Flawed Circumcision Defense: Barbara Kay

Posted: October 18th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Control, Ethics, FCD, FGM, Hygiene, Logic, Media Marketing, Pain, Science | No Comments »

[10/19 Update: Edited for clarity and to reduce speculation since late night posting is imperfect and probably unwise.]

National Post columnist Barbara Kay used Brian Morris’ latest rehash on circumcision to repeat her ignorant thoughts on the subject. She begins by regurgitating claimed benefits, which can all be conceded here for the sake of time because they’re irrelevant to the only issue, ethics. Then:

… Dr. Morris and his American co-authors state, “We found that up to 65% of uncircumcised males might experience at least one of these [medical conditions] over their lifetime.” …

Until May 2015 Morris claimed the number as 33%. Since June 2015 he claims it’s 50% in a brochure on his website. And it’s apparently 65% in this new review. When will he settle on 100%? But more to the point, it’s obvious he likes whichever way he can claim this number because it’s flashy. “Ooooooh, 33/50/65 percent is high. Such danger!” But it’s a meaningless number in the context of non-therapeutic circumcision of boys. I assume Morris knows this. I assume Kay doesn’t, so a review of Morris’ history could help. Instead of those numbers, this is what is worth discussing here, from Morris:

Up to 10% of males reaching adulthood uncircumcised [sic] will later require circumcision for medical reasons.

Not only is the number only 10%, it’s only up to 10%. Medically necessary circumcision is rare, at any age. There is no ethical case for imposing the most radical solution without consent when at least 90% of males will never need it.

She continues:

… Their risk-benefit analysis of the procedure led them to conclude the benefits exceed the risks by about 100 to one. (In another study, published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, Dr. Morris and colleagues found circumcision produced no adverse affect on sexual function or pleasure, a charge often leveled by anti-circumcision activist groups.)

Much like when Yair Rosenberg accepted Morris’ claim unexamined, Kay doesn’t appear to know the primary source.

But in a study Morris and Krieger rate as [highest quality], Payne et al [12], this:

… It is possible that the uncircumcised penis is more sensitive due to the presence of additional sensory receptors on the prepuce and frenulum, but this cannot be compared with the absence of such structures in the circumcised penis. …

Payne’s study published in 2007. In 2011 Kay wrote:

Set aside the rights-based rhetoric. It’s about sex: Circumcised men have greater pre-orgasmic endurance; non-circumcision permits more frequent ejaculations. …

So, circumcision either delays orgasm, assumed to be positive for all men, or has no effect on sexual pleasure. Like Morris, she appears to play “heads I win, tails you lose”.

Kay goes on to write:

… The AAP states: “The new findings show that infant circumcision should be regarded as equivalent to childhood vaccination and that as such it would be unethical not to routinely offer parents circumcision for their baby boy. Delay puts the child’s health at risk and will usually mean it will never happen.”

That quote is not from the AAP. It’s from Prof. Morris. He wrote it in a press release more than 18 months after the AAP published its revised position statement. Kay doesn’t bother to fact check the most basic statement. [ed. note: Kay asked the online editor to correct her error.] Nor does she pursue how Morris’ quote undermines their case for non-therapeutic neonatal circumcision since he acknowledges that circumcision is rarely necessary.

Thus, while it’s inexcusable, it’s hardly shocking when she continues:

The CPS could not condemn the practice on grounds of increased morbidity. After thousands of years of what is essentially a controlled study with virtually all Jewish men, with a large percentage of Muslim men on one side, and uncircumcised men on the other, it has been unequivocally concluded that circumcision presents no health risks; quite the contrary, as we shall see.

Even Morris doesn’t pretend that circumcision “presents no health risks”. He understates them, and ignores the guaranteed harm from the removal of the foreskin (and possibly frenulum) in 100% of circumcisions. But he’s not so biased that he’ll posit such an obvious untruth. Yet, there’s Kay’s indifference masquerading as hyperbole for all to see.

… Morris’s team estimates the combined frequency of adverse events at 0.4% overall, arguing that “the cumulative frequency of medical conditions attributable to [having an intact foreskin] was approximately 100-fold higher” than the cumulative risk of circumcision.

Even if we accept the numbers, he’s arguing frequency of medical conditions attributable to the foreskin, not the frequency of medically necessary circumcision. It’s fascinating, perhaps, but a transparent obfuscation. The anti-science charge is often leveled at activists here, but soap, water, antibiotics, steroids, condoms, and so on are also science. To start with the most extreme solution at the tiny prospect of a problem sometime in the future is ridiculous.

