People do complain

Some enlightened people have been pointing out for a long time that circumcising children is a tragic mistake. The current wave of protest goes back several decades. More and more men are coming forward and protesting at what was done to them as children, when they could not make an informed choice about circumcision. The stigma attached to complaining about having been circumcised is diminishing thanks to some brave individuals, their courage and intelligence has ensured that men who do complain are now being taken seriously.

On the 15th of March 1986 Marilyn Milos founded the National Organization of Circumcision Information and Resource Centers. NOCIRC rapidly became a respected source of information on the subject of circumcision.

When Marilyn, working as a nurse, first saw and heard a circumcision she was horrified and asked the doctor if it was really necessary; she was told it wasn’t. Marilyn then started informing parents considering having their sons circumcised, of what she had seen and that the operation was not medically necessary. The hospital authorities reacted swiftly and Marilyn lost her job. Twenty five years on and Marilyn is still very active in the fight to end all medically unnecessary cutting of children’s genitals.

There are a great many people that have stood up for the rights of children in the matter of circumcision but one person has just had an anniversary that should be marked.

On December the 17th 1970 Van Lewis protested outside the Tallahassee Memorial Hospital in the U.S. that circumcision was a sex crime.

Van and his brother, who was taking pictures, were of course arrested. The police fogged the film in the camera so this photocopy from a newspaper is all that documents the events of December 1970.

Van Lewis may well be this movement’s Rosa Parks. In December 1955 Rosa Parks was the African American woman who when challenged by a bus driver to give up her seat for a white passenger, refused to move and became a catalyst for the Civil Rights movement in the U.S.

Some men say they don’t mind having been circumcised when they were children and other men do mind very much. What the advocates of circumcision have consistently failed to prove is that circumcision does no harm. The advocates of circumcision have also failed to prove that the circumcision of healthy babies does any good.

In the rush to promote circumcision as a preventative measure to control the AIDS epidemic it should not be forgotten that children are not sexually active and can therefore derive no immediate benefit from being circumcised. Circumcision can wait until the individual concerned can make an informed choice based on the evidence. So get active and stand up for the rights of children.

Van Lewis tells the story of his arrest and describes his own personal journey in this excellent fifteen minute interview.

Connections

Can you spot the connection between these items?

Odd One Out

They have all been used in the cutting of boy’s genitals in the U.K.

In a previous post I stated that I did not like to use the word circumcision because it gives the impression of something normal, I hope this post will show you that in the U.K. today the word circumcision is used to conceal some gruesome acts done to little boys.

The Scalpel.

Obvious — probably what you would expect to be used, along with other surgical instruments some of which look like the equipment of a skilful torturer.

MouthThe Mouth.

The mouth is sometimes used in a ritual that surrounds circumcision. The circumciser sucks the blood from the baby’s wounded penis. Not surprisingly this has lead to complications of infection, herpes, and the circumciser now often uses a glass tube and gauze to prevent the transfer of germs. Intriguingly this shows that a ritual, supposedly rigid, is variable and capable of change, perhaps another change should be the raising of the age of the circumcision so that the child can give or withhold his consent.

RazorThe Razor Blade.

A widely available circumcision implement, all you need is a couple of adults to restrain the victim and the blade. The number of backstreet circumcisions performed annually in the U.K. is unknown, but complications are regularly seen in the A&E departments of the NHS. Sometimes the incident is referred to the police but a prosecution “would not be in the public interest”.

The Thumbnail.

In infancy the foreskin is fused to the glans (head) of the penis by a layer of special, epithelial, cells; the thumbnail, specially grown, is sometimes used to rip the foreskin from the head of the penis. This process is of course extremely painful.

The Soldering Iron.

The soldering iron has been used on at least one occasion to cauterize, that means sealing with a burn, the circumcision wound on a baby’s penis. The mechanic who did this on a kitchen table was not charged or arrested because he had not impersonated a doctor.

