Modern Circumcision: A Ritual of Ignorance, Abuse and Greed
By John Schneider
April 18, 2004 (boldface mine)
Circumcision in the United States is a cultural phenomenon that has been subject to a lot of recent controversy. There are many facets to the issue; proponents of the procedure use statistical evidence showing some potential benefits of the procedure, however extremists have been known to take advantage of myths and other misinformation that many Americans harbor about the intact foreskin, in order to divert attention from evidence that does not support their theories. Some even use scare tactics to cause people to think emotionally (rather than rationally) and buy into the propaganda which promotes their (often hidden) agenda.
A growing number of people, including parents faced with the decision of whether to circumcise their son, believe that that the routine removal of healthy, sexual responsive tissue for primarily cosmetic reasons (e.g. "I want him to look like his dad") is a violation of the baby's human rights. Not long ago, many Americans were so outraged by the practice of ritual mutilation of a girl's genitals (observed in some African tribes and some other "primitive" societies) that we passed the Female Genital Mutilation Act of 1996. The reasons given for the custom's presence in Africa include honoring customs and traditions, that it is more hygienic, and aesthetics. Ironically, these are some of the same reasons that Americans cite to justify the "necessity" of circumcision.
Although modern male circumcision is not as extreme as some forms of female genital mutilation, the same principles apply. While 20th century human rights conventions guarantee us security of our person, freedom from persecution, and prohibit cruel and inhumane treatment on paper, sadly these standards are not consistently observed. The constitutionality of the 1996 act that affords roughly one half of US citizens protection under the law, the other half is at mercy to "the powers that be." If it is decided that a baby boy's foreskin should be cut off, it is done without a second thought. Until the late 19th century, the male circumcision rate in this country was less than 1%. As our knowledge of medicine at the time was relatively primitive, doctors were unable to cure many of the common problems that plagued the public, including tuberculosis, epilepsy, polio and various mental ailments. Self-appointed reformist John Harvey Kellogg and his cohorts published articles and bestseller books with pseudo-scientific health advice; and blamed afflictions like those mentioned and many more on the "vile habit of masturbation."
Masturbation is now viewed as a normal part of sexuality, but in 1888 Kellogg wrote: "A remedy [for masturbation] which is almost always successful in small boys is circumcision. The operation should be performed by a surgeon without administering an anesthetic, as the pain attending the operation will have a salutary effect upon the mind, especially if it be connected with the idea of punishment." By the end of World War II it was clear that circumcision did not stop men from masturbating, but by then circumcision was a normal procedure for white, middle-class American men. The uncircumcised penis was viewed as unhygienic and unclean, and as "cleanliness is next to godliness" the circumcision rate grew steadily and peaked at near 90% around 1980.
Currently 85% of the world's males are not circumcised including the vast majority of Europeans, Latin Americans, Japanese, and Chinese; whereas 60% of newborn American males are subjected to the procedure annually. It was once thought (and some people still hold the belief) that infants were not able to feel pain; we now know that is not the case. Profound psychological changes in the infant's still developing brain have been proven to occur, the extent and effects of which the have yet to be clearly understood.
Observations of behavioral changes including a disruption in the mother-infant bond, and a lowered pain threshold the support the theories of harm newborn babies suffer when subjected to the procedure. Studies performed at the University of Colorado School of Medicine showed that circumcision is followed by prolonged, unrestful non-REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. In response to the lengthy bombardment of their neural pathways with unbearable pain, the circumcised babies withdrew into a kind of semi-coma that lasted days or even weeks.
Being born with a foreskin is not a medical condition that needs to be corrected. If it were so advantageous to have a penis with no protective covering, we would not have developed the foreskin in the first place; evolution does not make mistakes. In evolutionary terms, the foreskin is an essential element in the survival of many mammalian species, despite minor anatomical variations. Although the circumcised penis can still perform the basic functions of urination and procreation, this statement is analogous to saying that vision is still possible after the removal of your eyelids. Both parts of the body are there for a good reason, and both provide protection and lubrication to their respective organs.
As the medical industry would stand to lose hundreds of millions of dollars a year if circumcisions were outlawed in America, hospitals and other medical professionals have a vested interest in the continuation of the practice. The American Academy of Pediatrics's statement on the topic is ambiguous, not recommending circumcision but not advising against it either. Considering how much valid evidence was ignored when they weighed the pros and cons, their statement reflects political motivations rather than a genuine interest in the health of the patient. When the profitability of a hospital or medical corporation becomes more important than the health of its patients, we are presented with an unmistakable message that we've allowed the situation get out of control.
The belief that a child cannot be trusted to keep himself clean [is] preposterous, and the desire of a caretaker to circumcise so as to avoid cleaning under their incapacited patient's foreskin is disgraceful. It is important for people of all ages to realize the truth, but so much more so for the children of today who will be the parents of tomorrow.
As violence begets more violence, the children who are abused today will become the abusers of tomorrow. Together, with unbiased and free-thinking minds we have the ability to end the self-perpetuating violence that plagues the US and other countries around the world.
For more information on the issues surrounding circumcision, please visit:
Another excellent resource for information on the effects of circumcision is listed below. As the site contains graphic and explicit (non-pornographic) images, only visit the site if you are of legal age to do alone, or with the permission of a parent/guardian. Due to the disturbing nature of some of these pictures, I would recommend that youths view this site together with a parent, teacher, or counselor:
"Fear is the main source of superstition, and one of the main sources of cruelty. To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom, in the pursuit of truth as in the endeavour after a worthy manner of life."
- Bertrand Russell, British philosopher and mathematician
Join the March Against Infant Circumcision in Washington, DC during National Men's Health Week, June 14th–20th, 2004. See http://www.sicsociety.org/mhw2004/2004/ for more info.