When she gets to the comparison of male and female genital cutting, she ignores the principle.

The single most irrational argument one often sees is the charge of moral equivalency between circumcision and female genital mutilation. FGM is a phenomenon that is, apart from both affecting the genitals, …

Apart from both affecting the genitals, indeed. Affecting the genitals of a healthy child who does not need or consent to the permanent alteration of said healthy genitals. Non-therapeutic genital cutting on a non-consenting individual is unethical. The individual has inherent rights to bodily integrity and autonomy from birth. Non-therapeutic circumcision violates those rights.

… quite separate from circumcision. Unlike circumcision, which removes an unnecessary piece of skin, …

Unnecessary circumcision removes a piece of skin. It’s the same words, but made objective rather than subjective. It’s the fact-based opposite of “heads I win, tails you lose”.

… in no way prevents natural and satisfying sexual function, …

In addition to calling back to the Payne study and Kay’s earlier comments about delayed orgasm, circumcision removes the foreskin, a natural part of the body. That is “natural”. Its mechanism is gone, so circumcision certainly prevents that function. And “satisfying” is subjective. Would all men prefer delayed orgasm and the loss of the foreskin? (I don’t.)

… FGM is a misogynistic practice created as a means for men to control women, …

Circumcision controls men. Its imposition is another’s assessment that the male’s body should be the way someone else prefers. It is then made that way (hopefully, except when complications occur, including possible death). The male is never asked. He is to say “thank you”, praise the imposition, and impose it on his sons as soon as they’re born.

Kay’s argument rests on control as intent rather than action. I doubt she would accept that parents cutting their daughter’s genitals for the reasons we allow them to cut their son’s genitals. She assumes their intent is always evil, but is it the intent or the act that matters here? If she believes intent with FGC is only what she writes, as she appears to believe, she should read more¹ on the topic. And then extrapolate back to the disparity in the intent and the violence of male circumcision.

… meant to prevent sexual desire and gratification in women to ensure their fidelity, and which removes a portion of the genitals absolutely vital to gratification. It is the very epitome of patriarchy, whereas circumcision is a rite of passage conceived by males for other males, and for thousands of years rooted solely in spiritually contractual language and meaning. Women who have been subjected to FGM invariably come from countries in which extreme misogyny is the norm. Circumcision carries no moral or gender-injustice baggage of this kind whatsoever.

I agree that FGM is awful. But it’s silly to repeatedly claim a definitive knowledge that male circumcision does not remove of portion of the genitals absolutely vital to gratification. She ignorantly cites bad summaries of studies and only uses groups of males circumcised at birth or as young children as reference points for this opinion. She doesn’t appear interested in males as individuals with rights and preferences of their own for their foreskins. (“Conceived by males for other males”.) Preference for the foreskin or circumcision is an individual decision. What other males prefer is only valid for themselves.

She closes by misunderstanding the ethics involved one last time, in a disgusting manner:

Parents deserve to be informed of all the evidence, pro and con, when the issue of circumcision arises. It is not necessary for the CPS to actively recommend circumcision to keep to the path of ethics and professional responsibility, but given the accumulation of evidence demonstrating the positive effects of circumcision, it would be unethical of the CPS – or any pediatricians individually – not to present the science available, or worse, to recommend against the procedure.

She’s dancing close to the silly proposition that boys have a right to grow up circumcised. The only ethical position is absolute opposition to (and prohibition of) all non-therapeutic genital cutting without the patient’s consent. It’s the right she recognizes for females. Her source (inadvertently?) recognizes that circumcision is rarely needed ever and can be (but likely won’t be) chosen later. She cites evidence of males who are dissatisfied with circumcision and being circumcised. But she ignores these in favor of her own biases. Cognitive dissonance (and a non-sequitur) is the best she can offer. She is ignorant. She should aim to be less ignorant.

¹ Consider Fuambai Sia Aahmadu, and from 2008.


I Guessed What Phase Two Involves

Posted: September 7th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: "Voluntary", Control, Ethics, HIV | No Comments »

Oh, what could this transition be?

The National Voluntary Medical Male Circumcision taskforce has rolled out the second phase of circumcision on regions with a high burden of HIV this time targeting over 1 million men.

The chairman of the Inter County Taskforce on Male Circumcision Dr Ojwang Lusi said the program is transitioning to the second phase of implementation that will run to July 2019.

