Male Circumcision: It Should Not Be a Major Concern for Humanists

December 13, 2016

A not insignificant percentage of humanists and secularists are strongly opposed to male circumcision, to the point of wanting to ban it. The vehemence of their opposition is not warranted by the evidence regarding the effects of circumcision: it is not medically necessary, but it is not harmful (assuming appropriate analgesics are used) and it provides small benefits
 
Before discussing circumcision in more detail, let me support my claim that this is an emotional issue for some humanists/secularists.
 
The late, great Christopher Hitchens devoted a few pages to this topic in God Is Not Great, characterizing the practice as “mutilation” and “primitive amputation.” However, the sole authority Hitchens cited regarding the effects of circumcision was Maimonides— not someone who, to my knowledge, is up on the latest medical studies regarding circumcision. Relying on Maimonides, Hitchens argued the goal of circumcision is to reduce sexual pleasure. The myth that removal of the foreskin materially affects sexual pleasure is just that: a myth.  (Some studies indicate the reverse: some adults who have been circumcised claim greater pleasure.)  It’s disappointing that Hitchens cited a religious authority as sole support for a secular myth— perhaps the only occasion he did so— but this indicates the depth of animosity toward circumcision felt by many.
 
When I was president and CEO of CFI, one of the responsibilities I had was to check up from time-to-time on our international affiliates, some of which we support through grants. In one conversation I had a few years ago, I asked what activities the affiliate planned for the next year. The head of the affiliate said they were going to concentrate on making an all-out effort to ban circumcision. I remember thinking to myself: of all the ills of a society on which a humanist organization could concentrate, this organization is going to focus on saving the foreskin?
 
Finally, during my tenure at CFI I’ve had conversations and exchanges with a number of humanists, including some fellow employees, in which amazement was expressed that I showed any hesitation about banning circumcision. Some indication of this amazement can be found in the comments to my last blog post on this issue, several years ago.
 
The strong opposition to circumcision among some humanists troubles me not because I’m a big proponent of circumcision—do it, don’t do it, it doesn’t matter that much—but because humanists are supposed to proportion their beliefs to the evidence, and, as the previously cited CDC guidelines indicate, the medical evidence simply doesn’t justify a ban on circumcision. 
 
One reason that I think many humanists are so opposed to circumcision is that the reason many circumcise their infant boys is a religious one. If in fact circumcision harmed boys and the only rationale for circumcision was based on religious doctrine, then I would be in favor of a ban also, but that’s not the case. We should not let the fact that a practice has religious associations obscure the secular justifications for the practice, if there are any. Sunday became a day of rest for religious reasons, but even for atheists it makes sense to have a break from work.
 
The other reason I think many humanists are so opposed to circumcision is their adherence to a philosophical principle which, superficially, has strong appeal, namely that no permanent changes should be made to someone’s body without that person’s consent. Seems eminently reasonable—the problem is that it is impossible to comply with this principle with respect to the most important part of our body, namely our brain, and the possible harm that may be done to us via the shaping of our brain when we are young makes the loss of a foreskin trivial (for more detail see my Huffington Post blog, reproduced below).
 
For humanists who are concerned about how the bodies of children are permanently shaped by their parents, I suggest they concentrate on how children are educated. We need tougher regulation of homeschooling and we need to prevent public funding of religious schools— something which seems quite possible under the new administration. The appropriate response to male circumcision is a shrug of the shoulders; it’s just not that significant an issue. We have other work to do.
 
And with that, I reproduce below the blog post I put up earlier today on Huffington Post:
 
Every so often the practice of neonatal male circumcision becomes a news item, typically when some medical association issues a statement on the practice. Last week it was the turn of the Danish Medical Association, which recommended the practice be stopped. Prominent among the reasons cited for this conclusion was that the procedure permanently alters a child’s body, something which should not be done, the Danish doctors argue, without the informed consent of the person whose body is affected.
 
The Danish doctors’ recommendations are in line with most Europeans’ thoughts on this issue. By contrast in 2012, the American Academy of Pediatrics emphasized that there were definite health benefits to male circumcision, a conclusion which the Centers for Disease Control seconded in draft guidelines in 2014. In particular, male circumcision reduces the risk of infant urinary tract infection and the risk of contracting STDs later in life. There is also a reduced risk of other health problems, such as penile cancer.
 
However, even those who maintain that circumcision has health benefits recognize that the most that can be said in favor of circumcision is that “the health benefits … outweigh the risks [but] existing scientific evidence is not sufficient to recommend routine circumcision.” Although circumcision reduces the risk of developing various medical problems, the overall risk of these medical problems is small, whether one is circumcised or not, especially if one is prudent in one’s sexual practices (e.g., by wearing a condom).
 
For the most part, the empirical information relied upon by the dueling medical associations is the same — but their interpretation of the data is different. The difference in views among the various medical associations, and other health groups, appears to be due, in part, to cultural factors. Most Europeans are not circumcised, whereas circumcision is not uncommon in the United States.
 
Given this background, one might conclude that circumcision should be largely a non-issue: it’s a procedure that’s medically justified, but not necessary. Whether the procedure should be performed on one’s newborn is something that can be left to parental discretion.
 
