Infant Circumcision: Cut It Out

Photo: Bruno Sanchez-Andrade Nuño

Where in medicine do we remove a healthy body part of an infant in case something goes wrong in the future? Where do we remove a healthy body part because it is not as pretty? The appendix? No. The gall bladder? No. The foreskin? Yes.

All sorts of reasons are thrown around for being pro-circumcision. They include reducing the risk of transmission of HIV and other STIs, potential complications with foreskins when men get older, and general hygiene reasons.

To advance the case, research in third world Africa is used. This has been rejected as not relevant here in Australia, because we have better access to hygiene and because the HIV transmission environment is very different in male to male intercourse.

What this gets down to is: what grounds are there for parents to make an irreversible change that is made to an infant boy’s penis, because of what might happen well after he turns 18 or in some rare cases during his childhood?

By doing so, consent has been removed from the child to make an informed choice about his body, when he is able. Being circumcised  may result in less sexual function and even psycho-social impacts of being different to other boys growing up. So these are big decisions that parents are making.

One of the country’s most published pro-circumcision operatives is University of Sydney’s Professor Brian Morris. His strident support of circumcision has even seen him suggesting that science has been thrown out the window.

A potential impediment to evidence-based policy development on medical male circumcision (MC) for HIV prevention in all countries worldwide is the uncritical acceptance by some of arguments used by opponents of this procedure.

However, the respected Kirby Institute, while steering clear of the politics, claims that circumcision as a method to reduce HIV infections is “not cost effective”.

Approximately 75% of all Australian HIV diagnoses come from male to male intercourse. The insertive partner (the top) remains the predominant, but not exclusive transmitter of the virus. Therefore his foreskin plays no additional role, as he already has the virus.

So when the leading body for HIV research in Australia is not persuaded by the arguments for infant circumcision, and when a condom provides for much safer protection, why is this used as an argument to promote a form of genital mutilation or amputation?

Professor Morris has been accused of having an obsession with circumcision

“Brian Morris ran a circumcision website hosted by the University of Sydney. While no longer on University of Sydney equipment, is again operational.[18] The University of Sydney asked Brian Morris not to associate his views on circumcision with his position at the university

Morris’ website links to the following recommended websites and groups (8 of which are circumfetish sites, and 7 that sell devices to perform circumcisions):[19]

So just as Professor Morris questions the science of those against circumcision, he too has had his motives questioned.

Dr John W Travis co-wrote with Ryan McAllister in The Conversation

“With the recently discovered functions of the foreskin and a growth in awareness, we’re fortunately beginning to see the rights and experience of the child become the paramount consideration in discussions about circumcision.”

So what are the arguments for keeping the foreskin?

The moveable skin facilitates sexual pleasure. In fact, the foreskin is typically the most sensitive area of the penis. When circumcised males lose sensitivity and skin mobility, it’s likely to significantly alter their sexual experience.

In a lengthy interview with the stirrer, Dr Travis made it clear that in his view, there is no medically ethical reason for mass infant male circumcision and no other time in medicine where such a drastic act (of the removal of a body part) was undertaken for a prophylactic (preventative) purpose.

A parent may think they know what is best for their child, however they aren’t cutting off noses so they don’t get sunburnt, or appendixes to prevent appendicitis. It is not their place permanently remove part of their son’s body without their consent, whether for health, aesthetic or religious reasons.

When the boy is old enough to make his own decisions he make an appointment with his doctor for his circumcision, if he wishes, just as he can decide to get a tattoo.  Unless there is a health issue needing medical intervention, this is not a parental decision.

The cutting off a healthy body part certainly should not be covered by Medicare and thereby funded by the taxpayer.

About the author

Miles has worked as an advocate and mediator for most of his life. His previous career was focussed on employment and discrimination cases. He now is a journalist and writer with a keen interest in LGBTI affairs and national politics. He plays on Twitter under @mileshef.