Reading this post you might wonder what it has to do with China. There is a link, if tenuous. Infant male circumcision is not widely practised among the Han Chinese. Yet strangely enough there doesn’t seem to be a plague of foreskin related health issues among Chinese men. I’m in the process of investigating this, and as soon as I can find a practising urologist to interview I’ll be able to make a more definitive statement. My suspicion is that all of the medical reasons supposedly supporting infant male circumcision that are trotted out in the west simply don’t hold any water. But more on that later.
Back at the end of September I accepted an invitation from Avaaz to put a petition on line. My issue is medical involvement in infant male circumcision. I think it’s wrong. There’s no medical justification for the operation, and for doctors to be cutting off part of somebody’s body without consent should be grounds for lifting their medical license.
My petition was on line, briefly, until somebody complained about the image that went with it. Avaaz informed me that this image is offensive, and took my petition off line.
I certainly agree that this image is offensive, but not for the reasons given by those who were offended. This picture is clinical. There is no blood. One is either offended by the image of a baby’s penis, which in my humble opinion makes one a bit perverted, or offended by the mutilation about to be done to that penis, in which case one should want the image to remain. My argument was that offence is taken, not given, and that there are those who would remove all images of women from public view on the grounds that such images are offensive. The line must be drawn someplace.
Apparently Avaaz has drawn that line somewhat south of where I would draw it. To get my petition back on line I had to censor the image. Done. Please don’t get the impression that I am bitter about this. I do find it all amusing. I’m grateful to Avaaz for giving me a platform to raise consciousness about this issue.
Those who support the practice for religious reasons often say that preventing it interferes with their religious freedom and right to choice. But even my Jewish friend Larry signed my petition after I asked him whether he had been given a choice. If you believe in religious freedom and choice, there’s no excuse for taking that choice away from a baby.
Circumcision of infant males was popularized by doctors in the west toward the end of the nineteenth century due to hysteria about masturbation.
“Neither the plague, nor war, nor small-pox, nor similar diseases, have produced results so disastrous to humanity as the pernicious habit of onanism,” – Dr. Adam Clarke.
Authorities like Doctor Kellogg, the man who brought us the corn flakes, blamed masturbation for ills ranging from curvature of the spine to epilepsy, blindness, insanity, and heart problems. It seemed there was nothing worse in the public health field, and infant circumcision was supposed to be the cure. Many doctors recommended circumcising an infant very tightly, so that in adulthood an erection would be uncomfortable, sexual congress would be limited and masturbation curtailed. Dr. Kellogg recommended that it be done without anaesthetic, so that the boy would forever associate pain with his penis and refrain from “bodily self pollution” (a one line, rather uninformative, definition of masturbation I found in a pocket dictionary in high school.)
We now know that these beliefs were mistaken. I have it on no less of an authority than Ann Landers, who started to promote masturbation way back in the early sixties, that masturbation is in fact good for a person, releasing health giving hormones that promote vitality. And you all know that circumcision did nothing to “cure” the “horrible vice”.
Circumcision is a complex issue, with many arguments both for and against the practice. But I have never heard a valid argument for doing it to a helpless infant. It is a violation of a very basic human right, the right to an intact body. Those who claim it facilitates cleanliness and protects against disease are simply as wrong as the good Doctor Kellogg and his contemporaries.
Circumcision, or the Bris, is absolutely central to the Jewish religion and I have no desire to interfere with that. But if they believe in freedom of religion and freedom of choice, they might either adopt a more symbolic and less destructive practice for infants, similar to the ceremonial pin prick, called Sunat, done to many infant Muslim girls (you may need a VPN to see this link in China), or they might wait until the boy reaches the age of consent and can voluntarily make a commitment to his faith and his culture. Surely that would be more meaningful. In any case, my petition is not aimed at any religious or ethnic group. It is aimed at doctors who take a vow, the Hippocratic Oath, to first of all do no harm.
And finally, I’ve started a video documentary about this issue. If you feel strongly either in favour or against infant male circumcision, I invite you to contact me and we’ll make arrangements for you to send me a video clip. (I’m actually most interested in hearing from those in favour of the practice. I like to think my mind is still open to a persuasive argument) Personal anecdotal evidence is welcome.