That conclusion, however, would be fiercely resisted by many opponents of circumcision, some of whom are adamant in their rejection of the practice. For them, male circumcision is “genital mutilation.” One critical principle animates this opposition and it is the one alluded to by the Danish Medical Association, namely that no permanent changes should be made to a person’s body without their consent, which, of course cannot be obtained until that person is legally an adult.
 
This principle has strong intuitive appeal, at least in our contemporary world. Who could argue with self-determination? But upon reflection, the principle that no permanent changes should be made to somebody’s body without their consent is impossible to comply with.
 
To put it mildly, the brain is an important part of a person’s body. It’s certainly more important than the foreskin of the penis. One’s brain is inevitably shaped by the parents or guardians one has as a child. This is not some metaphorical allusion to the information that’s put into one’s brain nor am I referring to one’s genetic inheritance — no, the physical structures of one’s brain are changed based upon one’s training and education. For example, the brains of literate people differ from the brains of illiterates. Similarly, musical training affects the architecture of the brain.
 
Most developed countries do exercise some control over the training and education children receive, imposing various legal standards and restrictions, but even so, wide scope is given to parents in terms of how they raise their children. Homeschooling is permitted in the United States, for example, with minimal oversight in most states. (Interestingly, homeschooling is forbidden in some European countries, such as Germany—again a significant cultural difference.) With respect to training in music or sports, parents can subject their children to extensive training, just short of physical abuse. Hour after hour of piano practice or swimming lessons. When grown, these children might be grateful for their training, or they may resent the physical or psychic pain they had to endure while forced to pursue an activity which they never liked. On the other hand, some children will receive no training in music or sports, something which they may regard as a handicap in later life. Either way the bodies of these children will have been permanently altered by their parents.
 
We rightly value self-determination, but our ability to choose our own path and make our own decisions about our bodies begins after our bodies have already been shaped by our parents in ways we are powerless to change. In this light, agonizing over the loss of a foreskin is an unwarranted, excessive reaction.
 
Nothing in the foregoing analysis should be interpreted as saying we should allow parents to change their children’s bodies in any way they regard as suitable just because their role in shaping these bodies is inevitable. Clearly, limits should be— and are —imposed on what parents can do. Parents cannot inflict disabling injuries on their children. But, as indicated, the evidence regarding male circumcision is that it provides some small benefits. It cannot plausibly be characterized as medically necessary, but, with appropriate use of analgesia, it’s not harmful. The energies that some devote to opposing male circumcision might be better spent lobbying for tighter regulation of homeschooling. The cerebral portion of young male bodies should receive as much attention as the genital portion.
 

Comments:

#1 Randy (Guest) on Tuesday December 13, 2016 at 11:46am

This is a baffling position.

Male genital cutting marks a child with a religion (there’s no other reason to do it in 2016) often before they even have a chance to learn the language, but certainly before they have a chance to learn about world religions (and atheism).

Further, it is a wasteful surgery without benefit that takes time away from things that are actually useful.  It’s a money grab, and sometimes the boys die or lose their genitals as a result.  Unlike other surgeries, US hospitals do not even track deaths from genital cutting conducted on premises.  Instead, they track only the complication, when the boy returns to the hospital with bleeding or gangrene.  That’s hardly humanist.

Last, it’s hardly justifiable to look at the men who are telling you, whether they were cut as a child, at puberty, or later in childhood, how they regret what was done to them without their informed consent.  That, all by itself, is enough to ban male genital cutting.

I won’t refute the other points, which are already well refuted elsewhere.  Lindsay’s position is untenable.  He seems wilfully blind to the concept of proportionality, and the difference between necessity and option, not to mention the importance of sex and identity in people’s lives.

I can’t wait for the article in which the ritual excision of 1 cubic millimeter of prefrontal cortex is defended.  After all, we can cut things from our kids, because we want to.  We’re modifying the brain anyway!

#2 Bruce Wallace (Guest) on Tuesday December 13, 2016 at 2:01pm

This is a short reply. I am 64 years old, circumcised in 1952 just after birth.
Not for religious reasons, but because it was the done thing then.
I have no regrets, no side effects, no memory of the event.
Just my personal experience.

#3 Benjamin Weaver (Guest) on Tuesday December 13, 2016 at 2:50pm

As someone who was circumcised, obviously without my consent, I am baffled at the position you are taking on this.  You say that parents should be allowed to have their sons circumcised because (you assert) it’s “not harmful.”  You compare it to the way parents are allowed to force children to practice piano and say “See!  We allow parents to do THAT!”  First of all, I don’t think we necessarily should allow that.  Second, something like music training doesn’t begin until children are at least somewhat capable of expressing their own wishes and I think that should be given at least some consideration and that most parents actually do so.  If they continue forcing a child to do something like that after it’s clear that it is making them miserable then I most certainly would regard it as abusive.

Third, having children learn things like music can be shown to be beneficial in numerous ways.  The supposed benefits of circumcision are very limited at best and there is nothing like a consensus on the matter. But then, that’s not why the majority of parents in the US have their boys circumcised anyway, leading me to…

Fourth, the reason they do has nothing to do with any supposed health benefits.  They do it because that’s just what you do here!  It’s tradition!  They do it because they wring their hands worrying that their son will feel anxiety over being “different” from the other boys.  (What the literal fuck, parents? Are you PLANNING to raise your sons as weak-kneed, insecure sissies, obsessed with what others think of them?)

