Rhetoric and Purpose

Posted: January 28th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Ethics, Mission | No Comments »

I’ve written about how dreadful Lindy West’s thinking has been on male circumcision. But it’s possible she’ll understand the ethics involved and how it requires a slight-but-critical shift in her approach to the issue. There is a much better chance that will happen by challenging her mistaken idea rather than attacking her. In an interesting episode of This American Life where Ms. West tells of interacting with “her meanest troll”, she explains why this approach makes sense.

If what he said is true, that he just needed to find some meaning in his life, then what a heartbreaking diagnosis for all of the people who are still at it. I can’t give purpose and fulfillment to millions of anonymous strangers, but I can remember not to lose sight of their humanity the way that they lost sight of mine.

Humans can be reached. I have proof. Empathy, boldness, kindness, those are things I learned from my dad, though he never knew how much I’d need them. Or maybe he did.

I’d rather reach people, including Ms. West.

The same sentiment is in this post by economist David Henderson at EconLog. He discussed how his mother stood up for a student suspended for growing his hair long. She did so anonymously, and to the principle. When she had a chance to attack a man whose life contradicted his own defense of the suspension, this:

“Come on, Mum” (we used the British rather than the American version), I said, “Make it more direct. Say something like ‘others with our choices of scarves.'”

“No,” she said.

“How come?” I said, disappointed that she wouldn’t stick in the knife.

“Two reasons,” she said. “First, that’s mean. And that’s enough of a reason. Second, I want to convince not just the other readers but the person who will read this most closely: Harry. If I embarrass him, he’s less likely to reconsider his views.”

That is the activism in which I strive to engage.

NPR link via The Stag Blog, where Lucy Steigerwald writes, “Obviously I have major problems with Jezebel, and sometimes with Lindy West in particular, but I enjoyed her This American Life segment on talking to her meanest troll. Humans are humans! Just imagine!”

President’s Endless Plan for Avoiding Rights

Posted: January 28th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: "Voluntary", Ethics, HIV, Politics, Public Health | No Comments »

PEPFAR held an event today, described as:

Join global health experts in PEPFAR’s sixth VMMC Webinar to consider the pros and cons of offering early infant male circumcision (EIMC) as part of routine Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (MNCH) care.

The title of the event was, “Scaling Up Routine Early Infant Male Circumcision within Maternal, Newborn and Child Health”. I wonder what the outcome of considering the pros and cons will be.

It’s also worth noting how circumcising infants has been separated as EIMC from “voluntary” male “medical” circumcision (VMMC). Is it progress if they’ve stopped pretending that infant circumcision is voluntary? Not really, I think, since no one involved cared anyway and dropping it means they’re comfortable with making it clear they don’t care.

Framing with Reason or Emotion

Posted: December 11th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Media Marketing | No Comments »

Dr. Adam Aronson, for Kids First Pediatric Partners, has an explainer, “Circumcision: A Parent’s Choice”. It’s predictable rather than what it should be. But given that there are countless versions of this same refusal to take the ethical stand, I highlight this one because it’s poorly framed in an instructive way.

Reasons Parents May Choose Circumcision
There are a variety of reasons why parents choose circumcision.

Medical benefits, including:

  • A markedly lower risk of acquiring HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
  • A significantly lower risk of acquiring a number of other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including genital herpes (HSV), human papilloma virus (HPV), and syphilis.
  • A slightly lower risk of urinary tract infections (UTIs). A circumcised infant boy has about a 1 in 1,000 chance of developing a UTI in the first year of life; an uncircumcised (sic) infant boy has about a 1 in 100 chance of developing a UTI in the first year of life.
  • A lower risk of getting cancer of the penis. However, this type of cancer is very rare in all males.
  • Prevention of foreskin infections.
  • Prevention of phimosis, a condition in uncircumcised (sic) that makes foreskin retraction impossible.
  • Easier genital hygiene.

These are stated as facts. I concede¹ them as facts for my purpose here, even though I think it’s critical to mention, for example, that the relative risk reduction for female-to-male HIV transmission applies to populations with high incidence of HIV and low circumcision rates, which doesn’t map to the HIV problem in the United States. Also, the absolute risk is tiny. Whatever. Yay, facts, I guess, because none of that justifies applying them to the normal, healthy foreskin of a child (i.e. parental choice).

