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Letters to the Editor

From time to time, a commentary on the world will bubble up inside of me to the extent that I'm forced to write a letter to my local, metropolitan, daily newspaper, The Age. This is where I blow of some steam. Feel like venting too? Add your own comment or visit my homepage.

Wednesday, January 22, 2003

Circumcision - the Cruellest Cut?

Danny Katz is suprised there isn't a university course for mohels, or traditional circumcisors (The Age, 22/1/03). It's not a bad idea. Perhaps such a course might encourage the use of critical thinking and evidence within the profession.

For example, Dr. Herschel Goldman claims medical benefits for this practice: specifically, the penis is cleaner, and there is a reduced risk of STDs and cervical cancer (for partners). I can't see how this benefits sexually-inactive infants, so why not wait until consent can be given? Because, even for adults, these benefits are not significant given basic hygiene, condoms and pap smear testing.

Dr. Goldman suggests that we "weigh all this up against the short-term pain of the infant". What about the risks of carrying out the procedure itself, such as bleeding, damage and infection? Reason dicates any fair assessment would have to consider those risks, as well as the loss of function and possible longer-term psychological effects of the trauma.

Little wonder the medical profession does not support this practice on medical grounds, and the circumcision rate is falling below 5% in Victoria. The Australasian College of Physicians, on its website, says "review of the literature in relation to risks and benefits shows there is no evidence of benefit outweighing harm for circumcision as a routine procedure."

If some people in our community want to mutilate their sons' genitals, let's not kid ourselves with spurious medical reasons. I suspect that these claims are promulgated by advocates to avoid comparisons with Female Genital Mutilation: it is, after all, a difference of degree, not principle.


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Anonymous Anonymous vented ...

Some quick comments:

There are risks with all medical procedures and those of Jewish and Muslim origin who accept the rite of circumsicion in order their children should make a covernant with God. The medical benefits which exist, are simply a plus.

If here should be a medical course for traditional circumcision is questionable. There are many customs and religious laws that need to be studied for the Jewish mohel. I do believe most mohels study medical procedures.

I do not know much about the requirements for a muslim circumcisor but I notice Greg you did not cover that topic either. Is there more complications for procedures done at 13 then at 8 days old?

The risk you identified exist but if performed by a trained mohel those risks are minimised. How many children get their ears pierced at only a few months or years old when they really do not have a say in the matter. Can there be complications, yes, is it accepted and widely practise, yes.

Do you have any evidence of the longer term psychological evidence of the trauma? I have never meet a jewish person who has been tramatised by their circumcision done as a baby. I have not meet anyone but happy to be corrected if you have a study identifying significant number of tramatised jewish circumcised children.

You ask why not wait until consent can be given. It is medically proven and I know a couple of people who have had circumcisions in their 20's and some even in the 50's that the proceedure becomes be complex as the person ages and the easiest and fastest recover from the procedure is found to be when performed on a child under 6 months.

Now you mention basic hygiene, condoms and other items which would also reduce the risk of STDs and infections.. All very valid, but flawed in that condom use while high is not 100% and way below 100% for those not in a long term relationship. Good hygine is also something users need to actively practise. Therefore for those users circumcision would be an aid that they could not forget.

For a view on non traditional circumcision please see the following site I GOOGLED up which features articles and statistics on the topic.


Thursday, August 11, 2005 8:31:00 pm  
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Blogger Greg vented ...

Thanks for the comment.

I think you're at your clearest and most honest when you say that it is do with a covenant with God. It's the only rationale that matters and all the rest is just sort of padding. :-)

Since I don't believe in any supernatural beings, and I hold to the primacy of individual choice, I don't condone piercing of children either (or any other body modification including branding, tattoos, cutting anything off etc).

BTW, I myself was pierced at my own discretion at 16. This seems about he right age: if 16 year old girls want their labia hacked off or 16 year old boys want parts of their penis removed, well, they should be talked out of it but it if they insist then, yes, they should be allowed (it's their body after all).

However, I stand by the advice from the relevant authority in this area (college of physicians) that the medical benefits (if any) do not outweigh the costs of circumcision. Hence "painless" methods for body modificaiton of babies is really irrelevant (as you cite). This is because gouging out babies' eyes or removing their toes are similarly not condoned even if "painless". (Ie loss of function, not just pain, is at issue.)

As for the remarks about not being aware of trauma from the procedure, you may be interested in the post this week on kuro5hin.org (which stole my pithy headline some two years later!):

The Cruelest Cut

And some good reference reading here:


Here is a personal account of the trauma from a 16 year old called

There are many more testimonies

So, in a nutshell, I think the decision is best left to individuals to make for themselves (at, say 16).

Thursday, August 11, 2005 9:29:00 pm  

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