In my own case, without going into detail, I suffer from certain dysfunctions in that regard. I don’t know whether or to what extent this is related to being circumcised since (Surprise!) there’s almost no research on it, but I can’t eliminate it as a factor.

There is no good reason to circumcise infants. Let your children make their own decisions about their bodies when they are old enough!

#4 Norma Jean Wade (Guest) on Tuesday December 13, 2016 at 2:53pm

Well, the thing of it is:  we may be responsible for our children, but we do not own them.  Having a child undergo a circumcision without that child’s consent is a step too far in parenting.  it cannot be undone, and unlike, say, vaccines doesn’t provide any substantial benefit.  We wouldn’t after all do that to a neighbor’s child, now would we?

#5 Tim Fransioli (Guest) on Tuesday December 13, 2016 at 3:04pm

So… bodily autonomy and consent are superficial concerns?

Wow.. Center for Inquiry just lost a bit of respect in my book

Trying to turn the argument of “no reason to do a thing” around to “no reason NOT to do a thing” sounds like a nice solid base for all manner of atrocious acts

For the President of a Freethinkers and Humanist organization.. he sure does seem eager to see how many logical fallacies he can cram into one poorly written blurb

#6 Norm Cohen on Tuesday December 13, 2016 at 8:35pm

Shame on you Mr. Lindsay, as the head of a free-thought organization in the 21st Century, for taking the absurd position that the right to genital integrity for all children does not matter.

It is not for you to decide what constitutes a “major concern” among the many victims of genital cutting worldwide. Thousands of circumcised men have written online and spoken out at public protests to object to what was done to them without their consent, and how it has harmed them in a deeply physical and psychological way. For you to ignore their claims but accept the statements made by doctors at the CDC and the AAP without skepticism, those who have a financial and religious issue in continuing the practice, is both scientifically and morally reprehensible. The heads of free-thought and secular organizations across Europe as well as many bioethicists simply disagree with your naive position. Your evidence is tainted, your position as an American is culturally-biased, and your knowledge of the functions of the foreskin is non-existent.

The genitals of children must be treated with the highest integrity and ethical standards. Be prepared to be condemned and protested by many who hold and cherish higher standards of human rights, medical ethics, and skepticism than you do.

#7 jlperkins (Guest) on Tuesday December 13, 2016 at 10:41pm

The comments are unfair, as the arguments Mr Lindsay put addressed the objections.

One thing I have noticed with uncircumcised boys is that a lot more cleaning up behind the toilet is needed, due to a reduced ability to aim precisely.

#8 Elliot (Guest) on Tuesday December 13, 2016 at 11:05pm

Strapping down a baby boy and cutting HIS genitals for supposed benefits is not comparable with Musical or sport education at all. It’s simply not proportional, nor with vaccines, because vaccines actually saves children from diseases.
And yes, circumcision is mutilation by definition. Cutting healthy erogenous tissue is mutilation

#9 Steve G (Guest) on Wednesday December 14, 2016 at 3:31am

I’ve seen before in discussions with so-called ‘freethinkers’ from genital cutting cultures - Kenya in my case - that where you stand on the question of GC is a good litmus test of freethought. Far too often, ‘freethinkers’ from cutting cultures will abandon religion, promote “science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values”, but they cannot for the life of them get their heads around the idea that GC of children - and by extension what was done to them -  is totally unjustifiable in this day and age.

#10 CL (Guest) on Wednesday December 14, 2016 at 10:14am

The correct stance regarding circumcision is that it should not be done to children. Even if it were proved to increase lifespans and make people wealthy, IT WOULD BE THE BOY’S DECISION.

I can give you whatever nonsense claims you want to make about it, nothing is an argument except that THERE IS NO PRESSING NEED TO DO IT BEFORE THE CHILD CAN CONSENT. Therefore don’t do it to children.

This is not a complex discussion. There’s no grey area. Child mutilation where there is no pressing need is abhorrent, and should be prevented.

#11 Thor (Guest) on Wednesday December 14, 2016 at 11:21am

Ron I have to disagree here, Humanists in the EU and other parts of the western world would disagree strongly, this practice is only an issue to the US because of your history with the puritans and people like Kellogg.

Body autonomy is a value of Humanism, there is no reason to alter a infants penis because he might have issues when he’s an elderly man.

The defense for this practice seems to come from the US because so many of you have had it done to you, and you feel threatened by others condemning the practice it seems.

Very sad to read this stance.

#12 Ronald A. Lindsay on Wednesday December 14, 2016 at 3:29pm

Thanks to everyone for their comments. I especially appreciate those who took the time to provide an argument.

I’m not going to respond to each individual comment, because of time and space considerations. I am, however going to respond to Thor’s comments because they represent an unfortunate tendency to resort to ad hominem attacks on highly charged, emotional issues—which can only prove an obstacle to a productive exchange of views.

