Doctor calls for universal circumcision

(Reuters Information Service)

LONDON (September 23, 1997 8:57 p.m. EDT) - A U.S. doctor called for universal circumcision in Europe on Wednesday, saying the health benefits outweigh any of the complications or costs of the operation.

Dr. Edgar Schoen, of the Kaiser Foundation Research Institute in Oakland, California, said circumcision is a quick, easy and safe procedure which is completely safe when done properly.

Unlike the United States where 70 percent of men are circumcised, most men in Europe, where it is done mainly for religious or ethnic reasons, aren't.

European countries consider it an unnecessary surgical procedure which increases the costs of operating nationalized health systems.

In a report in the Archives of Disease in Childhood, Schoen argued that newborn circumcision offered increased protection against urinary tract infections (UTI), cancer of the penis, and sexually transmitted diseases such as the HIV virus that causes AIDS.

"Protection against these diseases constitutes a substantial public health advantage and provides a strong argument in favor of instituting universal newborn circumcision in Europe," he said.

The medical profession has been split over the benefits of the operation and parents have agonized over the pros and cons.

Advocates say it helps to promote genital hygiene which can reduce the transmission of infections as well as herpes and other viruses, but opponents claim it is painful and there is no medical or surgical reason for it.

Schoen said statistics in the United States show that of the 1,600 patients diagnosed with penis cancer in the last 50 years none had been circumcised since infancy. On average there is only one case of the rare disease reported in a circumcised male about every five years, compared to 2.2 in other men.i

A report by the American Society of Pediatrics also suggested that uncircumcised boys had an increased risk of UTI because harmful bacteria can grow under the foreskin.

"A meta-analysis of the nine major studies relating UTI to circumcision showed a mean 12-fold increase risk of UTI in uncircumcised boys," said Schoen.i

Studies in Africa, which indicated that uncircumcised, heterosexual men were four to eight times more likely than circumcised men to contract HIV from exposure to infected women, offered further proof.

In addition to the medical benefits, Schoen said circumcision does not have any effect on either emotional health or sexual performance, and even offered other advantages.

Evidence from Middle America shows women have a sexual preference for circumcised men from the standpoint of aesthetics and hygiene.