We all guessed what this means.

The second phase will lower the circumcision age of boys to between 10-14 years.

I assume there’s a Phase Three – or an undocumented aspect of Phase Two – involving infant “men”. Predictably, it’s obvious why.

Lusi further noted that some challenges emerged in the first phase that they will strive to address as the second phase.

He said most of the men above 25 years declined to go for the exercise with limited number of women getting involved in the exercise with their husbands.

Men won’t volunteer, so child men get “volunteered”. As always with those who are unethical, because outcome matters instead of consent.


Joint Government Effort to Eradicate Consent

Posted: June 19th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: "Voluntary", Control, Ethics, HIV, Public Health | 2 Comments »

As always:

The Ministry Of Information and Communication Technology in partnership with the Ministry of Health and the centre for Disease Control in America are collaborating on a National Strategic framework known as the Voluntary Medical Male programme which is a joint government effort to eradicate the long struggle of HIV/AIDS infections.

HIV/AIDS has always been the countries top priority with the health ministry being pressured to reach their ambitious 2030 vision to bring HIV/AIDS infections to zero in the country.”The Centre for Disease Control and the Ministry of health have had three randomised controlled trial runs of the voluntary medical male circumcision programme prior to it’s launch in 2009. With the success of the programme around 20,000 sexual active males have been circumcised to date thus raising 80% awareness to men to encourage more males in considering medical circumcision,”said programme specialist Mr Dan Rutz of CDC.

Somehow success is measure in “males circumcised” without giving any statistics on HIV rates¹. So it’s easy to predict what “encouraging more males to consider ‘medical’² circumcision” means:

“Medical male circumcision has been found to be cost effective, as well as all procedures are free at clinics it has been known that healthy employers increases work productivity within any work environment which leads to a steady healthy work environment that enables the economy to grow,” added Rutz.All males that have not been circumcised are encouraged to do so as procedures can be performed at all local regional clinics in the country as government want to achieve it’s target to circumcise 330,000 men between 15 to 49 years by the end of 2016.The Ministry would also like to implement a national policy programme known as an Early Infant Circumcision strategy in the near future that will enable newly born babies to be circumcised.

“Enable”. Newborn males won’t get to consider or volunteer. They will be considered and volunteered, their needs, preferences, and preventative options deemed irrelevant. They are only pieces by which public health officials measure their own professional success.

As always, when public health officials discuss voluntary or adult circumcision, they never mean voluntary or adult.

¹ A drop in HIV infections would be welcome. It cannot justify violating ethical obligations to protect the rights of non-consenting individuals.

² Circumcision in this context is medicalized, not medical. Merely performing non-therapeutic genital cutting in a sterile operating environment does not make it necessary. This is also not a defensible term to justify performing non-therapeutic genital cutting on a person who does not offer explicit consent.


“Voluntary” Never Means “Voluntary”, Part Who Can Keep Count?

Posted: January 30th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: "Voluntary", Control, Ethics | No Comments »

Zimbabwe has a plan, because public health officials just know.

THE ministry of health has launched an ambitious US$100 million male circumcision programme that is expected to see at least 80 percent of the male population being voluntarily circumcised.

Some 400 235 males have been circumcised since 2009 with ministry managing to introduce the non-surgical method of circumcision at some sites and launch preliminary studies on infant male circumcision.

If the infants aren’t volunteered, they might not volunteer. So, as always, when public health officials propose voluntary, adult male circumcision, they never mean voluntary or adult. (e.g. EIMC) Bonus points to Zimbabwe’s health minister, I guess, because he didn’t pretend the plan was only aimed at adults. But, as I wrote in the PEPFAR-EIMC post, I suspect that means officials know they no longer need to pretend to care about ethics. That isn’t progress.


Flawed Circumcision Defense: The indecipherability of “ga ga goo goo ooga bahfah fum”

Posted: August 3rd, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Control, FCD, Parenting | 3 Comments »

Daulton Gatto asked to interview me. I agreed on the condition that he first answer a question from my last post. In response to Daulton’s alleged critiques of my “stupid arguments which claim to show that Mike Gatto likes to cut up baby boys’ wieners with surgical instruments,” I asked: “Why do you state my claim as something unconnected to what I’ve written?” I got something resembling an answer.