But that isn’t the issue. This is:

Reasons Parents May Choose Not to Circumcise
The following are reasons why parents may choose NOT to have their son circumcised:

  • Fear of the risks. Complications are rare and usually minor but may include bleeding, infection, cutting the foreskin too short or too long, and improper healing.
  • Belief that the foreskin is needed. Some people feel the foreskin is needed to protect the tip of the penis. Without it, the tip of the penis may become irritated and cause the opening of the penis to become too small. This can cause urination problems that may need to be surgically corrected.
  • Belief it can affect sex. Some feel that circumcision makes the tip of the penis less sensitive, causing a decrease in sexual pleasure later in life.
  • Belief that proper hygiene can lower health risks. Boys can be taught proper hygiene that can lower their chances of getting infections, cancer of the penis, and STIs.

Parents “fear” the rare and usually minor risks, yet the potential benefits were presented as parents’ reasoned approach to risks rather than parents circumcising because they fear statistically-unlikely problems. This is especially odd since most of the potential problems used to justify non-therapeutic infant circumcision are even less likely to occur during the years parents are responsible for their child’s health.

Parents hold a “belief” that the foreskin is needed. They “feel” the foreskin protects the tip, as if circumcision removes only the foreskin around the tip of the boy’s penis. And the transition to the facts of irritation and possible meatal stenosis holds the stigma of “belief” rather than “reasons not to remove an individual’s normal, healthy foreskin without his consent”.

Parents may have a “belief” that circumcision can affect sex, even though this is a fact once the foreskin is gone. Changing form changes function. It doesn’t have to get to a change in sensitivity.

Parents trust in “belief” that proper hygiene² can lower health risks, which we know is a fact. It’s also our default expectation that parents properly care for every normal part of a child, except a boy’s foreskin, because that has a hygiene exception where surgery is somehow justifiable as a parental choice.

This frame appears over and over again. “Reasonable” people understand that circumcision provides important benefits that are “good”, as the Los Angeles Times Shareline demanded yesterday. It appears in almost every interview Dr. Douglas Diekema gave on behalf of the AAP or CDC in the last few years, such as when he said “If you talk to reasonable people about what the data shows… it’s real. …” Circumcision is designated as the rational approach. Parents who impose it are presented as more rational because they looked at facts, at science. Parents who respect their son’s normal, healthy body as they respect their daughter’s normal, healthy body are presented as emotional, anti-science, or “foreskin fetishists”. Their argument allegedly amounts to nothing more than “don’t hurt the babies”. They “believe” in spite of facts.

Here’s the first list again, processed through the second list’s filter:

Reasons Parents May Choose Circumcision

  • Fear of HIV, even though the absolute risk of female-to-male vaginal transmission in the United States is markedly low.
  • Belief that he will be at risk of other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including genital herpes (HSV), human papilloma virus (HPV), and syphilis. Condoms protect significantly better against STIs, and a vaccine exists for HPV that is approved for males, as well.
  • Belief that the adhered, non-retractable foreskin could trap dirt, leading to a UTI. Some research suggests that infant circumcision causes at least as many UTIs as it prevents.
  • A belief that foreskins lead to cancer of the penis. However, this type of cancer is very rare in all males.
  • A belief that the foreskin can’t be cleaned sufficiently, leading to infections.
  • Belief that phimosis is more common than it is and can only be treated with circumcision. Steroid creams and manual stretching can often resolve non-retractable foreskin issues.
  • Fear of smegma. Males and females produce smegma. Regular bathing minimizes risk.

How does it look now?

Proponents of parental choice need to reconsider their support, for they are wrong. They must prioritize the facts of the boy’s (i.e. the patient’s) present, and how there is no problem in need of the most invasive solution. Science without ethics is a monstrosity posing as a reasoned set of facts. There is no defense for prioritizing fear of a statistically-unlikely future to imagine validity for parental choice for non-therapeutic genital cutting of children (male-only, “obviously”) now.