Thor, were I so inclined, I could easily turn your arguments around and maintain that the reason so many Europeans object so strongly to circumcision is that they have not had the procedure done and they feel foolish and resentful about this, and are too ashamed to admit it. (And, of course, because of the complications and difficulties of adult circumcision, practically speaking it’s too late for them.) I could also allude to the history of anti-Semitism on the Continent (just as you have alluded to the Puritans) which has made many Europeans instinctively recoil from circumcision, as it is such a ‘Jewish thing.’

But that would be a very bad argument, just like your points constitute a very bad argument. We’ll never get anywhere if we just question the motives, conscious or subconscious, of those we disagree with, instead of debating based on the facts and reasons.

Speaking of fallacies, I’ve been accused here and (so I’m informed) on other websites of making a logically fallacious argument. If true, then obviously my argument is invalid, so that’s an accusation worth considering. Having considered this objection though, I don’t believe my argument is fallacious.

The conclusion of my argument is indicated by the title of my blog piece namely that male circumcision should not be a major concern for humanists. I’m going to review the structure of my argument to see if it leads to this conclusion.

1. If the benefits of a medical procedure for a child outweigh the risks it’s permissible for a parent to have a child undergo the procedure. The benefits of male circumcision outweigh the risks. Therefore it’s permissible for parents to have their newborns circumcised.

The foregoing is clearly part of my overall argument. I don’t detect any fallacy here. It’s traditional modus ponens.

Of course, one can dispute whether the premises of this argument are factually correct, but that doesn’t go to the logic of the argument. In other words, this part of my argument isn’t fallacious, even if it were factually unsupported.

With respect to the facts, I cited the reports of the AAP and the CDC, which, in turn, are based on numerous empirical studies. One can dispute those facts, but if so, one should cite contrary studies as opposed to just questioning the motives of these organizations. (The notion that the AAP’s conclusion is motivated by a desire for money seems unlikely given the very balanced nature of their report. The organization specifically refrains from recommending circumcision, which is a bizarre way of promoting circumcision.)

2. A constraint on parental discretion is the principle that no part of a child’s body should be permanently altered.

I identified this principle as one that is relied upon by opponents of circumcision. I believe this identification is correct, as some comments here and elsewhere indicate. It’s also a principle that was cited by the Danish Medical Association in their recent statement on circumcision.

I noted that this principle does seem reasonable, at least at first blush. As many have noted, humanists, at least, believe significant weight should be given to autonomy. (I do as well; my PhD dissertation was an extended argument in favor of assisted dying based largely on the principle of respect for autonomy.) In any event, in my argument I accepted this principle arguendo.

3. This principle cannot be strictly complied with.

This is a factual claim which I believe is amply supported by human experience and by our knowledge of how the brain’s architecture is altered depending on one’s education and training, which in early years is largely left to the discretion of one’s parents.

4. Even though this principle cannot be strictly complied with, all other things being equal, this principle should be honored to the extent possible, with priority being given to constraining parental discretion in those instances which are most significant for the child’s development.

This premise is implied in my argument. I assume it’s noncontroversial, especially for those who adhere to the principle set forth in number 2 above.

5. How male children’s brains are shaped by their parents is more important than whether or not their penis retains a foreskin.

I would think this is obvious, although some would maintain this is a value judgment. If it is a value judgment, it’s consistent with the weight that presumably should be given to fostering and protecting autonomy. Trying to ensure, for example, that a child is able to develop critical reasoning skills and is not brainwashed into accepting some dogmatic ideology or religion appears to be more related to autonomy than the possession of a foreskin.


6. In light of 5 above, humanists should focus their energies on trying to ensure that children are appropriately educated. This may mean, as indicated in my blog piece, that we should advocate for tighter regulation of homeschooling and should to the extent possible prevent public funding of religious schools. (Not every religious school indoctrinates its pupils, but too many do.) By comparison, circumcision is a minor issue. The medical evidence indicates it doesn’t affect sexual functioning and is not otherwise harmful.

1-6 support the conclusion that male circumcision should not be a major concern for humanists (not of no concern—just not a major concern). If there is a logical fallacy somewhere in this chain of reasoning I don’t see it; I would be indebted if someone could identify it.

By the way, nothing I said in my blog piece or here indicates that a humanist should not advocate both on child education issues and on circumcision. But most people don’t have unlimited time, and humanist organizations don’t have unlimited budgets or staff. Others may come to a different conclusion, but for the reasons I have already given, it seems to me advocacy on educational issues is much more important. With respect to advocacy on circumcision, I think the emphasis should be on making sure parents have the appropriate information before making decisions. Even the Danish Medical Association decided not to call for a ban.

#13 Thor (Guest) on Wednesday December 14, 2016 at 3:59pm

Thank you for the well thought out response, I think you and I agree for the most part but the need to even address the issue of placing the issue on a high or lower level importance I feel is totally unnecessary.

We can battle any issue we like as individuals, take stances on our various countries (this issue clearly is not on the radar in Iceland for example), but to specifically address it as suggesting its not worth the effort is certainly bringing light to the issue and I’m sure you expected some push back for that.

I don’t spend a lot of time nor effort on the issue, but I am perplexed at the USA for how little thought is given to the procedure and how it stems from Kellogg and his ilk who I think we all can agree are despicable people.

I think that since so many American’s grow up with this, that they themselves have been circumcised or as for mothers have had it done to their sons; is why there is this push back and counter argument going on at all in the US.

