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Circumcision promoters feel emboldened

In the wake of misguided policy decisions by the WHO and others which threaten to expand colonial-style impositions onto the very genitals of untold numbers of African men (while United States continues to refuse funding for condom education), those who want to ramp-up circumcisions world-wide feel emboldened to promote their surgery to populations not even studied in the African trials.

First, a quick re-cap:Some people feel strongly that circumcision should not be an individual choice.  They feel that circumcision is a good thing, so good that it should be done to people before they can have their own say.  The right to control one's own body, so far as it extends to the genitals anyway, is one they don't recognize.  Since the beginning of medical science, some have tried to medically justify the ancient practice of removing the male prepuce, frenulum, and other unique structures.  When AIDS came on the scene, they predictably sought to find that normal male genitalia was a contributing factor which must be removed.  This slideshow chronicles the history.

Now that those opposed to male genitals remaining intact believe they have embedded the (unsupported) meme that circumcision is an AIDS prophylactic among heterosexual adults in Africa, they are ready to transform it into promoting circumcision for males of all ages everywhere in the world.

The United States is the last industrialized country in the world still clinging to the practice of unnecessary genital surgery on newborn boys, with a rate still around 50%, while other countries which picked up the practice early have long since abandoned it.  Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand, Scandinavian countries, all have much lower rates, generally a single-digit percentage.

So now, believing the wind is blowing in the right direction, some wish to capitalize on public misconceptions to spread the practice.  Two news stories today demonstrate this.

This story from New Zealand “where circumcision rates in public hospitals last decade were about 0.35 percent of total male births,” hears calls from two men which would change that.

The peculiarity of a gynecologist performing penis surgery aside, John Thomson “has performed more than 6000 circumcisions in his private clinic in the past 30 years” and “favours circumcision becoming available through the public health system as an effective method of preventing the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.”  If his call for more circumcision is heeded, his business should flourish.

“Prof Finau said New Zealand health authorities should take note of World Health Organisation backing for United States trials in Uganda, Kenya and South Africa confirming male circumcision can cut heterosexual HIV transmission by up to 60 per cent.”  However, there is a glaring disconnect in his logic, aside from the weakness of those trials:  Infants don't have heterosexual sex, or any sex, and thus could not benefit from any potential reduction in STD transmission rates anyway.  Once males are old enough to choose to have sex, they can also have a say in any potential surgery.

The other news story today highlighting a push towards circumcising infants (which, again, were not studied in Africa at all) comes from Sweden, another country in which circumcision is rare (and so is AIDS).  The good news is that the push is controversial:

A controversial proposal by Sweden’s National Board of Health and Welfare regarding the circumcision of young boys is gaining support among political parties.

The plan, announced earlier this year, would oblige local councils to carry out a circumcision if the boy’s family wanted the procedure.

Some decisions are simply too personal to be made by other family members.  Non-therapeutic genital cutting is one of them.

If you're not familiar with the African studies upon which the recent push to circumcise Africans (diverting funds from behavioral and condom programs), a guide to understanding them can be found here.

Even if these African trials were not so flawed and inconclusive upon close scrutiny, they could only support the decision of fully informed African adults to choose the surgery.  Pushing infant circumcision ignores the human rights of individuals to retain their full sex organ, ignores the fact that infants don't even have sex, and ignores the total lack of evidence regarding non-heterosexuals (which many infants will become).

The road to sexual freedoms is a long one, and the right to genital integrity for males and intersex persons is an important milestone along the way.  We must not let the AIDS crisis, only the most recent of the scare tactics being used to promote circumcision, get in the way.

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