¹ I do not concede them as valid justifications. I’ve omitted the social and religious reasons sections from discussion. Potential medical benefits are insufficient to justify non-therapeutic child genital cutting. Social and/or religious reasons should obviously be recognized as particularly insufficient to justify proxy consent for (non-therapeutic) surgery.

² I do not concede this item as a fact, even for rhetorical purposes. “Easier” caters to the ignorant and lazy. This should be clear from Dr. Aronson’s last paragraph, “What If I Choose Not to Have My Son Circumcised?”.

… Keep in mind that the foreskin will not fully retract for several years and should never be forced. When your son is old enough, he can learn how to keep his penis clean just as he will learn to keep other parts of his body clean.

So, for the bulk – or all – of the time that parents will be primarily responsible for keeping their son’s genitals clean, it requires no extra work to clean an intact penis. This excuse deserves no credibility.

Flawed Circumcision Defense: Karin Klein

Posted: December 10th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Ethics, FCD, FGM, Science | No Comments »

Encouraging half-baked opinions, like this one by Los Angeles Times reporter Karin Klein, is the inevitable result of the CDC’s proposed recommendation. The opinion piece is titled, “It’s time to end inaccurate criticisms of male circumcision”, which suggests its author should not offer an incomplete analysis in defense of male circumcision. That is what Ms. Klein offers.

The recent report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention should quell the unfounded arguments that male circumcision is no better than or different from female circumcision, also known as female genital mutilation. According to the draft guidelines released by the CDC, the benefits of male circumcision clearly outweigh the risks, in the form of reduced risks of urinary tract infection as infants and penile cancer later in life, and lower risk of contracting HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.

The short version of her essay is “Shut up.” It’s her introduction and conclusion. Alas¹, no.

“According to the draft guidelines released by the CDC” involves undue weight for the recommendation. The CDC’s conclusion is subjective. The equation is not merely benefits versus risks. There is a direct cost (i.e. harm) in the loss of the foreskin. That matters, yet it isn’t factored into the CDC’s analysis (or the AAP’s before it or Ms. Klein’s here). And the CDC ignores the individual foreskin owner’s preferences. Someone might value his foreskin more than reduced risks of future maladies. As I do. It isn’t defensible to declare that the potential benefits “clearly” outweigh the risks, for everyone, or that this demonstrates anything conclusive.

The comparison of male circumcision to female genital mutilation rests on the principle involved, not indifference to the disparity in recognized potential benefits. Non-therapeutic genital cutting on a non-consenting individual is unethical. Minimal or maximal cutting is relevant for punishment, but not for whether the individual’s human rights are violated. A female owns her body from birth, including her genitals. A male owns his body from birth, including his genitals.

It’s understandable that circumcision has become controversial. It’s a permanent change made to the body, usually in infancy. (It should be noted that parents make all kinds of decisions that affect their children’s lives permanently; circumcision happens to be a particularly visible one.) …

It’s a permanent change made to the healthy body. Defending this removes any limitation on what parents may do. It isn’t that it’s a particularly visible effect. It’s that circumcision alters the child’s body without need. Proxy consent requires the patient’s need, not the proxy’s preference. Non-therapeutic circumcision is still cosmetic surgery, contra the silliness Ms. Klein will shortly suggest.

Nor is non-therapeutic circumcision acceptable because parents make all kinds of decisions. This common argument rests on the flawed premise that a) Parents make decisions for their children, b) Non-therapeutic genital cutting is a decision, therefore c) Parents may cut the healthy genitals of their children sons. It’s ridiculous. Treating all decisions equally to defend an extreme, gendered decision makes no sense. It imagines a strange scope of parenting we don’t accept, as evidenced by the required strikethrough in c) to narrow the conclusion to what parents may legally decide on non-therapeutic genital cutting. It’s about parental rights only to the convenient extent that it maps to what we want to do. It’s arbitrary.

The CDC report won’t end the debate, nor should it necessarily do so. Perhaps its most important short-term good will be to increase the likelihood that the procedure will be covered by health insurance, because circumcision could not be viewed as solely a cosmetic procedure, but rather one that carried health benefits backed by the most current scientific research. That gives parents the option — either way.

