Friday, September 18, 2009

Circumcision - Why Is It Such a Difficult Discussion?

I interviewed Georgann Chapin today. She's head of an HMO, a strong advocate for a major health care overhaul in the US, and an ardent activist against routine circumcision. She heads a group called "Intact America" and says she has come to view circumcision as nothing less that genital mutilation.

I have an opinion on this as mother of a son. We didn't know what was best, his father and I, so we were guided by my obstetrician. He assured us that circumcision was in our baby's best interest, that it would prevent a myriad of possible health problems down the road.

"It's no big deal" he assured us.

I knew he'd lied when they brought me my baby after the procedure. A calm, serene infant had become a shrieking, convulsing, traumatized animal. I held him close and cried. It was too late to take it back.

I discovered no pain relief was offered before the procedure, as there was actually some dispute over whether babies feel pain. I almost threw up. I'd trusted a medical professional and I'd allowed them to do cosmetic surgery on my infant.

Georgann tells me that's changed in recent years. But the multiple needles that might numb the baby's penis hurt, too. And topicals aren't given time to work before the procedure is begun. And even if there is some anesthesia, it's going to wear off and a tiny infant, just hours old, is going to be recovering from surgery.

I did some research and it appears that when you talk about circumcision, people get defensive. They label the people lobbying against it as "kooks" or "people with a penis fixation." Why?

The medical data increasingly shows no advantage to circumcision. Hygiene isn't an issue in developed countries...we teach our children to wash themselves. It isn't a big step to teach our boys to properly clean themselves.

I'm not going to get into the argument except to admit that, having done it to my son, I'm completely against it. After we'd done it, my father asked me why. He, I learned, wasn't circumcised. But we were all too embarrassed to talk about it beforehand, when it would have made a difference.

I want to know why, when a rational discussion of the issue is attempted, we suddenly get embarrassed, offended or defensive?

I am not even talking about circumcision for religious reasons. That's a bigger issue and one that will take a lot of respectful discussion to make progress on. This is for non-Jews, non-Muslims, the people in much of the Western world who have been sold an elective surgery that makes the medical industry a billion dollars a year. We love our baby boys. Why aren't we rationally discussing whether we've been making a mistake?

Georgann Chapin of Intact America


Caroline said...

Thank you so much for this thoughtful and well-written post. You ask such a pertinent question- why can't we talk about it?

As a former student of psychology, the very fact that people do find it so hard to talk about, indicated to me just what a harmful and traumatizing procedure it is- both for the child, and people who have been involved.

tigerlily55 said...

Did not circumsize my now 24 yr. old son, on the advice of our pediatrician. He seems to be just fine.

Glad it is being questioned again.