To snip or not to snip? That is the question in the ongoing debate about circumcision that has pitted doctors, parents, and religious figures against each other for years. It’s such a contentious topic, one pro-circumcision urologist we spoke with asked to remain anonymous for fear of being “harassed” by people in the anti-circumcision movement.
Should Babies Be Circumcised? — The Risks
The biggest player in that movement is Doctors Opposing Circumcision (D.O.C.), an all-volunteer, non-profit organization dedicated to ending routine, non-therapeutic circumcision. Their slogan is “Protecting Children’s Rights Since 1995,” and their website declares “the human penis is perfect as it is.”
“I actually completely understand [D.O.C.’s] position,” said the urologist we spoke with. “We were born this way. Why fix it? [However,] I just don’t think that means circumcision is barbaric.”
But D.O.C.’s executive director, John Geisheker, disagrees. According to his bio, Geisheker has helped more than 500 families “whose child was injured by forcible foreskin retraction.” He published an article in 2013 stating that not only is male circumcision unregulated, and possibly a human rights abuse, but it can actually lead to an infant’s death as a result of undetected blood loss.
“Bleeding to death is stealthy and painless,” Geisheker stated in his article. “The child grows weary and just slips away without a sound in apparent deep sleep.”
In an email exchange with Parentology, Geisheker pointed to a study conducted by Salt Lake City urologist Glen Lau and colleagues, which concluded that “the incidence of post-circumcision complications at two years [of age] is much higher than expected at 11.5%.”
Geisheker also took on The American Academy of Pediatrics. “Though the AAP coyly says that the benefits [of circumcision] exceed the risks,” he said, “they claim a tiny 1% complication rate and at the same time say that there is ‘no good data’ on complications and morbidity.”
D.O.C.’s website claims circumcision “entails a wide variety of physical risks and emotional impacts” and “the foreskin is no more prone to problems than any other part of the body.”
Except, perhaps, for one thing.
Should Babies Be Circumcised? — The Benefits
“[Circumcision] is an effective vaccine against penile cancer,” the urologist we spoke with says. “One needs an in-tact foreskin, along with poor genital hygiene, to get penile cancer.”
If penile cancer isn’t detected and treated early enough, a man could end up with a disfigured penis or with no penis at all. The American Cancer Society estimates about 410 men died from penile cancer in 2018.
And that’s just the worst of it. There are plenty more health benefits to getting a circumcision, the urologist says. “Number one, there is a significant decrease of febrile urinary tract infections in the first six months. Also, there’s a decrease in the receipt and transmission of sexually transmitted diseases. And there could be scarring, infections, and all sorts of things that can happen with foreskins.”
Then there’s sex.
“A lot of the argument [against circumcision] centers on sexual side effects. The problem with that argument is that there’s no way of knowing that, because you can’t ask a circumcised man what life would be like circumcised and vice-versa,” explained the urologist. “And show me a circumcised guy who says he doesn’t like having sex because he’s circumcised.”
So where do things currently stand in the circumcision debate? Perhaps the best indicator would be recent statistics. The Urology Care Foundation points out that the rate of circumcision in the United States is falling. While in the 1970s and 1980s, about eight out of 10 boys born in the U.S. were circumcised, today it’s only about half.
Doctors Opposing Circumcision
The Completely Unregulated Practice of Male Circumcision: Human Rights Abuse Enshrined in Law?
Study of Circumcision Complications by Dr. Glen Lau and colleagues
American Academy of Pediatrics
American Cancer Society
Urology Care Foundation