Give circumcision inequality the snip


There are convincing arguments both for and against infant male circumcision. Medical authorities supporting the practice describe it as a form of vaccination. Those against regard it as potentially risky surgery that is 'unnecessary, irreversible and harmful'. Unlike female circumcision, there appears to be no certain case for the state to determine whether or not non-therapeutic infant male circumcision should take place. 

In 2009 a detailed issues paper of the Tasmania Law Reform Institute canvassed the criminalisation of the practice on human rights grounds. This was a response to calls for clarification of the law to determine if those performing the procedure could be charged with committing assault or abuse, and whether parental consent is a mitigating factor.

Tasmania's then Children's Commissioner Paul Mason said: 'Everyone is entitled to bodily integrity, to protection of their own body from injury by another without their consent.'

But doctors advocating the procedure as a preventative health measure can also mount a human rights argument along the lines of every child having the right to access the best available health outcomes. It would be self-defeating if the 'protection' afforded by one right prevented the 'access' offered by another.

The obvious problem is that infants are not capable of giving consent, and experts argue that the procedure becomes problematic once they're old enough to decide. 

Necessarily it falls to parents to make an informed and responsible decision, and there's nothing wrong with that. It is subsequently important that they have the means to exercise the option they've chosen. Regrettably this is not always the case, and their decision can be reversed by their economic circumstances. Middle and higher income families could easily afford the cost of up to $800 but low income families cannot.

The cost will become a major issue if the Federal Government goes ahead with plans to remove non-therapeutic infant male circumcision from the list of procedures that qualify for Medicare payments unless it is found to be necessary in particular cases. There is already inequity in the fact that public hospitals do not perform infant male circumcisions in most states.

Advocates are calling for an end to the ban on the procedure in public hospitals and a substantial increase in the Medicare benefit for the operation.

It is empowering for parents to have the ability to contribute to the quality of life of their children though responsible decision making, but alienating if inequitable funding models make decisions for them.

Michael MullinsMichael Mullins is editor of Eureka Street.

Topic tags: Michael Mullins, circumcision, human rights, children, health, Medicare



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Existing comments

I was circumcised as an infant. I’m not sure of the exact reasoning for me being circumcised, but I was born right at the peak of circumcision rates in the United States, and in the region where it was most common. I am unhappy with the decision to have me circumcised. If I have a son, I will not have him circumcised, because it takes away his right to bodily integrity. There is no way for me to know exactly what I am missing, but I have begun the process of manually restoring my foreskin. Sensitivity has definitely increased because the keratinization that inevitably occurs on the glans of a circumcised penis is reversing. Keratinization occurs because of constant exposure of the glans to clothing and drying of the glans. In addition to the keratinization, circumcision removes a large amount of nerve endings. While there will inevitably be people that encourage you to circumcise boys for hygienic or health reasons, hygienic and health problems related to the foreskin are so rare and easy to avoid and treat without circumcision. Arguments about boys fitting in with others in the locker room are becoming increasingly less valid. In 2005 only a little over half (56%) of newborns were circumcised. In 2009 one report showed only 32.5% (although this only counted circumcisions performed in hospitals). Chances are in his future cohort of friends there will be more uncircumcised boys than circumcised. The bottom line though is that once a boy is circumcised, it cannot be undone. It is a permanent alteration to his body. If he chooses later in life, when he is able to understand what circumcision is, to get circumcised he will still have that choice if you leave him intact.
Anon Omous | 21 May 2012

How about giving inequality the snip by affording boys' genitalia the same protection as girls?
Ladyfingers | 21 May 2012

We made the decision not to have our son circumcised. A recommendation of our obstetrician. In my husband's generation it was common practice though. I believe 'preventative' health procedures involving surgery, when the person involved cannot give consent, is a very problematic area.
Pam | 21 May 2012

"...experts argue that the procedure becomes problematic once they're old enough to decide." How so, when therapeutic or elective adult circumcision is an operation like any other, that doctors perform every day? The main problem for those "experts" - the loudest of whom is not a doctor but a molecular biologist - is that an adult can refuse to have (the best) part of his genitals cut off. The infant problems that circumcision is supposed to be good against can readily be treated by other means, as they are in girls. There is no urgency. This is not a decision that parents have to make. In New Zealand the rate is now residual - virtually all religious or cultural - and there have been no medical consequences.
Hugh7 | 21 May 2012

As a tax payer of this country I do not want my tax dollars to be spent on a cosmetic procedures for the masses and would prefer my money went towards real illnesses and people in need
Joey Blogger | 21 May 2012

Cutting female and male genitals are similar. 1) It is unnecessary and extremely painful. 2) It can have adverse sexual and psychological effects. 3) It is generally done by force on children. 4) It is generally supported by local medical doctors. 5) Pertinent biological facts are not generally known where procedures are practiced. 6) It is defended with reasons such as tradition, religion, aesthetics, cleanliness, and health. 7) The rationale has currently or historically been connected to controlling sexual pleasure. 8) It is often believed to have no effect on normal sexual functioning. 9) It is generally accepted and supported by those who have been subjected to it. 10) Those who are cut feel compelled to cut their children. 11) The choice may be motivated by underlying psychosexual reasons. 12) Critical public discussion is generally taboo where the procedure is practiced. 13) It can result in serious complications that can lead to death. 14) The adverse effects are hidden by repression and denial. 15) Dozens of potentially harmful physiological, emotional, behavioral, sexual, and social effects on individuals and societies have never been studied. 16) On a qualitative level, cutting the genitals of male and female children are the same.
Ronald Goldman, Ph.D. | 21 May 2012