That we should permit all this to be carried out on non-consenting children in the twenty first century seems extraordinary. We rightly consider the exploitation of children to gratify adult wishes as abuse and society treats such abuse very seriously. Turning a blind eye to the abuse I have outlined above is un-justifiable. The existing law and child protection agencies should act to protect boys from what can only be called genital mutilation.

Spending on cuts

In the current round of spending cuts it seems that our elected representatives are still spending at least six million pounds of our money every year on surgery that children do not need or want.

Houses of Parliament

It is a very poor argument for the health service to say that if they do not offer a circumcision service to parents children will be exposed to greater harm by being circumcised in the community. Firstly this argument could be used to justify all sorts of other non-therapeutic procedures; scarification of children’s faces springs to mind. Secondly the N.H.S. was set up to care for patients with therapeutic needs it was not set up to gratify the wishes of parents however strong those wishes might be.

So write to your M.P. and complain. Click here to locate your M.P.

Paul Mason

At the Launch For the 10th Symposium on Ganital integrity. London 2008I am very sorry to hear that Paul Mason has been replaced as Children’s Commissioner for Tasmania. Paul took a very enlightened view of the cutting of children’s genitals. I am sure Paul will continue to work towards an age when all children can grow up to make a fully informed choice about the form and function of their genitals. This blog wishes Paul the very best for the future, thank you Paul.

A controversial junction between politics, religion, science and sex

To get things clear my view of this particular junction is very personal. My foreskin was amputated when I was a baby. I have hated this fact ever since I was old enough to understand what had happened to me. Now I hear you say, “It probably had to be done”. Well I don’t think so. I asked my mother why I was different to my dad and she said that I had had “a little operation to avoid trouble later on”. So I think that there was, in my case, no medical necessity for the amputation of perfectly healthy tissue. I have taken my path from victim to campaigner and now I work to end all unnecessary genital surgery on children.

You will have noticed that I have not yet used the word circumcision, the reason is that the word provides a cosy image of something relatively normal and not very invasive. The “snip” is another favourite. It makes circumcision sound like having your nails cut. The amputation of the foreskin removes 50% of the skin system of the penis. Just check any anatomy textbook that shows the adult penis intact and make your own estimation. Beware though as some textbooks do not show the foreskin, they airbrush it out of natural history. The foreskin has been present in mammals for about 65 million years to aid sexual intercourse because the mechanical function of the foreskin reduces the force needed for the insertion of the penis into the vagina, intromission, by a factor of 10 [4](Taves D. “The intromission function of the foreskin”. Med Hypotheses. 2002;59(2):180.). When the foreskin is amputated an important erogenous structure is lost: the tissue removed contains the most sensitive bit of the penis (Sorrells BJU International 2007)[3]. These are facts published in peer reviewed scientific journals. So the word circumcision hides the fact that a significant change has been made to the penis.

To make a significant change to a person’s body without their consent demands that you provide a very good reason, medical necessity for example; in this context necessity means that a serious disease is present and failure to treat it will have immediate and dire consequences. Worldwide there is not a single medical body that recommends routine amputation of the healthy foreskin, and cases where there is a disease present that necessitates the amputation of the foreskin are thankfully very rare. So why is the NHS performing thousands, over 1500 a year in Birmingham alone, of non-therapeutic circumcisions on children under fourteen each year, without the consent of the owner of the penis? Some are due to parents and doctors following outdated medical advice and some are sadly due to the religious beliefs of parents.

There is a human right to “manifest your religion” (Article 9 of the Human Rights Act 1998) and this is used as the justification for circumcising children. Although all human beings have human rights from birth children are not born with religious beliefs but may be born into families who hold certain beliefs. A baby or young child has no religion to “manifest” and therefore has no right that needs the protection of article 9. To impose a religious belief on another involving physical interference with that person’s body cannot be part of article 9 protection for that person. Article 9 provides that the right to manifest religion may be limited to protect another person’s rights.

