If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Surgically Remove It
When I was growing up, in the 1950s and early 1960s, tonsillectomies —the surgical procedure to remove the tonsils — were extremely common.
Surgeons were advising that all but 5% of children examined should have what they referred to charmingly as “the op”.
Facts, such as that tonsils are part of the lymphatic system, which helps to fight infections, were pushed to the background. Ignoring the function is the misdemeanor—to make money from that deliberate and purposeless surgery is the crime.
Many of my schoolmates were out of school due to tonsillectomies, coming back with exciting stories of being able to eat as much ice cream as they wanted. I missed out on that one.
Research evolved, perspectives changed.
Since 1978 the surgery has declined dramatically as research concluded there was insufficient evidence that the benefits of tonsillectomy outweighed the risks—that the procedure should be approached based on actual current necessity and not as a possibly preventative measure.
Current equivalents of “tonsillectomies all round” are many. “Minimally invasive” procedures such as endoscopies, arthroscopies, coronary angiograms etc — have increased eight-fold over the past two decades. Many of these are performed “routinely”—and routine as a medical practice should always be prefaced with the question: What difference would it make to the diagnosis/outcome not to perform this procedure?
Which leads me to the surgical procedure that many doctors in the USofA still advise parents to inflict on all baby boys, what they charmingly refer to as “the snip”.
As late as 1969 Dr. Robert P. Boland, writing in The New England Journal of Medicine, compared circumcision with tonsillectomy, calling both procedures “ritualistic,” and “widely performed on a non-scientific basis.”
He opposed routine tonsillectomy but concluded vis-a-vis circumcision: “Little serious objection can actually be raised against circumcision since its adverse effects seem miniscule.”
Serious objection is finally being raised—with science and ethics on its side.
About 80 percent of the world’s population do not practice circumcision, nor have they ever done so.
Circumcision as a religious ritual is practiced by Muslims, Jews, many black Africans, non-white Australians.
The United States was the only country to adopt the practice based on “health” arguments.
Over the past few years I have read a lot about circumcision—its history and its controversies—and with so many others I unequivocally state: The more you know about circumcision, the more you are against it.
Here is a very brief glimpse of the history of the practice in the USofA—which alone should be enough to stop dead in their tracks any parents who are considering having this done to their child.
In the 19th Century masturbation was considered the cause of many illnesses. John Harvey Kellogg, who invented cornflakes in 1878 as part of his “pure, unstimulating diet”, encouraged strict abstention from almost all forms of sexual activity, even among married, heterosexual couples. He outlined these views in an 1887 book entitled Plain Facts for Old and Young: Embracing the Natural History and Hygiene of Organic Life, which was reprinted and enjoyed significant popularity around the turn of the 20th century.
Kellogg devoted an entire section of the book to masturbation, which he referred to as “self-pollution”, describing it as “the most dangerous of all sexual abuses.”
But Dr. Kellogg was not satified with simple dietary measures in his battle against sexual passions—he also promoted circumcision for boys and applying carbolic acid to a young woman’s clitoris to prevent masturbation and excessive sexual intercourse.
Amidst that fever of this “health” misinformation, in 1891, Dr. P. C. Remondino published an influential book which suggested that circumcision prevented or cured about a hundred ailments, including alcoholism, epilepsy, and asthma.
And you don’t even get unlimited ice cream after a circumcision.
In fact, because babies’ experience of pain is downplayed—and trauma is not addressed (as they get strapped into the plastic immobilizing tray)—and a majority don’t get any anesthesia at all.
No ice cream, but they do get: bleeding at the site, a variety of possible infections (well, you do have a open wound amidst the feces and urine) and penis damage you probably don’t want to see images of, and — but only a hundred or so a year — death. Heck, who wouldn’t bet their child’s life to not have to teach them how to wash it.
Also — there is no reason to read anything scary into the fact that during the surgical procedure higher levels of behavioral distress and blood cortisol (the main hormone involved in stress and the fight-or-flight response) are recorded than in other procedures.
Since the infant is restrained during circumcision, the response to the use of the restraint for other procedures was similarly tested and was not found to be measurably as distressing to newborns.
I missed out on circumcision also. The doctor at Bellevue Hospital in New York city was kind enough to ask my mother if she wanted my penis altered. Having arrived from Europe two years earlier she was confused by the question — we weren’t Jewish, which was to her knowledge the only reason one would do such a thing.
Thanks doctor, thanks mom.
I have written more extensively elsewhere regarding the questionable history of this barbaric practice, and the various masks of dubious science and faulty reason it has utilized over the years to support its continuance.
There exist blazingly preposterous arguments for circumcision from the ritual perspective—statistically flawed ones from the bad science column—and an assortment of the bizarre from the WTF section.
The First Cut Is The Deepest
The denial surrounding the damage and loss of function are the most infuriating—along with the tap-dancing around the ethical equality of male and female genital cutting—it’s not the meat, it’s the mutilation!.
