Circumcision Death Case Settles for $230,000

Native American Boy Bleeds to Death
Vol. 9
No. 1
Dan Bollinger
Fri, 04/08/2011

The lawsuit involving a South Dakota Native American infant, Eric Dickson Keefe, from the Rosebud Indian Reservation, who bled to death from a circumcision in 2008, was settled this week for $230,000. The case involved an Indian Health Service doctor who circumcised the child at the end of the working day allowing for no period of post-surgical observation. Testimony showed the mother faced a long drive home on rural roads with other children in her care.

“This was sheer negligence and an ethical failure to consider the risk,” says George C. Denniston, MD, MPH, President of Doctors Opposing Circumcision, a physicians’ group based in Seattle, Washington, which assisted with the case. “Circumcision is unnecessary surgery, which the parents are never told holds a risk of death for their child.”

Keefe bled to death during the night from his open circumcision wound in June, 2008. Medical professionals say that the loss of only two and one-half ounces of blood can cause the death of even a large eight-pound infant. “That amount of blood, just a few drops per hour, was easily hidden in the super-absorbent disposable diaper baby Keefe was diapered with.” notes Denniston, “Parents are never told about that risk.”

Doctors Opposing Circumcision has provided expert advice for numerous circumcision death cases. “Exsanguination, or bleeding to death, is hard to detect,” says Denniston, “since the child slips away quietly, and no one wants to disturb what appears to be a sleeping child.”

Death from circumcision is relatively rare, although a recent study estimates that around 117 children in the United States die each year from circumcision. “These are entirely avoidable deaths,” says Denniston, “caused by a pointless surgery that the child would never choose for himself.”