It is still cosmetic surgery, even with potential health benefits backed by the most current scientific research. It is backed by an incomplete analysis of all factors involved. Arguing only from potential benefits and risks without factoring in the costs (i.e. harms), as well as preferences for how an individual weighs those three aspects for himself, is biased, inaccurate nonsense. The CDC shouldn’t peddle it. Ms. Klein shouldn’t defend it.

But it should end the scurrilous argument that male circumcision, with its very low complication rate, is mutilation on par with female circumcision. There are no known health benefits to female genital circumcision and a long list of not-uncommon consequences, including fistulas, abscesses and childbirth complications.

If Ms. Klein is going to use a word like scurrilous to criticize critics, she should first understand mutilation. Should we assume that a case of non-therapeutic female genital cutting without the girl’s consent that doesn’t result in a complication, or at least only a “very low complication rate”, isn’t actually mutilation? I assume Ms. Klein’s answer is the correct answer, which is “obviously not”. We can also search for the unifying principle that shows how weird it is to argue that parents should have the choice to surgically alter the bodies of their children, except this choice is for sons only because we’ve researched that. For example, in the WHO factsheet on Female Genital Mutilation, this:

Female genital mutilation (FGM) comprises all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.

Partial removal or other injury to the genital organs for non-medical reasons? As long as you don’t foolishly suggest “reduced risk of X” is somehow a medical reason² for non-therapeutic circumcision, removing the foreskin is clearly such an injury.


FGM has no health benefits, and it harms girls and women in many ways. It involves removing and damaging healthy and normal female genital tissue, and interferes with the natural functions of girls’ and women’s bodies.

Removing and damaging healthy and normal genital tissue, and interferes with the natural function of bodies? Male circumcision fits that, too. Without need or consent, male circumcision is indefensible genital mutilation. Awareness of potential benefits does not change the equation. It is mere question-begging.

Of course, even religious traditions shouldn’t outweigh health concerns. Just as female genital mutilation is outlawed in this country no matter what the religious beliefs of the parents, if the CDC report had found similar complications with male circumcision, then there should be serious conversations about whether the procedure should be allowed. But that’s not what the science shows; until there is solid evidence to contradict the CDC report, conversations about restricting parents’ ability to make this decision for their sons should end.

It makes sense to ask if the boys who suffer the complications, including the most serious outcomes, could be considered mutilated, or is it merely based on the intent we assume for the parents? (The simplistic, “Male genital cutting is well-intentioned. Female genital cutting is ill-intentioned.”) But complications and consequences are unique. Consequences includes the costs (e.g. loss of the foreskin). That ignored aspect is what makes non-therapeutic male circumcision an unacceptable parental choice. Again, using the subjective conclusion that the benefits outweigh the risks while excluding the factual harms and the child’s preference is an incomplete analysis. Demanding, as Ms. Klein does, that we guide policy on this subjective opinion is ludicrous.

The CDC’s recommendation and Ms. Klein’s demand aren’t made better by using SCIENCE! as an incantation. Å normal, healthy foreskin is science. The numerous methods short of circumcision to prevent and/or treat maladies are science. A condom is no less SCIENCE! than circumcision. Antibiotics are no less SCIENCE! than circumcision. Soap and water are no less SCIENCE! than circumcision. It might be interesting that parents prefer SCIENCE! to SCIENCE!, but the issue involves ethics. The ethics are the same, whether it’s daughters or sons. Non-therapeutic genital cutting on a non-consenting individual is unethical. We all have the same basic rights. Non-therapeutic genital cutting without the individual’s consent violates her – or his – basic human rights.

¹ The piece includes a “Shareline” suggestion to tweet out a link to it with propaganda, “There are reasonable debates about male circumcision — but not about its benefits vs. risks”. That’s also nothing more than “Shut up”. It poisons the conversation by setting boundaries on what’s “reasonable” to debate. It’s also incorrect.

² The factsheet makes it clear that this would not be accepted for any non-therapeutic female genital cutting, as the law against FGM in the United States also makes clear. There is a principle, and it doesn’t negate the principle of equal rights simply because we’ve agreed to study the possible benefits of cosmetic surgery.

Start a pilot project on the ethics of consent

Posted: December 1st, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: "Voluntary", Ethics | No Comments »

It’s banging a well-beaten drum, but as always, when public health officials discuss voluntary adult male circumcision, they never mean voluntary or adult. Again:

Kenya could expand circumcision of newborn babies if a pilot project in Nyanza is successful.

