Circumcision: Human Rights and Ethical Medical Practice.

Author:Prescott, James W.
Position:New report on circumcision

When the American Academy of Pediatrics published its "Circumcision Policy Statement" in the March 1, 1999, issue of Pediatrics, a notable amount of media and public commentary followed. The principle findings and recommendations of the statement are:

* The scientific data are not sufficient to recommend routine neonatal circumcision of males.

* The procedure is not essential to the child's current well-being.

* Parents should determine what is in the best interest of the child.

* To make an informed choice, parents of all male infants should be given accurate and unbiased information and be provided the opportunity to discuss this decision.

* Existing scientific evidence demonstrates potential medical benefits of newborn male circumcision.

* Analgesia is safe and effective in reducing the procedural pain associated with circumcision and should be provided if a decision for circumcision is made.

* Circumcision should be done only on infants who are stable and healthy.

The full document is available on the Web at www.cirp.org/tmp/aap1999/.

While this statement represents welcome progress in an area that has concerned many humanists and freethinkers for the better part of this century, it falls far short of taking an uncompromising stand on the issues of human rights and medical ethics that surround the medicalization of ritual circumcision. It also repeats the false claim that there are potential medical benefits from the practice.

From a purely medical standpoint, circumcision is justified only when performed to correct a pathological condition, never to remove normal healthy tissue, and the health benefits must outweigh the risks involved. From the standpoint of medical ethics, experimental and clinical procedures are not to be performed on a person who does not benefit from them.

The way defenders of circumcision try to argue around these objections is to expand the concepts of benefit and beneficiary to include a future class of unknown persons who may or may not develop a clinical condition. Within this class are not only the adult the infant may become but women or men with whom that adult may have intercourse. Yet it is impossible to predict whether any specific normal, healthy newborn or infant will develop any future clinical condition that may merit a medical circumcision or, by remaining whole and then failing to use proper hygiene, may contribute to a medical condition in another person.

From the standpoint of human rights, every...

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