Those against circumcision get all the ink

David A. Blackman
The Ottawa Citizen, Thursday 23 October 1997

Your Oct. 17 front-page article, "Circumcising baby boys 'criminal assault'," which appeared right under the article of the tragic bus accident in St. Bernard, Que., was not only tactless and totally inappropriate, it was an insult to the many parents in this country who, for whatever their reasons, have opted to have their sons circumcised.

History has an interesting way of repeating itself. It is well recorded that the ancient Romans decreed that anyone circumcising their sons would be put to death. Nazi Germany used circumcision as a form of identification in their extermination of the Jewish people.

The approaches of past/present anti-circumcisionists may vary, but their ultimate goals are the same, and that is to control, dictate and, if need be, punish those who do not adhere to their point of view.

The Citizen rarely publishes anything presenting a pro or unbiased point of view of circumcision. Even letters to the editor reflect an anti point of view.

Is your newspaper aware that the Circumcision Information Centre, which Sharon Kirkey quotes in her article, is an anti-circumcision organization that presents biased information?

Ms. Kirkey also misinforms your readers when she indicated that the former U.S. nurse, who started the anti-circumcision group NO-CIRC, was fired because she was giving parents candid, up-to-date information on circumcision. The nurse, a mother of three circumcised sons, was fired because of her "storm trooper" tactics with mothers about to enter the delivery room, in order to convince them to reverse their decisions to have their sons circumcised if they delivered boys, and not because she was giving out information against circumcision.

Medical and non-medical opponents of circumcision in North America have been trying for years to convince the U.S. and Canadian governments to pass a law against male circumcision, and their ultimate goal is to convince the United Nations to pass a similar law.

By standing behind her position as director of the McGill Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law, Dr. Margaret Somerville and her colleagues are endeavouring to convince Canadians that circumcising baby boys is a criminal assault, in order to eventually convince our provincial and federal governments to pass a law against male circumcision, similar to the existing one on female genital mutilation.

Contrary to the view of medical opponents that "male circumcision is medically unnecessary," there is no scientific/medical evidence to back their contentions, but is instead a reflection of their own personal views.

What is being conveniently not discussed by ethicists like Dr. Somerville and Dr. Alwin is the fact that, over the past 25 years, parents wishing to have their sons circumcised are being subjected to a lot of guilt tripping and even denied access to available medical services when they have requested circumcision for their sons.

If Dr. Robin Walker of the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario is finding many parents being very forceful in their requests for circumcision, this has resulted from the dictatorial approach of his colleagues who are opposed to circumcision.

Some years ago, several doctor friends of mine informed me that they knew of a number of doctors in Ottawa treating parents in this fashion, and that it was a well known fact for years amongst health care givers at the Civic Hospital, that a British-born doctor working out of the Civic was subjecting parents to horrendous guilt tripping when they requested circumcision for their sons, and hospital officials had to call in other doctors who could and would perform the procedures for parents.

This dictatorial posturing on the part of medical opponents in this country not only runs counter to their medical code of ethics, it runs counter to the 1980 Supreme Court of Canada ruling, which requires doctors to give both sides to a controversial medical issue.

In the 1996 fall issue of the Canadian Medical Association Journal, it was reported that, in 1995, 40 per cent of British Columbia parents stood their ground against the aggressive approach being taken by medical care givers when they requested circumcision for their sons. Other parents in B.C. simply gave in.

Circumcision is rare in Europe and Britain, where they identify circumcision with Jewish/Islamic people; religious and racial prejudice is a major factor in their opposition. Ms. Kirkey made no mention of a 1996 report in the British Medical Journal that 30,000 boys in Britain are circumcised annually for health reasons medical opponents claim do not exist.

What Dr. Walker conveniently did not convey to Ms. Kirkey is that, when the Canadian Pediatric Society conducted its review of circumcision, the panel went into it with their minds already made up that "circumcision was medically unnecessary." In a 1996 flyer produced by one of the U.S. anti-circumcision groups, it was widely reported that the president of the Canadian Pediatric Society bragged to an anti-circumcision activist that, in spite of the review, the CPS had no intention of changing its position.

Pediatrics care givers are not the ones who will have to deal with the ongoing genital infections that a large percentage of uncircumcised males experience, nor are they the ones who ultimately will have to perform post-natal circumcisions.

It is interesting to note that neither the Canadian Medical Association, the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons nor the Canadian Urological Association have come out against male circumcision.

For the past 37 years, Statistics Canada has recorded annual increases in post-natal circumcision for ongoing health problems. This point, and the fact that post-natal circumcisions are far costlier than neonatal circumcisions and often do not reflect the costs to our health plans for the re-occurring visits to family doctors, are rarely mentioned in any of the arguments being presented against circumcision.

There have been numerous reports over the past 10 years in the area of urinary tract infections, penile cancer and sexually transmitted diseases, which support the position of doctors during the 1940s, '50s and '60s that circumcision accords a lot more health benefits than medical opponents are willing to admit.

Ms. Kirkey's article failed to mention that international experts have recognized for a number of years that absence of circumcision is another contributing factor in the spread of AIDS, and that, in countries where circumcision is rarely practised, like India, Sri Lanka, Thailand and the non-Muslim areas of Africa, AIDS is out of control.

Closer to home, both Quebec and Newfoundland have the highest AIDS rate in Canada, and both have a very large population of uncircumcised males. In addition, it was widely reported by the Canadian media this year that Newfoundland had the highest rate of cervical cancer in Canada, in a population whose males are predominantly uncircumcised.

Much has been expressed about the pain associated with circumcision as a means to scare parents, yet very little has been expressed about the traumatic effects on an infant from the many needles they must have to protect them from contagious disease, and yet one doesn't see anti-circumcisionists advocating that we stop inoculating children.

It is time for an unbiased review of the circumcision issue. Ethicists and anti-circumcision groups have only succeeded in further complicating the issue by playing on people's emotions, fears and prejudices, while the real issues, the health issues, are being totally ignored.

Any newspaper worth its salt has an obligation to its readers to present both sides of this controversial issue.