I read the title ("Give circumcision inequality the snip"), and assumed that the inequality referred to was between male and female circumcision. It's illegal to cut off a girl's prepuce, or to make any incision on a girl's genitals, even if no tissue is removed. Even a pinprick is banned. Why don't boys get the same protection? Everyone should be able to decide for themselves whether or not they want parts of their genitals cut off. It's *their* body. It's not true to say that "the procedure becomes problematic once they're old enough to decide". There are only two countries in the world where more than 50% of baby boys are circumcised - Israel, and the USA (54%). There are other countries that circumcise boys, but it's usually anywhere from the age of seven to later puberty or adolescence. It's worth remembering that no-one except for Jewish people and Muslims would circumcise if it weren't for the fact that 19th century doctors thought that : a) masturbation caused various physical and mental problems (including epilepsy, convulsions, paralysis, tuberculosis etc), and b) circumcision stopped masturbation. Over a hundred years later, circumcised men keep looking for new ways to defend the practice.
Mark Lyndon | 21 May 2012

Circumcision has been the religious norm in the Jewish Faith for millenia . The Gospels tell us that Chruist was circumsised on the eighth day . Circumsision was also the norm for at least decades that I can remember . There are conflicting views . Whay not leave the matter to individual choice? Since voluntary abortions are an interference with bodily integrity but nonetheless attract medicare rebates , why not voluntary circumcisions ?
Barry O'Keefe | 21 May 2012

Simply put, there is no therapeutic reason to cut healthy prepuce tissue from male or female infants. Instead of arguing for public funding, the act of cutting any minor's genitals should result in a sexual abuse charge and a grievous bodily harm charge. It is currently illegal to interfere with minors genitals or pierce their skin, except when medically required. All so called benefits of circumcision are myths! The only aim of male genital cutting was to reduce or curb male sexuality. I am an intact male and I am no more dirtier or susceptible to diseases than a cut man. The main difference is my reproductive organ functions normally to touch and not abnormally to friction and pain. The only real inequality here is that we leave our daughters genitals intact, but that right to bodily integrity is sadly denied our sons. Circumcision of minors should be clarified as the illegal act that they truly are.
Steve Glasby | 21 May 2012

The hospital doctors refused to circumcise my 2 sons after their birth. Most of my generation were circumcised and I am very happy that my parents decided to have it done to me. The doctors who refused to perform circumcision on my 2 sons didn't really care about the boys, only with implementing the latest fad of "modern" thought at that time.
Trent | 21 May 2012

Empowering parents to have the ability to contribute to the quality of life for their children is one thing. Empowering parents to remove half the skin of the genitals of their children, under the unproven guise of improving their health, is quite another. It is unethical to remove a healthy body part from a non-consenting human being. If the baby was a girl, we wouldn't be having this discussion. There is no disease which circumcision cures or prevents. Cutting kids unnecessarily is, well, unnecessary.
Tom Tobin | 21 May 2012

This is a sensible analysis. Basically the issue is akin to immunization. Some parents choose not to, so putting at risk their child and the community. BenEfits vastly outweigh the risks when it comes to vaccination and infant male circumcision. For more information see the Circumcision FouNDation of Australia website:
Professor Brian Morris | 21 May 2012

This is nonsense. There is no medical case to be made for circumcision. It simply should not be done. Even American, Canadian and other medical societies recognize that it is a SOCIAL procedure, and that it should not be done for medical reasons alone. The supposed benefits do not outweight the inherent risks of injury and infection of the surgery, not to mention the inherent harm and loss of vlaue from removing a functional piece of a reproductive organ. Circumcision fails the test of whether it is legitimate medicine. The ethical question immediately falls away from medical benefits vs. risks to "are doctors justified practicing non-therapeutic, cosmetic/cultural surgeries on minors who cannot consent?". The answer is obviously no. It fails the test of "do no harm". It cannot possibly be ethical. It cannot possibly be legal, therefore, for doctors to do, unless some new legal principle of forced cosmetic surgery on infants being legal becomes sanctified by the law. If cultural and aesthetic preferences of parents become valid to force on children, shall we then start allowing tatoos, piercings, etc. on children for "cultural reasons"? What about non-harmful removal of female genitalia (say, labia?). I don't think so.
MrBBQ | 21 May 2012

I am a lay person in regards to medicine but do have some special knowledge about circumcision because I have experienced being both ways. I was circumcised in my early thirties and had a perfectly functional (the function of which I know not) foreskin until a condition developed that necessitated its removal. I can say with conviction that being circumcised is much better than not. All that to one side I remained anti routine circumcision until the subject was debated in the Australian Skeptic a few years ago. I was persuaded by the pro circ evidence provided by Professor Morris and others and unmoved by the the anti circ camp. I do not understand why the anti-circumcision people are such zealots, the results of trials and surveys show beyond doubt the many, many, benefits to the health of men, and their sexual partners, from circumcision.
STEN | 21 May 2012