The same thing out here and in Europe is its seen as a religious practice, often spoken of as barbaric, and of course certainly antisemitism in the past have a part to play, not sure how much though.

I know for example FGM has creeped itself in to Europe over the decades, and I think standing up against that and the much safer and less controversial circumcision should go hand in hand as a humanist value of body autonomy and effectively ending what for most parents outside religious circles see simply as a procedure for aesthetics.

I do certainly agree a ban would seem extreme, and do not currently see any reason for it, the rates are declining in the US and hopefully those continue.

#14 Hunt (Guest) on Thursday December 15, 2016 at 3:36am

Reasons I think eliminating male circumcision is a worthy endeavor:

1.  It’s a fundamental violation, and it’s physical.  I agree violations of indoctrination are real as well, and perhaps more damaging, but circumcision is a fundamental body autonomy violation, not terribly far from things like forced sterilization “for the good of the mentally feeble”, and so on.  If you can argue that circumcision “has some benefit” therefore it is permissible to mutilate children, you open the door to other more noxious arguments.

2. It’s doable.  Western countries already are or are on the brink of banning circumcision.  A victory would lend credibility to secular/progressive projects.

3.  It weakens our position viz a viz FGM.  Societies that permit FGM can turn around and point out that we permit male circumcision, to a large extent making us look like hypocrites.  This relates to 1.: allowing MGM opens the door to further spurious arguments detrimental on principle.  Genital mutilation should not be permitted, period.

#15 CL (Guest) on Thursday December 15, 2016 at 3:48am

Mr Lindsey, re: your comment reply, in order -

1: If the benefits of the procedure outweigh the risks that’s clearly an informed consent situation. For the purposes of this point I am willing to handwave that circumcision might prevent anything you care to name, BUT unless there is a medical need to do it immediately lest permanent harm be done it can absolutely wait. Before we had topical steroidal treatments circumcision in cases of phimosis were forgivable but there was no need to subject every child to it by default and there is even less need now.

As a side-note to your request for citation: you can find empirical studies backing up ten different findings for two different opinions. It’s always going to come down to whose is more motivated or less rigorous. Where a study finds not only that circumcision is medically beneficial - which, again, we have handwaved as true for the moment - but encourages having it done to children against potential distant future benefit as opposed to implemented as and when indicated and requested, that’s clearly motivated.

2-4: As you say; the principle of bodily autonomy of children (like any principle) is not an absolute. No one would consider it controversial to provide a heart transplant to a child where NEEDED. The discussion isn’t about whether or not it’s ever right to mutilate children, we’re haggling over where the line is drawn.

5-6: Every humanist is not required to dedicate all the time he allocates to advocacy of a single priority. Having this discussion here has not distracted me from any other priority; at this moment in my free time, instead of half-listening to The Big Lebowski and typing up this reply I would be half-listening to The Big Lebowski and arguing about whether or not the transporters of Star Trek provides continuity of consciousness. Is this not a better use of my time than that?

So given that humanists’ numbers and time are not limited to one or two issues, that the censure of your peers - or readers, if you don’t care to extend to us that dignity - should demonstrate that it’s not such a trivial issue for us, and that even if we do you the convenience of accepting all your medical beliefs arguendo we still can’t justify allowing child mutilation, what arguments have you left to persuade us that you are not motivated? Because I’m dry, even doing my best to help you.

I suppose the main question left, given these, is why do you feel the need to force it on children before they can understand or consent, as opposed to for example advocating that voluntary circumcision be encouraged in sex education classrooms?

Finally, I’ll admit this is a weak and emotive argument but - not very long ago parents, the recognized authorities and the victims themselves would have argued that castrating a young boy is an acceptable violation in that it provided them with future prospects. Today, you are playing the role of the Church to those of us who were abhorred enough by your article to reply here. Please think about that.

#16 CL (Guest) on Thursday December 15, 2016 at 9:20am

Oh, and apologies for the double post but I forgot a point I was going to make: the logic that victims of circumcision are more motivated to normalize it is not equivalent to your suggestion that one could accuse the intact of being motivated by shame. After all, the intact can be circumcised any time they choose if they were really so covetous of the privilege, but the mutilated will never be whole again.

#17 Brother K (Guest) on Thursday December 15, 2016 at 11:57am

circumcision: a cruel sexual mutilation that custom can never make normal. People who try always look foolish. They lack the insight to look in the mirror.

#18 Daniel Schealler (Guest) on Thursday December 15, 2016 at 1:26pm

“[Circumcision] cannot plausibly be characterized as medically necessary…”

That’s the key thing, Ron. You’ve just admitted the counter-argument.

Circumcision amounts to cutting off a piece of a person’s body without that person’s consent. If such an operation is not medically necessary, then it shouldn’t be performed.

“I remember thinking to myself: of all the ills of a society on which a humanist organization could concentrate, this organization is going to focus on saving the foreskin?”

By that logic, you should liquidate all of CFI’s assets and commit the funds to a charitable organization for civilian relief in Aleppo.

It’s possible and plausible and even necessary to pursue multiple goals at once.

This is the fallacy of relative privation. You should know better, Ron.

