Male circumcision: It’s a personal choice

Vol. 9
No. 1
Marc Angelucci
Thu, 11/17/2011

A few days ago, the American Medical Association made an announcement that contradicts the position of medical associations worldwide about something that has recently seen an explosion in media coverage - infant male circumcision.

Throughout the world, medical associations have found no medical justification for male circumcision. The British, Canadian, South African, Australian, Dutch, and New Zealand medical associations all found the purported medical benefits to be unfounded, and that the risks and complications outweigh any benefits. The Dutch and South African medical associations even declared infant male circumcision to be harmful, unethical, and a violation of a child's right to bodily integrity.

But on Nov. 15, the American Medical Association announced its vote to oppose recent efforts to ban the practice, and in their announcement they said there is "strong evidence documenting the health benefits of male circumcision."

This announcement won't jolt the views of most Americans, for whom this is conventional wisdom. Although circumcision is declining in the U.S., over half of American men remain circumcised. The U.S. is also the only nation that tries to medically justify the practice.

Incidentally, Americans also consume more Viagra per person than any other country. And given recent medical research, that is not surprising.

In 2008, scientists for the first time used fine-touch medical instruments to measure penile sensitivity of both cut and uncut men in the U.S. and in China, and they found circumcision removes the most sensitive part of the penis. The following year, a report by the British Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons declared the male foreskin is "rich in specialized sensory nerve endings and erogenous tissue" and declared it is not recommended.

Other studies recently found circumcised men have a higher association with sexual problems than uncircumcised men, and that the difference increases with age. Of course, men who were cut as babies cannot know the difference, just like a person born colorblind. But more and more men in the U.S. are educating themselves about what they lost at birth, and an increasing number of them are seeking restorative surgery.

The bottom line is that the American Medical Association is caving to political and cultural pressure to act contrary to medical ethics. Even the slightest ceremonial  incision on an infant girl's genitals is illegal. All forms of infant female circumcision,  including those less intrusive than male circumcision, are illegal in the U.S., even  though the most common form - removal of the clitoral foreskin - is gynecologically  equivalent to male circumcision and has similar (but false) purported health benefits.

Boys deserve the same protection. Religious, cultural, and parental rights end when  it comes to someone else's bodily integrity. It's his body, and his choice.

The AMA completely disregarded what national medical associations worldwide are saying, and based on some of their responses to us on Facebook it appears they didn't even read them.  The AMA's announcement on its Facebook page has well over 150 very critical comments from the public about this decision.

Interestingly, two of their members answered by admitting this was somewhat of a quick decision.  One of them, name, Sam Mackenzie, said this was made with only "limited debate," and he offered to draft a resolution for reconsideration at their June meeting, and he said this that the AMA's report "stated that there was very limited testimony arguing against the resolution. The limited debate was framed around intrusion of patient choice and physician practice, not on the merits of circumcision. I'm not saying this is appropriate--just that it's what happened.  Second, this was submitted as a late resolution; hence, it was not privy to discussion on the online forum before the meeting. A strong case could have been made for referral to a council, for example, the Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs. In hindsight, this would have been my preferred action, but as a medical student, I was focused on other issues, for example, those centered around Medicaid revisions and cuts to GME funding."