This article makes it sound like some are for, some are against. In fact, over 90% of the world does not circumcise infants. Foreskin feels REALLY good.
Ron Low | 21 May 2012

The argument that this is about gender equality is ludicrous. Hello, people! Genitalia is obviously THE prime characteristic that is NOT equal in both genders, so the comparison doesn't make sense. Let's just say doctors thought it was a good for hygiene/health back in the 60s and 70s, and leave it at that and move on. (I'd be interested to know how the foreskin can be manually restored though)
AURELIUS | 21 May 2012

Very very few parents have the urological and sexological sophistication needed to make an informed decision about how the tip of a son's penis should function. There is no evidence that circumcision prevents disease in nations as advanced as Australia. There is ample anecdotal evidence that circumcision can damage sexual pleasure and functionality. We do not have careful scientific evidence bearing on this point, mainly because American researchers decline to collect such evidence. In the absence of research showing that long-term complications are rare, routine infant circumcision is unethical. If routine infant circumcision were beneficial, that fact could be verified by time series studies of Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the UK, where circumcision has declined over the past 60 years. If it were beneficial, comparing urological data from Japan and continental Europe, with similar data from the USA, should be very revealing. I have been looking for such studies for 30 years, and have yet to find them. The African clinical trials are a massive exercise in deception, scientific fraud, for reasons Boyle and Hill set out in the December 2011 issues of the Journal of Law and Medicine. Finally, talk to women who've "been with both kinds." Experienced women know much that your typical heterosexual doctor will never know.
myrick | 21 May 2012

i was circumcised as an adult and all i regret is that it wasn't done when i was an infant. being circumcised is much better and i dont feel like im missing anything at all. im glad i chose a circumcision and i will be having my son done so that he never has to worry about such an issue. the bottom line is that the credible evidence shows that circumcision has real benefits for men and women. there are of course desperate anti circumcision types who continue to spread lies and mistruths about so called harms of circumcision, but it only takes some basic questioning of their 'evidence' to reveal that their claims are not based on evidence rather solely on their own personal opposition to circumcision. the reality is that circumcision has real benefits and that every male should be able to access an affordable circumcision at birth, when it can be performed safely and without fuss. the idea of this medicare rebate being cancelled is ridiculous and if anything it should be increased so that the procedure is more accessible to people from modest financial backgrounds.
reality check | 21 May 2012

Docking the tail of a freshly born dog is illegal in every State in Australia. If circumcision remains legal, then humans are treated worse than animals. I think it only should be allowed to be undertaken if a religion has circumcision as a key element of their tradition. Medibank should not pay for such procedures otherwise other religions can rightly demand payment of similar operations for girls? If it is a religious “necessity” the cost is irrelevant. Why should the tax payer pay for some religious procedure and not for others? Will the Federal Government pay for a pilgrimage to Rome, Mecca or Jerusalem? Why not? The model has been set by paying for operations based on religion and not medical necessity.
Ali Bernstein | 21 May 2012

In a world where we over-protect our children from smacking or even touching their genitals, I am so pleased that we have the freedom to strap our babies down and slice off part of their genitals. And best to do it when he is a helpless baby that can't fight back. I can't think of a better way to control my boy than to alter every future sexual activity. Thank you for agreeing that I should be empowered in this way.
C. Cutter | 21 May 2012

why hurt the sons you love while the benefit is fantasy of the adults?!
AZURE | 21 May 2012

Seriously, is it too much to expect that the right of ALL children to keep and enjoy ALL their body parts be equally respected? Be very wary of anyone advocating the irreversible surgical alteration of little boys' penises. The true motivations may vary (typically financial reward, religious compulsion or sexual fetish), but circumcision advocates invariably point to 'health benefits' as justification for violation and brutalisation of a child's human rights and private parts before he's old enough to speak for himself or defend himself. Circumcision advocates trash the noble traditions of science and medicine in an attempt to 'prove' a health benefit that simply is not observed in the real world for reasons of self interest.
James Mac | 21 May 2012

All surgery is risky. All surgical decisions made by parents on behalf of their children need to be made with a clear understanding by the parent that the benefit outweighs the risk. It's very evident that male circumcision continues to be a controversial issue, and the balance of risk to benefit is not universally agreed. As a Paediatric nurse I decided that my baby son would not be circumcised because of the unnecessary risk and questionable benefit. Later when he developed medical problems the balance reversed, and the risk was outweighed by the benefit - not least of all because he was 10 years old by then and much less vulnerable had there been complications.
Anne M | 21 May 2012

Medicare should not be paying for cosmetic surgery, which is what infant circumcision is. If all hospitals refused to do it, more babies would be spared of this totally unnecessary surgery. Just because someone is a parent, doesn't mean they have the intelligence to make such an important decision. Only the owner of the penis should decide.
Judith | 22 May 2012

