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Pediatricians turn away from circumcision

The United States is the only country that routinely circumcises baby boys for non-religious reasons

CNN, U.S.A., March 1, 1999, From Parenting Correspondent Pat Etheridge

ATLANTA (CNN) -- American pediatricians are turning away from the practice of routine circumcision, concluding that doctors have no good medical reason to perform the procedure.

The United States is the only country in the world that routinely removes the foreskins of infant boys. Critics of circumcision got additional ammunition Monday from the American Academy of Pediatrics, a leading medical organization.

The academy concluded the benefits "are not compelling enough" for circumcision to be routinely administered. And if doctors do go ahead with the practice, the pediatricians' group recommended the use of pain relief for the child afterward -- the first time it has made that recommendation.

"Circumcision is not essential to a child's well-being at birth, even though it does have some potential medical benefits," said Dr. Carol Lannon, chairwoman of the AAP's Task Force on Circumcision. "These benefits are not compelling enough to warrant the AAP to recommend routine newborn circumcision.

"Instead, we encourage parents to discuss the benefits and risks of circumcision with their pediatrician, and then make an informed decision about what is in the best interest of their child."

Monday's statement, published in the March edition of the journal Pediatrics, was the academy's first in 10 years on the practice. But in recent years, medical societies in Canada, Britain and Australia have come out in opposition to routine circumcision.

Critics have long contended that removing the foreskin from the penis is traumatic, medically unnecessary and may reduce sexual pleasure later in life. As one critic, Dr. George Denniston, put it: "Who are we to question mother nature?"

"Little boys are born this way, and just like little girls, they should not have their sexual parts cut and cut off and harmed in any way," said Denniston, who belongs to a group called "Doctors Opposing Circumcision."

But circumcision still has its supporters in medical circles, such as Dr. Thomas Wiswell. Wiswell said removing the foreskin has a number of health benefits, including "the prevention of urinary tract infections, the prevention of cancer of the penis ... prevention of local infection and inflammation in and around the head of the penis and on the foreskin itself."

CCRC editor's note:
See our section on research. It is false that there are any medical benefits to male circumcision

Circumcision is a religious tradition among Jews and is practiced among Muslims as well. But in many U.S. families, the choice often comes down to wanting the son to be like the father.

The AAP report concludes that it is legitimate for parents to take cultural and religious traditions into account when making a decision about it.

CCRC editor's note:
Throughout history, people have mutilated children for religious or cultural reasons. Another such "cultural" torture was Chinese foot binding the purpose of which was to stop female's feet from growing and forming normally. It was viewed that wealthy Chinese women didn't need to walk and would be transported by others.