AAP Annual Conference in Boston

Report Backs
Vol. 9
No. 1
Robert O'Connor
Tue, 11/15/2011
Alex Foygel, left-center, Elizabeth Noble, and Robert O'Conner demonstrate
Alex Foygel, left-center, Elizabeth Noble, and Robert O'Conner demonstrate

The American Academy of Pediatrics held its 2011 conference at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center in South Boston over the weekend of October 15th. That Saturday, Elizabeth Noble, Jed Stamas, Alex Foygel and I gathered in front of the BCEC to protest infant circumcision and to hand out information.  Many of the conference attendees walked to or from the World Trade Center stop on the MBTA's Silver Line.  So we lined up with our Intactivist placards where their path crossed the sidewalk in front of the BCEC.  I updated the Conference Flyer that we distributed in 2008 (currently titled "Non-Therapeutic Circumcision:  Whose Responsibility Is It To End This Unnecessary Surgery?") and handed these out to whoever would take them.

The Boston Convention & Exhibition Center is considerably bigger than the Hynes Convention Center where the AAP has held their Boston conferences before.  The BCEC is also in a less centrally located neighborhood, so there were very few people walking by who were there for reasons other than to attend the AAP conference.  This was too bad, because at the 2008 conference we had a lot of conversations with passers-by, many of whom were more interested in speaking with us than the doctors were.  We did attract the attention of the security guards, however.  One of them came over and said that his brother had just had a boy a month earlier.  He didn't know whether his nephew was circumcised or not, but he was interested in what we had to say and took one of our flyers to give to his brother.

Foreign doctors are of course more receptive to our message than most American ones.  I started out holding the "Do your hands heal or harm?" placard.  Two doctors from Panama stopped and took pictures.  They told me that circumcision isn't generally practiced in Panama except in Military families.  The thinking is that sons of Military men will also be in the Military and might get sand under their foreskins if they serve in the desert.  This notion is due to American influence in the Military.  They agreed with us that circumcision is not medically necessary.

When Elizabeth arrived we switched to using the "10 out of 10 Babies Oppose Circumcision - You should too" placard and the "You Wanna Cut Off WHAT?" placard.  Minutes later a woman came out of the conference hall looking for the "Do your hands heal or harm?" placard.  "That's an Anne Geddes picture.  Do you have permission to use that?" she demanded to know. I didn't know what to say, but fortunately I had already put it away.  We think that she didn't agree with our message, but couldn't come up with a good argument, so she decided to direct her outrage at our use of the image.

There were a few very negative comments.  One doctor swore at us.  One yelled "You Need Help" as he quickly hurried by.  I yelled "You Need Information".

One man was there with his wife (I'm not sure if she was a doctor or an exhibitor).  He said that they didn't circumcise their son (although I believe he himself was circumcised), but he still wanted to know why I would choose circumcision as a cause and stand there protesting it.  I find this type of comment makes me feel very defensive (which is probably what he intended).

A far greater number of responses were positive.  Many of the doctors gave us the thumbs up sign and said "we're with you", but they declined to take one of the flyers.  One doctor said that she only did circumcisions because the parents requested it.  I pointed out the section in the flyer that lists what doctors need to do to educate parents and she then took the flyer and promised to read it.  I started to think that many of the doctors might be like her - so they really need useful information that they can convey to parents.

We all debated on what the best way was to approach people.  I went with "Would you like some information?", Elizabeth used "Please take a brochure!", and Jed's line was (I think) "Here is some educational information".  Maybe "Please Educate Parents" would be a good line.  This would combine Elizabeth's and Jed's approaches.

We also discussed updating the conference flyer.  Elizabeth said that we shouldn't use the term "non-therapeutic" in the title, because this will put the word "therapeutic" in their minds.  Elizabeth suggested using the term "Needless Circumcision" instead.  Alex suggested incorporating the "10 out of 10 babies say NO to circumcision" into the title of the flyer.  This would be a less confrontational title and would draw attention to the suffering of the babies.  He also thought it would be a good idea to include more testimonials from men who have undergone a non-therapeutic circumcision, as well as parents who regret their decision.

As always, the placards generated a lot of interest.  Many people stopped to take pictures of us holding the placards and these pictures will definitely generate discussion.