An article appeared in Florida’s Sun Sentinel newspaper on July 19 summarizing the Florida case in which a mother is struggling to protect her nearly four-year-old son from the father’s attempts to have him circumcised. About a third of the way through the article, work is acknowledged that was done by what is described as “an army of special interest groups–Doctors Opposing Circumcision, Attorneys for the Rights of the Child, and Intact America.”
Attorneys for the Rights of the Child
Courts hear parents battle over circumcision
By Marc Freeman, Sun Sentinel
July 19, 2014
The boy’s fourth birthday is coming up and his mother and father are fighting over a tiny piece of him — his foreskin.
Dad wants his son circumcised; mom doesn’t. So now a state appellate court may have to decide.
This unusual dispute doesn’t involve any religious concerns. But it has captured the interest of national groups opposed to the routine practice of male circumcision.
Caught in the middle is Chase Ryan Nebus-Hironimus, born on Halloween 2010. He’s the only child from a seven-month relationship between Dennis Nebus of Boca Raton and Heather Hironimus of Boynton Beach.
Almost from the beginning, the unmarried parents have been at odds, with Nebus filing for paternity rights about a month after the boy’s birth.
The two agreed to a Palm Beach County court-approved “parenting plan” in January 2012, records show. This plan deemed the father responsible for scheduling and paying for the circumcision and noted the “mother can accompany the minor child if she chooses.”
It doesn’t state a reason for seeking the procedure, but Nebus said during a May 7 hearing he believes it’s “just the normal thing to do” and decided late last year to press for it.
Yet Hironimus testified the circumcision never happened as planned, because neither she nor Nebus had brought it up.
She also wrote on the website GoFundMe.com, on which she asked the public for $10,000 to support her legal bills, that she regrets ever agreeing to the circumcision and now strongly opposes it.
“I was always led to believe that being circumcised was the right decision for my son and that it was the ‘normal’ thing to do,” Hironimus wrote on a page recently removed. “Chase and I were lucky enough that I had friends step in and educate me and allow me to see the bigger picture.”
Supporting the mother’s case is a band of so-called “intactivists.” They’re an army of special interest groups — Doctors Opposing Circumcision; Attorneys for the Rights of the Child; and Intact America. There’s also a Facebook page called Chase’s Guardians, and a petition with nearly 6,000 signatures at Change.org.
Amanda Petrillo said she heard about the case and decided to spread the word on social media and through the petition. She’s the Broward-based director of Intact Florida, which is separate from Intact America.
“A forced circumcision at this stage will be extremely detrimental to not only the boy’s physical well-being, but his mental and psychological well-being as well,” Petrillo said.
Hironimus didn’t seek help from the anti-circumcision organizations and denies Nebus’ accusations that she’s looking for publicity, said her attorney, Taryn Sinatra of Delray Beach. But Hironimus won’t refuse the support, either.
“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the public knowing about something as sensitive as this issue,” Sinatra said, adding she hasn’t found another case like it in Florida, and perhaps the rest of the country.
But Catherine S. Eaton, attorney for Nebus, declined to talk about the controversy, noting in an email to the Sun Sentinel her client “is opposed to this private family matter becoming even more public and wishes to especially protect the privacy of his son.”
In court papers, Eaton asked Circuit Judge Jeffrey Dana Gillen to hold Hironimus in contempt for trying to “gain notoriety for herself” and “parading the child’s face and name all over the Internet.”
In turn, Sinatra blasted Nebus for filing “frivolous litigation” to seek a “gag order” on Hironimus. She asked the judge to impose sanctions on Nebus and pay Hironimus’ legal fees.
Daniel Lustig, a West Palm Beach attorney representing the circumcision opposition groups, called the battle “a very strange situation” that may be unique in the nation’s courts, considering the age of the child.
“This is not a baby,” he said. “This is child who will be very much aware of the pain after the procedure.”
Lustig in May asked the 4th District Court of Appeal in West Palm Beach for permission to file a brief on behalf of Doctors Opposing Circumcision and the other groups.
The attorney noted the that Chase’s parents have agreed the procedure “is not medically necessary, and … is not justified based on religious grounds,” he wrote.
But on June 18, the appellate court denied the opposition groups’ request to wade into the dispute, siding with Nebus’ objection.
The parents’ fight started in December 2013, two months after Chase’s third birthday, when Nebus began pushing for the circumcision.
The father said he noticed his son was urinating on his leg and took him to his pediatrician, who diagnosed Chase with a condition called phimosis, referring the boy to a pediatric urologist, Eaton wrote. This condition prevents retraction of the foreskin, covering the tip of the penis.
Hironimus, however, took her son back to the doctor, who wasn’t able “to actually show” the phimosis, Sinatra wrote in a court brief.
Moreover, the urologist, Dr. Charles Flack, at one hearing told Judge Gillen that Chase didn’t have phimosis, and the circumcision wasn’t medically necessary.
“It’s the parents’ choice,” Flack testified.
The doctor said circumcisions are medically acceptable for boys up to age 10, but because of Chase’s age, he would have to go under general anesthesia during the 17-minute procedure.
That’s one of Hironimus’ main objections. She testified she’s worried her son might not wake up after it. Hironimus said it appeared the boy had a seizure the last time he had anesthesia, for the removal of a cyst on his neck when he was about 4 months old.
“She’s also concerned because of his older age that he’s going to be traumatized from this, and at this point would rather leave this to him when he’s older to make that decision for himself,” Sinatra said, according to a court transcript.
During one hearing, Hironimus said, “it’s not worth it to put my son’s life at risk for a cosmetic procedure.”
But then Judge Gillen on May 9 ordered Hironimus to comply with the signed parenting plan, because “there is no reason” not to do so. The judge also warned Hironimus not to lead her son “to believe she is or was opposed to his being circumcised.”
Five days later, the appellate court granted Hironimus’ emergency motion to stay Gillen’s order while it considers the dispute.
Through the years, the American Academy of Pediatrics has taken different views about circumcisions, usually performed by a doctor in the first few days of life.
The academy’s 2012 policy statement concluded “the health benefits of newborn male circumcision outweigh the risks and that the procedure’s benefits justify access to this procedure for families who choose it.”
For Jewish families concerned about following the ancient tradition of circumcisions, Doctors Opposing Circumcision advocates an alternative ceremony called a Bris Shalom, “which does not cut the genitals or risk physical or psychological harm to the child.”
But the American Academy of Pediatrics touts the benefits of lower risks of: urinary tract infections; getting penile cancer; and acquiring HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
Still, the academy notes that these benefits aren’t significant enough to recommend universal newborn circumcision, and the final decision should still be left up to the parents.
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