#19 Scion (Guest) on Thursday December 15, 2016 at 6:58pm

Something that bothers me a great deal about your response is you keep going back to the “benefits outweigh the risk”, the Canadian Paediatric Society just concluded in 2015 that the Beneifts DO NOT outweigh the risk,  The AAP stated “benefits of circumcision outweigh the risks, but the benefits aren’t great enough to recommend circumcision for all newborn, Dr. Freedman, who sits on the AAPs circumcision Taskforce now claims these benefit are for “religion (Muslin/Jewish), culture, aesthetic preference, familial identity, and personal experiences” (The Circumcision Debate: Beyond Benefits and Risks Andrew L. Freedman, MD FAAP from May 2016), the benefit isn’t about science or medicine.

There is also an issue with how safe the procedure really is:
“Health is not only about disease prevention, but also about well-being and the avoidance of harm. How harmful is routine non-therapeutic circumcision? The overall rate of immediate and long-term complications arising from newborn circumcision is a matter of debate and in truth unknown. The estimated rate of complication worldwide has been reported as lying between the extremes of 0.1% and 35%. Minor complications such as bleeding, infection and prolonged hospitalization are thought to occur in less than 5% of cases. Tragic partial or complete penile amputation, urethral injury and even the rare death have been reported. Meatal stenosis requiring intervention occurs in 5%–10% of males circumcised in the newborn period. This is believed to be secondary to dermatitis of the unprotected glans exposed to wet diapers. Circumcision revision under anesthetic for penile concealment, skin bridges or an unacceptable cosmetic result is probably the most common long-term complication prompting a urological referral: in one survey, fully one-third of pediatric urologists in the United States reported experience as an expert witness in circumcision litigation cases.

Read the article here:

#20 Ssci0n on Thursday December 15, 2016 at 7:03pm

Read the article here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2422979/

Also the point should be made that countries that don’t circumcise find that medically indicated need for it to be at 0.006% of the population, that means a man has thousands of times the chance to be harmed by the procedure than to ever need one in his lifetime.

#21 TLCTugger on Thursday December 15, 2016 at 8:57pm

Every paragraph of this piece could be a reference for the dictionary definition of Straw Man.  The silly and irresponsible author who chose to write before learning the first thing about the functions of normal genitals should be stripped of any position of authority or privilege in CFI. 

Child forced genital cutting is wrong whether the victim is male, female, or intersex. 

Hundreds of thousands of men are enduring non-surgical foreskin restoration to undo some of the predictable sexual damage of childhood circumcision. 

Foreskin feels REALLY good.  Circumcision alters sex dramatically. 

Interventions with only proxy (e.g. parental) consent are ethical IF waiting for the patient’s own informed consent will lead to net harm, and WHEN less-destructive options have been exhausted.  Forced non-therapeutic genital reduction surgery fails this test decidedly.

#22 CL (Guest) on Thursday December 15, 2016 at 9:20pm

@ #19: keep in mind that physical complications aren’t the only problems that result from circumcision; there’s also that it deprives men of the choice to experience life with a foreskin and later decide if the so-called benefits are worth losing it for.

#23 Ssci0n on Thursday December 15, 2016 at 9:24pm

@CL I don’t disagree, and as a humanist fighting for the rights of a people to have autonomy rights is and should be TOP priority, and circumcision of males fall under that.

#24 Ssci0n on Thursday December 15, 2016 at 9:29pm

The author need a lesson in ethics, which is ironic seeing he supposedly is in the business, http://jme.bmj.com/content/39/7/418.extract

#25 David Balashinsky (Guest) on Friday December 16, 2016 at 3:12am

Mr. Lindsay: you are wrong not only on the facts but in your reasoning.  Unfortunately, when it comes to male genital mutilation (or “circumcision”), the falsity of the facts and the reasoning are often inextricably intertwined.

To wit:  To assert, as you do, that circumcision “is not harmful (assuming appropriate analgesics are used” is preposterous.  That is tantamount to the assertion that amputating any non-essential body part (by which I mean a part without which the person would still be able to go on living) is not harmful provided that analgesics are used.  But that could be said of most body parts. One can live without an ear, a finger, a hand, an eye, a leg, large sections of one’s colon, the senses of sight, hearing, taste, smell, touch: none of these is indispensable.  Your premise, apparently, is that the male prepuce is unique in human morphology in being a completely useless appendage.  This assumption is manifestly false.  The male prepuce is highly innervated and functional tissue.  It is no more superfluous than the female prepuce (or clitoris, for that matter) and its removal without consent is no less a violation of the victim’s human rights than removal of the female prepuce (as occurs in the more common forms of FGM) is a violation of that victim’s human rights.

As for the role of the male prepuce in sexual response and function, its loss is manifestly harmful commensurate with the loss of sensation that occurs when this primary sexual structure is removed.  The secondary problems that occur also as a result are numerous and well-documented. 

But back to your mistaken facts and faulty reasoning.  When the AAP task force on “circumcision” concluded in 2012 that the “benefits outweigh the risks,” absolutely no value or weight was given to the prepuce - to say nothing of the right of the person to own and control all of his body parts - by the AAP.  This is a point repeatedly made by the bioethicist Brian Earp (with whose work on this topic you should be acquainted).  Nowhere, but nowhere, does the AAP task force even so much as acknowledge the purpose and function of the foreskin.  Thus, when its “circumcision” task force concluded that the benefits of its involuntary removal outweigh the risks, it approached the subject with the a priori assumption that having a prepuce has no value which needs to be taken into consideration when weighing the relative benefits and harms of removing it.