The organisation carrying out the pilot exercise reports that more parents are warming up to the idea of their babies being cut a few days after birth. The exercise follows earlier studies that proved circumcision of infants would be safe and acceptable.

Nyanza Reproductive Health Society says they have cut 600 male infants since January in the pilot programme.

If the 18-month project is successful, infant circumcisions will be rolled out countrywide. “The circumcision of an infant is safer, less technically challenging, faster, easier to care for postoperatively,” says Marisa Young, the PhD student at University of Illinois who is heading the project.

Was it acceptable to the 600 males circumcised in this program since January? Science without ethics is disgusting.

In 2012, Marisa published a study in the journal Pediatrics [ed. note: link], which revealed a high acceptance of circumcision for infants in Nyanza where circumcision is not a rite of passage.

“As adult MC becomes more prevalent, demand for Infant Male Circumcision (IMC) is likely to increase,” Marisa says in the study, which found mothers more willing to have their babies circumcised, compared to men.

From the beginning, WHO/UN/UNAIDS aimed for social acceptance, which would lead to high acceptance of circumcision for infants. We don’t want to admit we’ve made a mistake or been harmed in any way. To admit this, we must admit the obvious flaw in believing that “high acceptance of circumcision for infants” matters. The issue is always whether there would be high acceptance of circumcision by these infants. We do not know. Post hoc defenses are interesting, at best. They are irrelevant. But as we see again here in Ms. Young’s unethical study and program, the key is always to circumcise males before they can choose not to volunteer. It would be too obvious a violation to force circumcision on non-consenting adults, so children become the target.

Cutting matters more than the “why”

Posted: November 17th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Ethics, FCD, FGM, Media Marketing | No Comments »

Mona Eltahawy writes in The New York Times:

I am a 47-year-old Egyptian woman. And I am among the fortunate few of my countrywomen whose genitals have not been cut in the name of “purity” and the control of our sexuality.

This is an important topic. She explains it well as it pertains to Egypt. But this paragraph bothers me:

The practice is sometimes erroneously referred to as circumcision. According to the World Health Organization, it “comprises all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for nonmedical reasons.” The procedure has no health benefits. We hack away at perfectly healthy parts of our girls’ genitals because we’re obsessed with female virginity and because women’s sexuality is a taboo. This cutting is believed to reduce a girl’s sex drive. And families believe their daughters are unmarriageable unless they are cut.

“Sometimes erroneously referred to as circumcision” is meant to distinguish FGM from male genital cutting. “No health benefits” demonstrates this point for the few readers who didn’t catch the “male circumcision is okay” implication¹. That’s nonsense. It’s reasonable to state that the two inflict different degrees of harm in common practice, and that difference can be significant. It is not reasonable to distinguish the two as “acceptable” and “unacceptable”. The World Health Organization quote she used describes male genital cutting, too.

The end of the paragraph demonstrates this point. Were I to write the second half of that paragraph, I’d write it from this perspective:

We hack away at perfectly healthy parts of our girls’ genitals.

That sentence doesn’t need the because. She was correct to include it. It’s relevant for explanation. But the sentence as I wrote it does not need a “because”. It doesn’t matter why we do it, hacking away at a child’s perfectly healthy genitals is always wrong. Get the principle right and the comparison takes care of itself.

For example, does anyone believe Ms. Eltahawy would change her mind if someone discovers health benefits for any form of FGC? Would she be okay with research studies to determine if there are benefits? I wouldn’t. I don’t believe she would. What about cases where her “because” is wrong and parents are honest-but-mistaken in their intent? Nothing changes. The truth that we shouldn’t hack away at a girl’s healthy genitals is clear. There is no excuse for making or endorsing an implication that hacking away at a boy’s healthy genitals is somehow acceptable. People who make the argument Ms. Eltahawy makes in that paragraph advocate for special rights, not human rights.

¹ See also.

“well, perhaps to you, but this is MY body!”