Is infant circumcision a question of bodily integrity versus medical advantage? Who is to decide between these two things? First of all, the medical advantage for Australian boys is not as clearcut as the circumcision advocates make out. Otherwise it would have been recommended by the medical associations and not just the circumcision enthusiasts. Secondly, even if the advantages of circumcision are as great as the advocates make out, there are still the risks of surgery (botched jobs, infections etc.) and the evidence that at least some of those who are circumcised as infants object to this genital modification. Finally, what happens if one parent wants their son circumcised while the other objects. Whose will should prevail. As the situation is so fraught, and people have such strong opinions both for and against circumcision, I conclude that this genital modification should be left to the owner of the foreskin to decide about when he reaches manhood, and it should only attract a Medicare benefit when it is done for clear medical reasons.
Michael Glass | 22 May 2012

Excision of parts of a child’s genitals, with no medical indication for the surgery, is not a valid medical procedure. According to legal analysis, unless it can be proved that the damage done by circumcision is “de minimus”, that is, the harm caused by the surgery is so trivial that the court cannot be bothered with the case, these interventions constitute prima facie criminal assault. According to modern anatomical research, the parts of the penis removed in a circumcision are far from trivial. In adulthood, the human foreskin comprises 12- to 15-square inches of the most erotogenic tissue on the penis. The foreskin is a highly vascularized complex of organs containing lymph vessels, muscle tissue, tens of thousands of specialized nerve endings, and according to recent touch-test sensitivity research, comprises the largest platform of neural receptivity on the penis. Proponents of neonatal circumcision will argue that this is an issue of personal choice. Ironically, this is precisely the argument of the opponents. According to established principles of medical ethics and the law, the choice to surgically remove normal, healthy parts of an individual’s body resides only with the individual undergoing the surgery.
Steve Scott | 22 May 2012

Proxy consent poses serious problems for pediatric health-care providers. Such providers have legal and ethical duties to their child patients to render competent medical care based on what the patient needs, not what someone else expresses. The pediatrician's responsibilities to his or her patient exist independent of parental desires or proxy consent. In other words, the patient is not the parent, and since the patient cannot voice his consent, surgically removing part of his body without immediate medical need is medically unethical. Circumcisers will naturally object to even the suggestion that circumcision is harmful. They have taken an oath to “Do No Harm”. They systematically ignore the anatomical evidence of the foreskin’s importance and the long-term negative consequences of circumcision. It cannot be underestimated how important it is to the circumcisers that this operation be seen as a benign surgery that causes no harm. Medical journal articles entitled “How to Care for the Circumcision Wound” certainly don’t help their cause.
Steve Scott | 22 May 2012

@PAM, YOU SAID; "Pam21 May 2012 We made the decision not to have our son circumcised. A recommendation of our obstetrician. In my husband's generation it was common practice though. I believe 'preventative' health procedures involving surgery, when the person involved cannot give consent, is a very problematic area. " There are actually more medical related problems associated with circumcision than when a male is left intact. When you make a choice in favor of preventive health you may want to consider that, in terms of genital integrity and integrity of a trauma free entry into this world, the risk greatly outweigh the benefits. Here are a few education links that address the issue; (GRAPHIC IMAGES IN THE LINK POSTED ABOVE
ANON AMOUS | 22 May 2012

Australian paediatricians have reviewed child circumcision five times since 1971. Each time they have said there are no medical indications for this surgical amputation and it is not medically necessary. Medicare should have discontinued payment for this outmoded operation decades ago. Furthermore, the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission says circumcision of children violates human rights. This is a good reason that Medicare should not be paying for this amputation of healthy functional human tissue.
Roland75 | 22 May 2012

Medicare payments are essential for covering medical treatments Only a small majority of MDs in the world, probably all circumcised and also less competent at actual medical practice than others. One American MD among thousands who opposed winning opposition to the attempt in Colorado legislature to re-fund circumcision after it had been de-funded for several years, speaks on the issue: Dr. James L. Snyder, M.D., F.A.C.S., Past President of the Virginia Urological Society: Caveat emptor
B. Maurene White | 22 May 2012

The incidence of circumcision in Australia started to decline in 1971. By 1977 fewer than 50 percent of newborn boys were being circumcised. Most Australian males under 35 are NOT circumcised. They are doing fine and they know it. They know that the claims made for male circumcision are just so much horse manure. Today, about 15 percent of boys are being circumcised. The other 85 percent are doing fine. It should be clear that taxpayers should not be footing the bill for an elective operation that no one needs.
George | 22 May 2012

We didn't need to have one of our son's circumcised- As there was no need for it- As a mother- I'm aware that many male new born have defective p..... So in many cases circumcision is necessary as a means of protection against infection.
Myra | 22 May 2012

If there were truly benefits to infant circumciison, countries around the world would be calmmoring for it. They would be instiuting mass male circumcision especially for those who have national health plans. Yet, none exist. These countries would see an increase in healthcare costs for boys who were not circumcised. These health care costs are not seen anywhere. Not any where! Coutries such as Sweden and England would have sufficient experience and a large enough cohort for compiling healthcare cost to quantify the added cost for remaining intact. None of them are the least bit interested in bringing routine infant circumcision back. None of the countries that do not circumcise are even investigating instituting infant circumcision much less taking action. If there were any benefit, they would be recognized and efforts would be underway to assure that all infant boys had the opportunity to enjoy the *supposed* benefits. Simply, none are going in that direction or show any interest in going in that direction. None of the world's medical associations recommends infant circumcision, NONE! ! ! The suggestion that there are health benefits is merely a deception by fetishists who have an investment in children's genitalia.
Frank OHara | 22 May 2012