So what is the rush? The child in question can decide what they believe and what, if any, body part they would like to sacrifice as a result of that belief, at a time of their own choosing. That is the proper way to exercise the right to manifest one’s religious belief. To choose ritual surgery for yourself is fine. To choose ritual surgery for someone else is abusive, it is for this reason that Article 9 is a qualified right, in that it must be subject to the “…protection of the rights and freedom of others”.

Children very definitely have rights. The Human Rights Act 1998 Article 3 states that; “No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”. That is the full text of Article 3, no qualifications, no ifs and no buts. It is not a qualified right as Article 9 is. Bear in mind that non-therapeutic circumcision is by definition not curing anything therefore it can only be regarded as degrading to a healthy body. There are also the risks that anyone undergoing any surgery may incur. Then there is the issue of the pain involved in circumcision. In the community circumcision is regularly performed by lay, and sometimes un-trained, personnel and it is restraint which is commonly used during the procedure not anaesthesia. It is risky and complex to anaesthetise a young child but two adults can easily overpower an infant. The procedure does not always end safely and there are deaths, thankfully rarely, though these are recorded as “following circumcision” not “caused by circumcision” and the cause of death is always recorded as loss of blood, cardiac arrest or even sudden infant death syndrome. Each year the NHS treats over 100 boys from babies to teenagers for life threatening complications that are the result of circumcisions. These are not just treatments for an infection but sometimes involve surgery to ensure that the adult who the child will become has some kind of sex life. The NHS is understandably cagey about the figures that they release given the politically sensitive nature of the injuries. But please remember that these are children with no chance of making an informed choice and that is why there is such a rush. It is much harder to persuade an adult to consent to dispense with part of his penis.

Consent.

Babies do not come into the world crying out to have parts of them chopped off. Therefore we can say they don’t expressly choose to be circumcised. Babies cannot be said to tacitly consent because they do not express a preference, as they have no idea of their options or what sex is about. Can a doctor rely on implicit or implied consent? For example consenting to one medical procedure, say the removal of your appendix, might imply to a doctor that if they found that a section of your bowel was infected you would be happy to have it removed at the same time. As we have seen a baby cannot consent to any medical procedure and if there is no medical necessity then there should be no surgery and no reason for further surgery. Lastly there is presumed consent. This could be expressed as an assumption that to have been circumcised is what the baby or young child would have wanted when he was older. There is, however, no way to know what a person will want in the future. So this form of consent is not consent at all, it is merely forcing a choice on someone else.

If an adult were to attend hospital for a medical procedure and while under anaesthetic the doctor carried out a circumcision for no medical reason and without the informed consent of the patient this would make the doctor liable for damages in the civil courts. A man circumcised when he was a child could, as an adult, seek redress in the civil courts. Could circumcision be considered a crime? There being no medical necessity for the amputation of healthy tissue, circumcision, as it cuts through the full thickness of the skin, is a wounding under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861: a wounding is a criminal offence which is treated with great seriousness by the authorities. So where does the protection which the rest of us enjoy start? At what age do we start to protect little boys?

There is evidence of the psychological harm caused by circumcision. The British Medical Association and the mental health charity Mind both recognise this yet still a tolerance is extended to circumcision. Those in favour of circumcising young boys will be jumping up and down by now crying where is the evidence? There is plenty of anecdotal evidence building up as more and more men like me come forward and complain about what has been done to them, the men concerned come from all faith backgrounds or have no fixed belief.  The question I would like to pose to those in favour of circumcising children is where are the studies that show that no one is ever harmed by circumcision? There are of course none.

Even if you accept the recent studies about the protective effect against HIV provided by circumcision, it does not justify protecting a child from a disease he is unlikely to be exposed to through sexual activity until puberty; at which time the child concerned can make an informed choice about the balance between risk and any potential benefit. Circumcising an adult is relatively risk free, anaesthesia is practical and less dangerous. During infancy the foreskin is fused to the glans of the penis and the danger of removing too much tissue, or the wrong tissue is very real. After puberty the penis is fully developed, the foreskin has separated from the glans and the whole structure is properly defined and easier to operate on. An adult can also make a fully informed choice.