Doctors Re-examine Circumcision

Authors: Thomas J. Ritter, M.D. and George C. Denniston, M.D.

Doctors Re-examine Circumcision. By Thomas J. Ritter, M.D. and George C. Denniston, M.D. New York: Third Millennium Publishing Co., 2002. Approximately 96 pages. Contact or (717)285-2839 to purchase; no price stated. Review by J. Steven Svoboda.

Physicians Thomas Ritter and George Denniston have found a new publisher who has just reprinted a larger-format, lightly updated edition of their straightforward yet deceptively powerful book, formerly entitled Say No to Circumcision.

Doctors Re-examine Circumcision devotes between one and six pages to explaining, in simple layman’s terms, the meaning and ramifications of each of the authors’ forty reasons to say no to circumcision. The reasons themselves ably summarize the various relevant issues: Circumcision is very painful and traumatizing, produces psychological and emotional pain, and creates unnecessary surgical risks and complications. The foreskin is normal and natural and in fact enhances sexual pleasure (two reasons), and the glans is intended to be an internal organ. Circumcision is a disservice to both the male and female, and removes a lot more than a little snip of skin. Males with foreskins will have a lot of company in the locker room, and the history of circumcision is filled with hysteria, bias, and misinformation. Even some Jewish people are changing their minds about the procedure, and none of the many suggested health reasons (penile and cervical cancer, urinary tract infections, sexually transmitted diseases including AIDS–three reasons!) hold up to careful analysis. Major medical associations say circumcision is unnecessary, and some insurance companies are no longer paying for it. Finally, if you’re not sure, don’t do it! Say no to circumcision!

The book opens with five pages of fine prefatory material, including thoughtful messages to parents who had their son circumcised, to new parents, to circumcised men, and to doctors who circumcise. A useful summary of American medical policy in 2001 is provided. (Fair disclosure: an academic article I co-authored on the inadequacy of parental consent to neonatal circumcision is quoted at length.) Famed anthropologist Ashley Montagu provides a persuasive introduction aptly addressing the remarkable persistence and vitality of cultural myths. Perhaps most valuably, a full page is devoted to a tabulation of some thirty fallacies and myths of circumcision. These are the very beliefs that will be debunked in the following pages, and they are so widespread that nearly everybody without an in-depth familiarity with the subject is likely to believe many if not most of them. And yet none of them is true: Circumcision does carry serious risks. Doctors cannot necessarily be relied upon, particularly in the United States, to provide accurate information regarding the procedure. Circumcision does not prevent premature ejaculation.

Repeatedly throughout the book we have the opportunity to hear “victim’s voices” and to be exposed to ideas about the procedure which have been raised by numerous other authors and organizations including the American Academy of Pediatrics. On one page, the reader will encounter some photographs which may be painfully graphic in depicting what can go wrong with a circumcision. The drawings scattered throughout the book usefully elucidate the text.

The authors possess a charming simplicity and directness in their writing style from which many if not most professionals such as lawyers and physicians could learn. Many of us can also learn much from the physicians’ admirable brevity. Under one hundred pages to comprehensively cover the subject! The larger, full page format makes this edition much easier to read and use. Three cheers!

This review also appeared in Journal of Prenatal & Perinatal Psychology & Health, Spring 2002, Volume 16(3), pp. 299-300. Reprinted from the ARC Newsletter (Volume 2, Number 1, Winter 2002).