Posted: November 16th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: "Voluntary", Logic, Regret | 1 Comment »

Musician and YouTuber Emma Blackery posted an excellent response to a question on Tumblr, Why are you getting rid of your tattoos? :(. Her reasoning is perfect and word-for-word applicable to circumcision, except for the obvious point that she chose her tattoos, whereas most circumcised males didn’t choose it.

Gonna answer this publicly – not for any malicious reason (as I’m not mad at anyone!) but simply because I’ve had SO many people phrase this question in a way to make me feel guilty.

I got many of my tattoos when I was quite young. The one on my leg is (in my opinion) very obnoxious, as well as being a mess as it was a coverup. The ones I can see in the mirror just don’t make me happy anymore. I’m a different person to the one that got all of these tattoos and they just don’t reflect me anymore.

My problem isn’t the people asking – it’s the way people are putting it, with unhappy emoticons and saying ‘why? they’re great!’ well, perhaps to you, but this is MY body! i’m the one that has to look at them every day, and i no longer want them. that’s honestly it.

“‘Why don’t you want circumcision? Circumcision is great!’ Well, perhaps to you, but this is MY body! I’m the one who has to live with it every day, and I don’t want it.”

Science is more than intervention

Posted: November 11th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Ethics, Logic, Science | No Comments »

This thread fascinates me. I read as much as I could stand and was repeatedly amazed at the logic and tactics, especially those from self-professed “skeptics”. It’s also a useful insight into why I don’t use Facebook for activism. (To those who agree with me that non-therapeutic child circumcision is unethical, please don’t engage in the vitriol and name-calling in this thread. It’s wrong and hurts our efforts.)

In response to a picture (used without permission) of a man holding a sign¹ explaining his opposition to circumcision, the moderator for a group called “I fucking love vaccines” posted this:

Those evil “doctors”!!111! Performing minor operations on infants in sanitary conditions with proper pain relief, giving the lifelong benefits of prevention of urinary tract infections, penile cancer, and transmission of some sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. A procedure that would be significantly more complex and painful for an adult male.

If that’s a skeptic’s analysis, skepticism means nothing. Discussion of non-therapeutic child circumcision needs a thorough cost-benefit analysis because that is appropriate for proxy consent and demonstrates the ethical failing, not just the question begging of the benefit recitation provided above.

In response, a pediatrician² responded with a deeper analysis:

So I have to disagree with the sentiment here. I am a Board-Certified Pediatrician. When we look at the benefits of a procedure, we need to consider the Number Needed to Treat (NNT). In other words, how many boys do we need to circumcise to prevent one case of…something?

For HIV in the highest-prevalence regions of Africa, the answer is 72. 72 circumcisions must be done to prevent one case of HIV. That number hasn’t been calculated in the US, but with our much lower HIV prevalence and the fact that HIV in the US is primarily transmitted by anal intercourse, the number would be orders of magnitude higher. Even for unprotected anal intercourse, the NNT is over a thousand. For UTI in the United States, the answer is 200-300. For penile cancer the number ranges into the millions.

I can show that routine appendectomy reduces the risk of acute appendicitis by 100% and that routine tonsillectomy reduces the risk of tonsillitis by 100% and yet we don’t routinely perform either. So why are we performing a mutilating procedure on infant boys on a routine basis? It’s the only such elective operation we do. It flies in the face of medical ethics that we perform routine circumcisions on infant boys. And for that reason, I refuse to do them.

And yes, it’s mutilating. That isn’t a judgmental or emotionally-charged term in my usage. Any procedure that changes the appearance of the body is mutilating. That includes a medically necessary appendectomy. Now, I would never argue against a medically necessary appendectomy, but the key words are: “medically necessary.” Circumcision isn’t. And the proof is Europe, Asia, Australia, and New Zealand where these things aren’t done and yet their overall epidemiology for related conditions stay the same.

I do agree, however, that equating circumcision with female “circumcision” or “rape” is insulting to people who have been subjected to these things. I find that absolutely disgusting that any man would equate his circumcision to rape and complete excision of the clitoris.

I disagree that equating male and female genital cutting is insulting. The comparison is more complex than and focused on principle than “removal of the male prepuce is the same as removing the clitoris.” Non-therapeutic genital cutting on a non-consenting individual is unethical. That’s the principle. Everything else in the doctor’s comment is spot-on.