It's time to end infant circumcision. It is what it is, Male Genital Mutilation.
Rick | 22 May 2012

Frank, a father and mother always has the best- psychological, emotional and health issues interests of his / her child at heart- Each parent always acts out of love- Believe me whether the parent is Jewish or Atheist - without having to mention all other faiths. Our individual Uniqueness- and lovability because of this ( our Uniqueness ) whether we have been circumcised or not is 'Who We Are'. It is precisely our Uniqueness, a parent out of love desires to the best of his / her ability, that which he / she wishes to foster. Which intern helps develop a deep feeling of belonging in his / her child . And this is the reason for which many parents 'also'( besides health related issues ) choose to have there male child circumcised, believe it or not.
Myra | 22 May 2012

OK, I think we all agree now that circumcision needs to relegated to the horrors of medical history in most cases, so can me move on now and discuss how to the restoration process works?
AURELIUS | 22 May 2012

Infant circumcision is unnecessary, and it is unethical. The USA with highest circumcision rates in developed world has highest HIV/STI rates in developed world, the circumcision experiment has failed the USA, lets not deprive another generation of males their birth right to intact genitalia.
Ian Wilkinson | 22 May 2012

Catholicism teaches that the right to life and the right to physical integrity begin at conception. The Catechism expressly prohibits amputation and mutilation. I am shocked that a Catholic paper would be open to harming children, especially when no Pope in modern times has been circumcised.
Christopher Maurer | 22 May 2012

It is not clear why "necessarily it falls to parents to make an informed and responsible decision" nor that circumcision could "contribute to the quality of life of their children". Non-therapeutic circumcision of children is a violation of their right to autonomy. In no other case would we tolerate violation of a child by cutting off a normal, healthy part of his body. The potential for doing so to cause harm to a child's quality of life should be obvious. It is not clear why circumcision should be "problematic once they're old enough to decide" but at least it is their own informed choice. And guess what: the vast majority would choose not to have it done. That is what those "experts" are really afraid of.
John Dalton | 23 May 2012

The articles states: "The obvious problem is that infants are not capable of giving consent, and experts argue that the procedure becomes problematic once they're old enough to decide." But then you link the word 'expert' to a piece written by Brian Morris - he's your 'expert'?!? Please! Brian Morris is closely associated with known circumfetishists (one was recently busted for child porn, btw). He makes every attempt to promote the forced genital cutting of baby boys and he's the last person who should be trusted to give an opinion that's not tainted by his deceptive motives for pushing this barbaric procedure. You should question anyone who says cutting off healthy body parts from a non-consenting human being is somehow a good thing. And this should totally be a non-issue in the first place. Do parents have to 'decide' whether to cut off their child's healthy arm? So why is their son's healthy, normal, natural penis fair game for the chopping block?
circesadreim | 23 May 2012

In this day and age it is definitely time to stop the barbarism and let every man and women decide for themselves how they want to modify their body, if at all, ever. Circumcision is cosmetic surgery that should not be touted as preventative medicine for infants since it has no *proven* medical benefit. Any and all studies containing the words "might" "maybe" "possibly" are just junk science propagating the mutilation of infants who cant yet give consent to cosmetic surgery which has life-long consequences. It would be well advised to double check your sources when you cite so-called "experts" on the matter. The expert in question being Brian Morris who is NOT a pediatrician, NOT a urologist and NOT even a general practitioner. He is a a circumcision fanatic who publishes his papers on open sourcing sites that will publish anything for anyone and their dog as long as they pay for it, and quotes his own "published" papers in other articles. Sad that so many parents are duped by his hidden agenda, that being sexual in nature...yes folks, you read that right - he finds sexual gratification from the mere thought of wee babies being cut on their genitals. Please look at this site for comprehensive background information on this so-called "expert", who btw, publishes circumcision related sexual poems, fantasy literature and he even goes as far as planning his vacations to coincide with african tribal circumcision season.
mariannag81 | 23 May 2012

The time of male genital mutilation is moving to its end in this country. More and more people are now able to see this harmful amputative surgery on unconsented individuals for what it really is. Just like parents cannot choose to slice off even a small peice of their daughter's genitals or an earlobe or a little toe of their kids, they should not be allowed to make a choice to amputate a healthy part of their son's genitals. So much like burning witches, slavery, racism, suppression of women, female genital cutting, this nightmare is too moving toward its end. A child comes into this world through his parents, but he does not belong them. Government is very clear about it when it comes to any other form of child abuse, so it has to spen in and protect american men from the horror of genital mutilation as well. Needless to say, spending taxpayer money to cover genital mutilation is insane.
Yulia Rirdan | 23 May 2012

70% of the world's men aren't circumcised and their penises aren't rotting off from cancer or infection. Volunteering to get circumcised for nonreligious reasons is rare, meaning most men prefer to keep their foreskins. It makes no sense to remove a body part that will probably never need to be removed.
Lynn | 23 May 2012

