Circumcision: A Limited View of Science

I posted the following on Twitter today:

It’s bizarre how insistent many circumcision advocates are that science only exists on the blade of a scalpel. Science is so much more.

I think this is a decent summation of the accusation many circumcision advocates make to discredit the fight for equal genital integrity and bodily autonomy. They claim, whether or not they believe it, that disapproving of non-therapeutic circumcision on children somehow signals a rejection of science. That’s nonsense, bordering on ad hominem. It’s the same thread of empty rhetoric that created a brief spurt of “so you want Africans to die of HIV?” when researchers released the first HIV trial results.

The problem is obvious. Rejecting the non-therapeutic circumcision of children is not a rejection of science. In critical ways, it’s an embrace of science and its power lacking within circumcision advocacy. It’s a recognition that science is so much more than what happens from the blade of a scalpel. It’s an acknowledgement that we are not so primitive that we must fear risks that circumcision aims to reduce. The diseases are not shrouded in mystery warranting immediate, radical intervention on healthy children.

By definition non-therapeutic (i.e. prophylactic) child circumcision occurs on a healthy child. His health is scientific. This must not be omitted from the discussion. No genital surgery is indicated, just like no heart surgery, brain surgery, or any other surgery is indicated or justified. We don’t call those who reject other interventions that may achieve some potential benefit anti-science because good health as science is an obvious concept. It wraps with ethics, and we have no agenda elsewhere. The same can once again be true of the foreskin within society as a whole.

It’s also useful to remind those who accuse opponents of non-therapeutic child circumcision of being anti-science that science developed preventions and treatments for the diseases and infections that prophylactic circumcision targets. Antibiotics are science. The HPV vaccine is science. Condoms are science. The list of options available before resorting to circumcision is vast. We advocate for science and the ability scientific progress grants us to apply conservative, non-invasive interventions to prevent or resolve medical problems. The charge that we are anti-science because we do not advocate for the most extreme intervention possible is ludicrous.

Two simple questions are the most powerful rebuttal we have. Why is the science supposedly encouraging circumcision – the subset of science convenient to that position – the only science on which we’re supposed to focus? Why should we ignore most of the tools the human mind has uncovered that allow all of us, including intact males, the opportunity to live healthy lives? Considering the full realm of science promotes the proper ethical application of science that protects the rights of individuals as human beings with full bodily autonomy. Advocating for non-therapeutic circumcision on non-consenting individuals is the weaker scientific position.

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