I would have to seriously reconsider having it done to my kids. However, incidence of HIV among heterosexual non-drug-using men is far lower here than it is there. I don’t regret my decision not to have it done (and if I had another son I probably still would not get it done), but I must take back my (implicit) assertion that it’s pointless and has no benefits.

I still don’t generally agree with removing something just because it might cause problems later. Doctors believe the appendix serves no purpose, and later in life it can become infected, causing pain and if it ruptures, possibly even death, but doctors don’t remove them at birth “just in case”.

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