So far, I have yet to see a viable compelling argument for circumcision where the source is not biased, based on fact or scientific evidence or recognized by any non-biased person. I'm going to be waiting an awfully long time, I'm guessing.
Steve C | 23 May 2012

It is disingenuous to be presenting the issue of public funding for infant circumcision as one of "inequity," and as one being argued between "experts" and "laymen." The fact is, the trend of opinion on routine male circumcision is so overwhelmingly negative in industrialized nations; no respected medical organization in the world endorses infant circumcision. They must all point to the risks, and they must all state that there is no convincing evidence that the benefits outweigh these risks. Doing otherwise is taking an unfounded position against the best medical authorities of the West. Medical bodies that agree that there is not enough evidence to recommend infant circumcision include the American Medical Association (AMA), the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), the College of Physicians and Surgeons of British Columbia, the Canadian Paediatric Society, the British Medical Association, the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, the Australasian Academy of Paediatric Surgeons, and the Royal Dutch Medical Association. Without medical or clinical indication, doctors have no business performing non-medical surgery on healthy, non-consenting individuals, let alone be giving parents any kind of a "choice," let alone be expected to be reimbursed by the public's coffers.
Joseph4GI | 23 May 2012

Your reference for "and experts argue that the procedure becomes problematic once they're old enough to decide." cites the unsupported opinion of one person, one person who is identified as a spokesperson, not an MD, phD, or as having any training whatsoever though I am led to believe by wikipedia that he's a professor. Not sure why that wouldn't be listed as his title in the article I just hope most parents are smart enough to see the difference between fact and opinion regarding waiting until you are sure or your decision. There's no rush.
mystic_eye_cda | 23 May 2012

So at what length should the umbilical cord be snipped at? Perhaps sniping it down short has no proven health beneficial after all. There are always medical related issues- and there always will be why it is more appropriate for circumcision be performed on a newly born- if needed.
Myra | 23 May 2012

As a young nurse many decades ago, I was traumatised by having to hold down a screaming-in-pain baby as he was circumcised without sedation/analgesia of any description. I have also nursed adult men who had circumcisions for medical reasons under general anaesthetic - painful but not the excruciating pain suffered by babies. Whatever choice parents make for their sons, it should be mandatory that the children do not suffer - either from recurring infections in the uncircumcised, or surgery.
Patricia | 23 May 2012

I didn't realise this was still such a hot issue and that so many women are so passionate about male circumcision! Am I correct in my understanding of previous comments, that as a circumcised male I should regard myself as a mutilated and incomplete human being?
AURELIUS | 23 May 2012

Myra, you have mentioned that there is often medical necessity to circumcise at birth, mind telling us what those are? Because I have done an enormous amount of study on this and have only ever found a few extremely rare situations that necessitate circumcision. Are you also aware that it is impossible to fully numb the penis in a newborn which is why many doctors refuse to perform circumcision until after a year old when they can be given a general anesthetic? So a newborn baby feels the pain of the circumcision being done. He then has to deal with the excruciating pain of his raw penis sitting in unrobe and feces as it heals. Many babies have complications such as adhesions, scarring, glans amputation or even death. Circumcision kills more babies in the US each year than SIDS. If they make it through with no issues in childhood they have a 1 in 5 chance of developing erectile dysfunction due to their circumcision. Ever wonder why the US is the biggest consumer of Viagra? Might have something to do with their high circ rate... I will leave you with this though, if it is ok to do this to babies without their consent why are so many men winning lawsuits against the Drs, hospitals and even their parents for having them circumcised? Which also makes me think that publications such as this might want to think seriously about any liability they have should a parent decide to circumcise from this article and then their child decides they aren't so happy with what was done to them... I will say what I always do, why not leave it to the owner of the penis to decide? Why the rush. It is safer, less painful and far more ethical to just leave it up to the man to choose as an adult...
Millicent | 23 May 2012

Myra, you are aware that the umbilical cord dries up and falls off on its own, right? You might want to read up on human anatomy and reproduction before making such erroneous analogy. Surgery is usually performed out of medical necessity, not because a person is "the right age." You'll be arguing that an adult man can't be circumcised next...
Joseph4GI | 23 May 2012

Aurelius With apologies to Shakespeare... A rose of any description is still beautiful.
Patricia | 23 May 2012

"...Bull of Union with the Copts, in 1442. Persons who practice circumcision risk loss of eternal salvation. The RC Church has never issued an official policy specifically regarding non-therapeutic neonatal male circumcision...The Church, however, has a strong moral statement on amputations, mutilations, and sterilizations. Circumcision falls under both amputation and mutilation, so it is clearly covered by this policy. RC's generally are required to respect bodily integrity. Lack of respect for bodily integrity is viewed as a violation of the 5th Commandment, Thou shalt not kill. The new (1994) Catechism of the Catholic Church at paragraph 2297: "Except when performed for strictly therapeutic medical reasons, directly intended amputations, mutilations, and sterilizations performed on innocent persons are against the moral law." The Council on Scientific Affairs of the AMA now defines neonatal circumcision as a "non-therapeutic" surgical procedure.Circumcisions (on newborn boys) are non-therapeutic, because no disease is present and no therapeutic treatment is required. Furthermore, circumcision removes healthy and functional tissue from the body and renders the part less functional...a circumcision is a non-therapeutic amputation and mutilation. Therefore, for Catholics non-therapeutic circumcision at any age is immoral according to the teaching of the Church as expressed in the Catechism."
Hobart Circumcision Resources | 23 May 2012

Millicent, I respect those who wish to allow their male child to decide when he is an adult-
I also respect those who have chosen to have their male child circumcised as a newly born ( for reasons know to the parents )
There are thousands of emotionally, psychophysically and spiritually equilibrated circumcised and uncircumcised people in the world.

