The Fight Over the Foreskin

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Doctors cut off newborn boys’ foreskins less and less these days. Once upon a time, more parents than not chose to have their sons circumcised; today, the U.S. circumcision rate is just 30 percent. The practice is so out of favor that San Francisco has been discussing banning circumcision outright.

An activist group collected enough signatures to get a male genital mutilation bill listed on the city’s November ballot, although a judge recently ordered the bill off the ballot, citing the illegality of voters regulating medical procedures. The proposed ban would have turned snipping foreskins into a misdemeanor and subjected MDs who perform the act to a $1,000 fine and a year in jail.

All this talk of criminalizing circumcision dismisses its very real health benefits, argues pediatrician Edgar Schoen in The Bay Citizen. For many medical professionals, the infections and diseases that can plague those with intact foreskins make circumcision the most sound decision. Eliminating this tricky fold of skin results in “tenfold protection against severe infant kidney infections [and] lifetime prevention of foreskin infections [and] retraction problems,” Schoen explains. “Penile cancer is found almost exclusively in uncircumcised men and cervical cancer is more common in women with uncircumcised partners.” A foreskin also makes men more vulnerable to HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.

On the other side of the blade stand activists such as Lloyd Schofield, who led the campaign to ban circumcision within San Francisco city limits, as well as ordinary parents who choose not the circumcise their kids for a variety of compelling reasons, such as: It’s natural to keep your child’s penis intact. The surgery itself can be botched. Sexual sensation is increased because penile nerves are preserved. Some argue that health problems can largely be kept at bay with adequate cleansing, which is accessible to most middle-class Americans.

Schofield is considering an appeal of the judge’s ruling. Ultimately, though, with good reasons for and against, circumcision belongs squarely in the “choice” category. As Dr. Emily Blake says to The Jewish Daily Forward:

It is anathema to me that a city as open as San Francisco would begin to discriminate and limit options for anybody. If the person who started the movement wanted to initiate discussion or a thoughtful engagement, that would be wonderful. But an outright ban is just an infringement on everybody’s rights.

Source: The Bay Citizen, The Jewish Daily Forward

Image by Franco Folini, licensed under Creative Commons.

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