The moderator replied to the last paragraph:

Yeah, that is my issue with this actually and the whole reason I posted it. This does nothing but trivialize male violence against women.

Then why not post about that relevant issue instead of providing the one-sided, non-skeptical benefit recitation? But that isn’t the curious response. This is:

I also remain skeptical of your claims of being a pediatrician when you come into a socially charged thread never having commented on my page before and going against official recommendations in the US, but no biggie.

This is embarrassingly free of skepticism. It’s skepticism as a label rather than a process. I’m supposed to trust someone offering only the benefits of a non-therapeutic surgery on a child when that person can’t be bothered to do even a minimal amount of research to confirm a commenter’s identity? It took me about 60 seconds to find evidence that the Facebook profile matches a real person who is a pediatrician. This does not prove that the Facebook profile isn’t an elaborate scam to post biased, misleading comments on a random Facebook community’s rant. It could be, but that seems to require a few too many (convenient) assumptions.

Anyway, his job title is interesting, but there’s more than just an appeal to authority. Google exists for more than just verifying a random doctor’s identity. Does what he wrote hold up? Number Needed to Treat is a topic anyone can research. Is he explaining it correctly? Are his numbers accurate? What are the implications to the question of non-therapeutic child circumcision? But maybe I’m wrong and a skeptic doesn’t need all the information.

Of course, the moderator seems to value the appeal to authority fallacy. Better still would be to read the AAP’s technical report to see what it omits instead of merely regurgitating the inadequate abstract. I read the technical report. It is lacking.

Also, the “official” recommendation is that parents should decide, not that circumcised males are incorrect if they’re unhappy.

Next is a string of comments from people who don’t seem to understand that words have meaning and should be applied in a way consistent with their definitions. For example:

Consent is given by the parents. It is not forced when the parents give consent on their son’s behalf.


Because the surgery is for the benefit of the child not to create harm. The use of the term “mutilation” is hyperbole to generate a negative emotional response. This dishonest technique is used by intactivists because the facts do not support their position.

Parents consent. The surgery is forced on children who do not consent. This is not complicated. It’s the essence of proxy consent. The question is whether that consent is valid on this topic. And the surgery is not harmless and cost-free merely because the parents don’t intend to do harm. I agree they don’t intend harm. But harm is inevitable, despite their intentions.

Nor is the use of the term “mutilation” hyperbole. The doctor made the case, but here it is in the context of another post from the moderator:

There were of course the inevitable hysterical people saying circumcision of infant males is equal to FGM, most of which occurs in the developing world in unsanitary conditions, and which offers ZERO health benefit, serious long term health complications and is considered a violation of the human rights of girls and women. There is no comparison between circumcision and FGM.

I am seriously skeptical of the skepticism of a lot of these commenters on what is supposed to be an anti-woo page are caricaturing medical doctors as being “savage” and “barbarians”… this is no better than what people against “Big Pharma” and the “Medical Establishment/”Western” medicine/Allopathy caricaturize doctors as.

I am offended by it and I do not even have any family members in the healthcare professions. Here is a link to some fact these hysterical/testerical dimwits should know about or stop ignoring.


*The procedure has no health benefits for girls and women.*
*The procedure has no health benefits for girls and women.*
*The procedure has no health benefits for girls and women.*

Not only do you show your lack of scientific understanding but you also engage in vile misogyny when you compare to FGM, a HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATION to basically harmless infant circumcision.

That link is full of gender-neutral principles arbitrarily assigned a gendered difference. When the WHO states that “[i]t involves removing and damaging healthy and normal female genital tissue, and interferes with the natural functions of girls’ and women’s bodies”, we can ask ourselves if we’d dismiss that if its preceding sentence stated “FGM has health benefits…” I believe the overwhelming response would be “no”, as it should be. Change the pronouns. The principles remain the same. Genital cutting without need or consent is mutilation.

I also invite anyone to read through my archives to see if I’m a dimwit who doesn’t know about or who ignores the facts about FGM.

More on mutilation:

Except that circumcision is not an act of physical injury that degrades appearance or function, so once again, your own definition does not support calling circumcision mutilation.