Now, in regards to pain...Babies and newborns are stronger than you may think.
Were they not how on earth would they survive the excruciating pain they experience
during birth. I'm assuming people who consider circumcision on newly born, being a human rights
violation (and a form of barbarianism) also feel just as strongly about unnecessarily performed
caesarean births- these also, deprive the new baby of the 'choice' to enter into this world the
'natural way'- and in some cases can also go wrong- causing unnecessary physical and emotional
pain to both baby and mother...From what I can remember from studying infant psychiatry and infant neurology
-( though I'm not a Psychiatrist of any kind ) There are huge neurological benefits for each baby that comes into the world the 'natural way'
So in a way those who have gone to the trouble to inform those who don't know about 'the nerve sensitivity
of the forskin of the p.....'.- Should be the very same, who also defend the healthy formation
of the Encepholo ( the brain: the centre of the nervous system ) of a foetus/baby from the
beginning of it's conception until it's natural birth.
But are they and if they are not why- and what is the difference between the two- Why should circumcision be prohibited until the child
can decide when he is an adult, if unnecessary caesarean births are not?
Myra | 23 May 2012

Pain or whether it can be remembered or not is not the issue. Additionally, how well-adjusted men become, and decreased sensitivity are secondary. It is possible to give a woman a date rape drug in order for a man to have his way with her; she won't remember. Babies are strong and resilient. They'll "bounce back" from almost anything. Baby girls are circumcised in Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and other SE Asian countries. The girls grow up to be well-adjusted and even grow up to be mothers that have their daughters circumcised in a "sunat" at a hospital by a trained professional. Do you respect those mothers and the "choices" they made? Bringing up caesareans is a far stretch. You assume opponents of infant circumcision aren't educated on childbirth, that they care less about natural births and attack this straw man. OF COURSE it's always better for the child to be born naturally. Other studies show a correlation between natural birth and a reduced incidence in asthma. As much as possible, educated opponents of infant circumcision advocate natural birth. Let's not digress from the issues at hand. Regardless of what parents advocate or oppose, IS circumcision necessary? Without medical or clinical indication, can a doctor even be performing non-medical surgery on healthy, non-consenting individuals? Let alone be giving parents any kind of a "choice?" Why should the public bear the financial burden of a so-called "choice" that's not even medically necessary? Should Medicare continue to cover superfluous surgery? Or should it only pay for those procedures for which there is legitimate medical necessity? THAT is the question.
Joseph4GI | 23 May 2012

Fair article, thank you. Doctors and their professional indemnity organisations who wish to argue that the child's human rights include unnecessary surgery to prevent a distant and otherwise avoidable illness or illnesses need to point to ONE study that shows that EITHER that the surgery on the baby is more effective than non-surgical means when he attains his majority OR that it reduces the incidence of the illness at a population level (like Sabin vaccine and polio). There is none. Obversely, there is no study even on adults that establishes any protection from HIV at all after 24 months, there are studies that show Sub-Saharan circumcision programs are greater HIV infection rates in female partners of circumcised partners and population observations show that the lowest HIV countries share low rates of unnecessary circumcision. So back to the human rights of the individual baby...
VoxInfantorum | 23 May 2012

The first choise is education to avoid causing a need for surgical excisions. Like FGM, MGM requires ignorance and denial that the healthy human prepuce has functions, can be kept hygienic, and can be used properly. Like circumcision, lobotomies were only necessary when there is not enough knowledge/education available. Those who are pushing for governments to pay for infant circumcisions have subversive religious, superstitious, and financial motivations. Having the knowledge of the neurological functions of the male and female prepuce, and promoting the psychological dysfunctions caused from circumcision and excisions, makes it a form of eugenics for the chosen race.
frhodes85715 | 24 May 2012