I’ll just run through a few basics.
- The foreskin, contains 20,000 nerve endings (8,000 in a clitoris) and is a highly sensitive, functioning part of the male anatomy.
- The proposal for cutting the infant’s genitals so they look like the father is the most mindless ever presented. The argument obviously exists not to protect the child when he grows up—but the father, who may have to regularly reflect on how he himself was, without choice, surgically mutilated as a child.
- The vast majority of the men in the world are intact.
This one basic point disqualifies the majority of the deceptive arguments around health which often pretend to wear the mask of science. There are no UTI epidemics, and the HIV rates in countries where most are intact are, if anything, lower! Don’t get me started on Bill Gates and his mass circumcision debacle in Africa!
Are men in the USofA unable to keep themselves clean as do the men in the rest of the world?
- Religions. I mean what can you do when the creator of the universe tells you to to approach your newborn with a knife. Iceland and other countries have tried to enact laws to make circumcision illegal but religions argue that this is vital to their faith — that they must mark their child’s genitals to make them one of the tribe. [Although some Jews are choosing Brit Shalom, a naming ceremony, as an alternative.]
- Can we as a species reach a higher ethical perspective and overcome traditions/rituals that are harmful?
Y’know, like Xmas consumer madness.
Side note: Hospitals make around $400 per infant circumcision — and more money is to be made making facial cream from foreskins).
Function and Pleasure
Finally emerging in the debate is the all important issue of sexual pleasure potentially damaged for both the man and his partners, particularly women.
Philippe Viney, in a marvelous piece in the Albion Faeries, writes: “To redress the balance and to restore an element of sanity to this outrageous ‘globally psychotic behaviour’ it’s of vital importance that sound, sober and factual information be made available to elucidate all humans with the evolutionary ‘pleasure principle’ marvel that the foreskin is.”
Here is one woman’s perspective—but a very common one to be found all over the internet, since being intact is the experience of the majority of men in the world, and the women who are with them. Oh, and of course, the men and others in the LGBTQ communities.
The Tip Of The Iceberg
Summing up—especially to cover the basics for those who are looking for rhetorical nits to pick.
Yes of course surgical procedures can have great value.
The basic point I am trying to address by bringing the tonsils onstage in my discussion of circumcision is to address that surgery should always be a last resort.
In the UsofA, under a run amok capitalist system in which insurance and pharmaceutical corporations exist to serve the bottom line, there is always the great danger, and way too often the reality, of jumping ahead to the most expedient, financially rewarding procedure.
Somewhere in the guts of the Hippocratic Oath should be the directive to never remove a healthy body part based on a supposition that somewhere down the road there is a (very small chance) some issues may arise.
Cancer incidence in the UsofA: breast— 1 in 8; penis— 1 in 100,000.
And many more examples awaiting on each body. Put a lock on the knives!
One example from the “health reasons” column are the distorted statistics that propose that circumcision helps in prevention of HIV—studies whose numbers are regularly debunked, and should be by anyone with their sense of reason intact (pun intended).
And yet the push to mutilate millions of men in Africa goes on. Looking back, the USofA had one of the highest rates of HIV—amidst a majority of circumcised men.
A basic examination of the mechanics in getting/preventing this disease bear out this one fact: only condoms (and now PrEP) are the only real way of dealing with HIV, the rest can provide false and dangerous hopes.
Also — other STDs and UTIs are treatable with antibiotics and now many with vaccines. The majority of the intact world’s statistics bear out the false nature of these other threats provided to recommend this “preventive” mutilation.
Even in the rare extreme cases of medical issues, such as phimosis or infection, there is much new evidence and practice that procedures less invasive than circumcision are successful.
While change is happening, as I mentioned above, much of the deadlock on putting a complete halt on circumcision comes from religious traditions.
We might want to approach all genital mutilation of children by adults — male and female — and ethically relegate them to the past. We did it with other tribal blood sacrifices and are working on things like male ownership of female fertility, so maybe this too can be replaced with something less barbaric. Wouldn’t God understand, really?!
I believe it is the ethical perspective — what is right or wrong, good or bad, virtuous or vicious which must lead us into the future.
TL;DR — tl;dr is an online acronym for too long; didn‘t read.
In cellphone reading/scrolling time it refers to longer than a short paragraph.
So here is the tl;dr version:
- Routine male neonatal circumcision is not just unnecessary, it is harmful, it is unethical. The arguments for it are insubstantial, unacceptable, and seem to morph regularly in the interest of its continuation. It is damaging to function and diminishing to sexual pleasure. At the very least from the consensual aspect, it is corrupt.
Time to stop “the snip”, the attack on babies/childrens genitals in the name of false promises of health or religious tribal inclusion.
© AleXander Hirka 2019. All Rights Reserved.
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