Assuming the perfect form comes at birth is rather ridiculous when you consider evolution does not select for perfect. If the foreskin was perfect there would have not been the need to make surgical improvements starting several millennia ago.

“Degrades appearance” is subjective to the individual circumcised. That it degrades function is not up for debate, or at least not that it alters function. If you change the form, you change function.

The evolution bit is mere question begging. There is no “need” to alter healthy genitals. Evolution didn’t screw up. Most males (and females) live normal, healthy lives with their prepuce. And notice how circumcision becomes a “surgical improvement”. It’s always “heads I win, tails you lose” on every subjective question.

Next comes the tired false dilemma fallacy about how only one side loves science:

You would advocate against a procedure with medical benefits? OK. I admire your honesty in admitting that even though it makes you look like a callous jerk.

“Why do you want babies to get UTI-laden HIV Cancer, you monster?” Except, that’s not the only choice or the only (or likely) outcome from leaving a child with all of his (or her) normal, healthy genitals.


the big mean doctor touched my wee-wee!

“[T]he big mean doctor touched my wee-wee with a scalpel without medical need” is the scenario. If you must offer unfunny ridicule, at least attempt to ridicule what’s happening. That’s if this community’s form of skepticism involves facts, which I’m unconvinced it does.

¹ I’ve made my opinion clear on the accuracy and value in calling circumcision “rape”. I stand by that here.

² I’m not using names here because they’re irrelevant for my purpose here. Click through the links, if you wish.

Who won here? – Part 2

Posted: November 7th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: HIV | 1 Comment »

In my recent post, I commented on the following video:

I provided an answer to the doctor’s question, “If there was a vaccine for HIV that reduced the rate by 50%, would you be okay or would you be protesting?” In discussing the post with a friend, he offered an excellent follow-up to this. The doctor should answer this question: If there was a vaccine for HIV that reduced the rate by 50%, would you be okay or would you continue advocating for circumcision?

Who won here?

Posted: November 4th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Ethics, FCD, HIV, Media Marketing, Politics | 1 Comment »

This video is interesting to me:

The doctor’s evidence-free accusation at the end, “anti-Semitic like you”, is both disgusting and interesting. I side with Brother K’s response and outrage on that charge. The problem is that no one in that video was talking to anyone else. Everyone was talking at each other. I assume all four people walked away thinking they won the interaction. Instead, I want the video where the doctor’s question gets a response rather than an information dump. Show him how his question – and by extension, his view of circumcision – is broken.

His question is excellent: “If there was a vaccine for HIV that reduced the rate by 50%, would you be okay or would you be protesting?” It provides insight into what concerns the doctor professionally. It provides a chance to discuss more about HIV than just this isolated 50% claim. It provides a direct way to distinguish the ethics of vaccination and removing body parts. It provides the doctor an opportunity to experience someone who has thought about this more than just “don’t hurt the babies”.

Non-therapeutic child circumcision is indefensible. The burden of proof should be on those who want to circumcise. They propose intervention. They haven’t proven their case. They can’t prove it because it’s flawed. But society puts the burden of proof on those who challenge tradition, not those who wish to intervene on the healthy body of a non-consenting child. It’s wrong, yes, but we have to work with society tilting at this windmill. Do we want to change society or do we merely want society to know we’re better? My preference is for the former, and especially so when seeing how little the doctor in the video agreed to the latter.


It’s a valid expectation, so my answer to the doctor’s question is this:

Yes, I would be okay with it (qualified by verification of both efficacy and safety of the vaccine within some reasonable bounds). Circumcision isn’t a vaccine. Vaccine’s work with the body’s immune system to trigger a response that then protects the individual from infection. Circumcision removes skin. It operates on the theory of “less skin, fewer entryways”. This is relevant, too, since the mechanism for the claimed risk reduction from circumcision is unclear. Perhaps it’s a confounding factor not yet understood and/or researched? There’s also the scientific fact that condoms work better and do not involve the violation of human rights. And, what about the possibility that removing bits of female genitals could reduce risk? Are we ethically bound to allow that, too, or does it reveal the ethical question we don’t wish to consider? We know it’s unethical to investigate, because the answer doesn’t matter. Our societal fear is convenient, not justified, when it comes to HIV and circumcision.