Michael, why do you say 'experts argue that the procedure becomes problematic once a boy is old enough to decide'? Brian Morris is not an expert on circumcision, he's a highly biased advocate, there's a big difference. He's got no medical qualification whatsoever, and until recently has been in close contact with Vernon Quaintance another self styled circumcision 'expert' who has just be convicted for possession of child pornography in England. Here are the inconvenient facts: millions of adult circumcisions are currently being done by doctors and nurses in Africa and the latest techniques mean it can be done in 10 minutes with a local anaesthetic. Sure, a man may vocalise his pain of healing more than an infant. But the latest neuroscience studies tell us that infants actually feel pain a whole lot more - their developing nervous system has no way of damping it down, they internalise it and are profoundly damaged (see ) Moreover adults get adequate anaesthetic during surgery (and it stops if they say i feel pain) and strong analgaesics afterwards - infants rarely do. To suggest that a man's vocalisation of his discomfort in a chosen circ as a serious issue which means we should never circumcise men but only force it on children, is patently absurd. To suggest that a man is more vulnerable to a circumcision infection or haemorrhage than a newborn infant is equally absurd: a newborn can die from the loss of not much more than 2 tablespoons of blood (this is easily released by circumcision surgery which targets one of the most vascularised parts of the body) which would not show outside a nappy. Death from post circumcision haemhorrage is depressingly frequent even in the Western world although not all make the newspapers. Likewise infection - a baby has little defence against even common bugs - and you want to cut his genitalia leaving a wound which will be urine and faeces soaked over and again for the ten days it may take to fully heal.. Is a man's circumcision wound likely to be soaked in his faeces day after day? Not in the world i live in... Finally surgical accidents. The glans of a newborn is minute and fused to his foreskin - and yet you think it is less 'problematic' to operate on this organ (which cannot be visualised) than the vastly larger one of a man in whom the foreskin is also mobile so easier to target without mistake. It's depressing that posters like me keep having to bring a bit more reality into this debate and that the press are so determined to avoid inconvenient but self evident truths.
Laura MacDonald | 24 May 2012

Are you really arguing about equitable health funding? Why would we spend limited health dollars on operations that are at best unecessary, and at worst traumatic and disfiguring? What are we saying to a baby boy newly born into this world when we subject them to such brutal pain in the most sensitive part of their body just as they are adjusting to being the world? When my husband's generation of boys were thus disfigured it was without anaesthetic - tell the nurses who had to hold them down as they writhed and screamed that they were doing a favour to these tiny boys. Now, even with anaesthetic for the operation, they must live with a painful and sensitive wound as it heals. What permanent emotional and psychological scarring are we inflicting? If they choose as an adult to be circumcised, this becomes their business - as babies it is our responsibility to protect them from trauma.
Beth Rees | 25 May 2012

I hope this is a photograph of you, Michael Mullins, because I wouldn't want to be this little boy (or his mother) seeing his photo splashed around the world like this.
As mothers its our job to show our babies the love and trust and joy in the world, and we don't do this by inflicting unnecessary and excruciating pain on them.

Beth Rees | 25 May 2012

If we can outlaw female circumcision then surely male circumcisions, which are just as painful and deadly can also be outlawed. While in-utero the female equivalent of a foreskin is the clitoral hood, once born the female equivalent is the clitoris. When it equates to torture to carry out, causes brain damage confirmed by MRI, and life-long damage and mutilation and all that goes with a lack of foreskin brings, and pro-circumcision advocates have to resort to lies and ensuring intact boys are forcibly retracted to keep complications arising from being intact artificially inflated, there is something very wrong with Medicare funding this. As a mother, just how am I supposed to protect any son of mine from an insane pro-circ father? We need much better laws. As a cosmetic and harmful surgery there's absolutely no reason it should be Government-funded.
Phillipa Watson | 08 June 2012

There are NO convincing arguments for carrying out circumcision in girls or boys. I was circumcised and it has destroyed my life. It took away all the natural sensory pleasure sex is supposed to provide. This leads to erectile problems, anxiety, depression and, in my case, suicidal thoughts. I'm amazed that we're still debating this in the 21st century developed world. If it wasn't for these sky-fairy worshipping god-botherers, it would have been banned by now. People who support circumcision support child rape.
Lawrence Newman | 22 July 2012

Doctors since the time of PM Gough Whitlam (1972-75) started promoting an "anti-circumcision stance",mostly influenced by Communist politics,as the former Soviet Union was anti-circumcision and many Soviet Jews fled to Israel to get the procedure done. Also this "anti-circumcision" attitude in Russia, came from part from Russia's neighbors-Sweden & Scandinavia & the colonial Greeks, as Swedes and Greeks are historically opposed to circumcision, which in affect spread to Australia in the 1970s, as the Greek & Continential European migrants who (excluding,Italians,Albanians & Maltese-whom many were done, even if it was only a looser style compared to the traditional tighter Aussie style) helped turn the tide against neo-natal circumcision in Australia- added with the Socialist/Communist inspired stance of the then Gough Whitlam ALP "stealth communist" Government, whom also tried to discourage regular circumcision-it was said Gough Whitlam & Jim Cairns were both taking direct orders from Moscow! One doctor told my mother (back in 1973-the during Whitlam era) that he opposed infant circumcisions "due to religious reasons",but thought nothing of putting poor women through even more painful "ceasarian" section births, where the mother's stomach had to be stapled up after childbirth! Also that "socialist loving" 60 minutes TV show(circa 1982-with socialist-loving reporter,Jana Wendt) also helped push the "no-circ" stance with the propaganda piece-"The Unkindest cut of All"-full of bias and socialist generalization. Overall,due to the hot & semi-tropical nature of Australia's climate,I'm strongly in favor of routine male circumcision. I've been done myself in the more looser-moderate fashion and I'm quite happy with my style, but the traditional tight Aussie style of the northern states made complete sense, we are not "European"-so get over it!
Marty Boy | 15 May 2018

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