But, as I said, virtually any non-essential body part can be treated in this way, and, indeed, with far greater potential benefits.  For example, breast cancer takes the lives of over 40,000 women in the U.S.A. annually.  This huge loss of life could be virtually wiped away if every infant girl (and boy) had her breast buds removed at birth.  So why not?  Because there is an a priori assumption that breasts have an intrinsic value to their owner whereas no such concomitant assumption is made about the male prepuce.  There is, however, no rational, biological, or objective basis for this distinction. 

It is manifestly true that amputating any body part has “benefits.”  I can claim easily enough that amputating an infant’s hand will reduce her chances of its getting caught in a thresher to zero.  Clearly that is a benefit.  And if analgesics are used, surely hand-removal is not harmful.  That reductio ad absurdum is essentially what you are claiming about the male prepuce.

I began by noting that you are wrong not only on the facts but that your reasoning is fallacious.  Now I go a step further.  Your argument fails the most rudimentary standards of ethics, and this, of course, is the crux of the matter.  All medicine is governed by ethical rules.  Involuntary “circumcision” violates virtually all of them.  I do not know what humanism means to you but to me it embodies the principle of respect for the autonomy and rights of every individual. Throughout your entire commentary above on the topic of male genital mutilation (or “circumcision,” as you insist on calling it) you demonstrate a complete disregard for that principle.

#26 Daniel Strandjord (Guest) on Friday December 16, 2016 at 7:11pm

You may think you know enough about male foreskin/circumcision, but unless you first write about the anatomy, development, and functions of the male foreskin, then you do a major disservice to your credibility.  I think the Richard Dawkins Foundation should reconsider merging with CFI after this article.  I won’t repeat the excellent points made by others, but I hope you seriously take note of them.

#27 KENNETH NERO (Guest) on Saturday December 17, 2016 at 4:54pm

The federal law prohibiting circumcision in the United States is known as Female Genital Mutilation, 18 USC §116. Girls under the age of 18 are protected from the knife. The thirteenth amendment ensures equal justice under the law. Because I was born in 1955, I couldn’t leave the hospital without being strapped down without my permission and loosing the most erogenous skin on my body. Lost forever. It wasn’t just a flap of useless skin. I either screamed, went in to shock, or a little bit of both. While I was not consciously aware of the experience, science exists to underscore the fact babies’ brains are affected. Boys deserved and deserve better than being penalized for being a boy. They don’t deserve rape. The prepuce (foreskin is not a birth defect. I look forward to the day when boys under 18 get equal protection under the law. Circumcision is a cash cow. Doctors who don’t oppose circumcision violate the sacred oath of their profession. I suspect Mr. Lindsay is circumcised. There are men who complain. Do baby boys have human rights? The question is an insult.

#28 Hunt (Guest) on Sunday December 18, 2016 at 5:55am

@27 Adding to the grotesqueness of it all, there exists a foreskin industry.  Hospitals actually sell foreskins to biomedical industry for profit.  It’s all pretty sick.

#29 Daniel Schealler (Guest) on Sunday December 18, 2016 at 4:27pm

@28

Actually no, that’s not part of the problem.

Foreskins are high in stem cells. They’re a very useful resource for growing skin to be used for grafting, such as for transplants on burn victims. That resource would otherwise just be wasted if it weren’t harvested for reuse.

The problem with circumcision is entirely because it is a medically unnecessary excision without the consent of the patient.

That foreskins can subsequently be put to use post-procedure is outside the scope of the problem, and therefore a red herring.

#30 Ron Low (Guest) on Sunday December 18, 2016 at 10:50pm

^^ That foreskins can subsequently be put to use post-procedure is outside the scope of the problem ^^

The question is NOT whether it is good or bad to let forcefully amputated body parts go to waste. 

It is patently unethical to cut without informed consent. 

It is ALSO patently unethical to use “medical waste” without informed consent.  Parents sign consent for hospitals (whose agents advised them to cut) to put the foreskin to any use, not knowing that the hospital will profit handsomely from handling the stolen human body parts. 

A law requiring disclosure of such financial arrangements would definitely help some people avoid being cut because parents would see through the naked profiteering of the medical professionals they ought to be able to trust.

#31 Ssci0n on Sunday December 18, 2016 at 11:13pm

its completely unnecessary for use on bern victims anymore, they don’t have to use anti rejection immunosuppressant drugs when they use the victims own cells in newer technologies where the skin can be sprayed back on. Doesn’t keep atcc from selling foreskins in the range of $100 to thousands for 1 mL

https://www.atcc.org/en/Search_Results.aspx?dsNav=Ntk:PrimarySearch|Foreskin|3|,Ny:True,Ro:0,N:1000552&searchTerms=Foreskin&redir=1

#32 Daniel Schealler (Guest) on Monday December 19, 2016 at 1:33am

@30, @31

Still a red herring. The ethics of how hospitals deal with medical waste is a distinct issue from whether or not performing circumcision on people without their consent is acceptable.

Focus, people.

#33 Hunt (Guest) on Monday December 19, 2016 at 5:07am

@32
No, that’s not it.  The “red flag” is that selling foreskins for profit incentivizes the procedure.  Can I prove this alters the opinions of hospital staff, administrators, etc. about the procedure?  Or alters how it’s presented to parents?  No, but you can’t prove the inverse.

But come on, let’s be smart about this.  Hospitals are SELLING body parts.  You don’t need to be Michael Crichton to realize the ethical peril here.

#34 Daniel Schealler (Guest) on Monday December 19, 2016 at 11:56am

@33

Hunt: Hypothetically, suppose hospitals were not trading in medically useful tissue samples.

Would this make circumcision morally acceptable to you?

If this would make circumcision morally acceptable to you, then I think you’re missing the point of why performing a medically unnecessary excision on an consenting person is ethically unacceptable.

If it wouldn’t make circumcision morally acceptable to you, then it follows that the question of what a hospital does with a foreskin *after* it has been excised is irrelevant to the question of whether or not circumcision is morally acceptable. That makes it a red herring.

The other thing that makes it a red herring is that the idea of hospitals trading in medically useful tissue is more ethically complex than you’re making it out to be, so if we had to grapple with all of that BEFORE we can get onto the much simpler and more straight-forward ethical case of performing medically uneccesary excisions on unconsenting patients, you’re just going to be bogging things down.

The argument against circumcision of infants is simple and strong: It is a medically unnecessary excision performed on an consenting patient.

To correct Lindsay’s metaphor, this isn’t like a brain learning and changing under a parent’s instruction. Rather, circumcision is like a parent arranging for their child to have a section of their brain surgically removed unnecessarily.

That’s it. It’s a simple argument, a strong argument, and we don’t need to bog that argument down with the complexity and nuance of human tissue trading, because while in some circumstances that may make circumcision *worse*, in no situation could that topic ever make circumcision *acceptable*.

It’s irrelevant to this topic.

If you have an axe to grind on human tissue trading in the medical community, then by all means, go grind it. Just do it somewhere else, and stop trying to derail the subject of circumcision onto this tangentially related issue.

#35 Daniel Schealler (Guest) on Monday December 19, 2016 at 11:58am

* medically unnecessary excision on an unconsenting person is ethically unacceptable…

* It is a medically unnecessary excision performed on an unconsenting patient…

Blasted autocorrect. >.<

#36 Hunt (Guest) on Tuesday December 20, 2016 at 12:19am

Daniel,
The short argument works for me.  In fact I’ve never agreed with anything more in my life; however some people still don’t seem to be swayed by it, and it’s foolish not to use every persuasion available, don’t you agree?  It may be simple, elegant and compelling, but guess what, not everyone sees it.

I think I kind of got off on the wrong foot in #28 using the word “grotesque”.  I don’t find using “medical waste” tissue, even foreskins, wrong per se, if gained in a ethical, moral and honorable fashion.  If foreskin tissue, or any other type of tissue, is excised necessarily, then use away!  I have no problem with it.  It’s the profit incentivized excision of foreskins that I find MORALLY GROTESQUE.

You’re right, the medical waste issue is irrelevant to the short, compelling argument, but it’s hardly irrelevant to the topic.  As I said, some people are not swayed by it; they look around them, see parents consenting to the procedure, see hospital admin and staff willing to perform it, and see their moral position secured in numbers; they follow the herd.  “If everyone is doing it, there must be a good reason for it.”  Right?  This is exactly the type of person (or parent) who might be shocked to realize that foreskins are traded in a profit incentivized fashion.  At least it potentially cracks the moral certitude of the herd mentality.

#37 CL (Guest) on Tuesday December 20, 2016 at 7:46am

@29 that’s indeed a massive conflict of interest, not least considering that on occasion hospitals have been known to ‘assume consent’ to circumcision and perform it routinely.

#38 Misha Novini (Guest) on Monday December 26, 2016 at 11:22pm

Ron, I have a lot of respect for you but I’m really disappointed by this article. Your comparison to brain development is a ridiculous stretch for an argument. Permanently modifying someone’s body without their permission is a pretty obvious attack on their self-determination. Educating children cannot realistically be compared simply because it’s a change to their bodies.

If it were true that the benefits clearly outweighed the risks, then obviously, yes, I would agree with you. However, the benefits amount only to risk aversion. The fewer body parts we have, the fewer risks we have of diseases. But your article seems to completely ignore the fact that the foreskin has any function whatsoever. By your reasoning, you should also be arguing to preemptively remove the appendix, gall bladder, and all other body parts that are useful but unnecessary simply because they’re susceptible to disease. An easy counter-argument is that a simple study would also show that proper hygiene also reduces these diseases by significant rates. I think proper hygiene is much easier to justify than the amputation of a valuable organ.

I believe the studies of the risks associated with circumcision are very poorly studied. Boys who grow up circumcised consider it to be normal because they’ve never experienced anything different. A study would be much more valuable if it evaluated men over a long period of time (probably longer than 2 years) who 1) got circumcised as adults, and 2) “restored” their foreskins as adults so that they could all compare before and after.

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