“Tony” seems to have taken issue with a statement I made in a previous post, which spoke to his implied belief that Mike Gatto likes to cut up baby boys’ wieners with surgical instruments. While I will acknowledge that Tony never actually stated such a belief in so many words, it is my position that his distorted interpretation of California AB 768 provides ample justification to draw such a conclusion.

The link you provide to California AB 768 doesn’t contradict my interpretation of the bill, which you excerpted in your answer. The rest of your answer appears to recognize that I interpreted the bill correctly. Instead, you’re agitated about this:

… I stated that [Mike Gatto] believes male minors do not have the same rights to their bodies as every other citizen of California. … But he incorrectly believes he and every other parent has the valid authority to choose, and, in his capacity as a legislator, to protect that authority in law.

That is the gist. The authority to impose non-therapeutic genital surgery on a child is illegitimate.

To which I respond:

Of course parents have the authority to have their infant children circumcised. Do you really expect a newborn baby to make this decision for himself? Or do you think that every single male in the world should be forced to wait until they gain legal control over their own medical care to have their stinky, ugly foreskin snipped off? As the proud owner of a smooth, polished penis … I can unequivocally state that my own experience with circumcision has been overwhelmingly positive …

Your thinking on this is too narrow. It’s absurd to imagine¹ that parental authority is specific within genital cutting so that it only applies to the healthy prepuce of a son but not the healthy prepuce of a daughter. As I wrote before, if parents have the authority you say they possess, that applies to control over their daughters’ genitals, too. It would be about the parents, not the child. Yet California law already prohibits this for exactly the reasons I state that non-therapeutic male circumcision is not a legitimate parental choice. Non-therapeutic genital cutting is an individual rights issue for the child (i.e. the surgical patient), which trumps this supposed parental right to proxy consent for sons only. The right to bodily integrity is the core of self-ownership and includes the genitals, even for male minors.

I don’t expect a newborn baby to make this decision, or any decision. But the standard for proxy consent (i.e. parental authority) is not “babies can’t make decisions for themselves”. And you have a curious understanding of what “force” entails. I think that every single male should be able to choose, absent medical need before he is able to decide for himself. No male should be forced to live with a circumcision he does not need, probably won’t need, and may not want. I don’t think this requires that he wait until he’s an adult to choose, but it should never be forced on him without need or his consent.

I’m happy for you that your experience with your circumcision has been positive. You don’t have to share my preference for my body. I don’t have to share your preference for your body. That’s the uncomplicated thing about individual preferences. They’re all subjective to the individual. A presumption of shared circumcision preference between a child and his parents is too convenient for public policy. It assumes away the value of self-ownership to the individual himself.

Parents have the legal right to make decisions about the medical care of their children until their children come of age. Otherwise, emergency rooms around the country would be filled with blubbering infants going “ga ga goo goo ooga bahfah fum” when doctors ask them whether or not they want their booster shots. …

I haven’t said anything suggesting otherwise about a general approach to parenting and its interaction with the State. I didn’t write that parents do not have the authority to make medical decisions, period. You’re not claiming I did, but this isn’t a good buildup for where you’re going with it.

… This legal right necessarily extends to circumcision, …

Necessarily? We agree that parents may choose circumcision where there is medical need, although I’ll add that there is an ethical duty to exhaust less invasive solutions first. This legal right does not “necessarily” extend to non-therapeutic circumcision. All you’ve done here is argue “Parents make decisions, Circumcision is a decision, Parents may decide on circumcision.”

… and the only objections are coming from a small minority of extremist demagogues who erroneously believe that Mike Gatto’s protection of parental rights is tantamount to supporting genital mutilation. …

I recommend that you look up the definition of demagogue again, and perhaps reread our series of posts after doing so, before tossing it around like that.

Mike Gatto protected genital mutilation. I do not know if he supports genital mutilation. Again, if AB768 bill protects a valid parental right, then the California penal code violates parental rights. Mike Gatto is duty-bound to try to correct that if he and you are correct about a parental right to have a child’s healthy genitals cut to satisfy their own preferences.

… I see no reason to offer a more thorough explanation, as it is my firm belief that your argument critiques itself by its circular and misguided nature. It’s Sunday, I’m hung over, and I can’t be bothered to make an exhaustive list of the endless number of logical fallacies you’ve and your supporters have committed.

Don’t worry, you were thorough enough to show the gaps in your argument.

¹ I take it as a given that you oppose female genital cutting, as prohibited in California law. Please correct me if I’ve assumed too much on that point.


The Majority of This Post’s Authors Oppose Unethical Practices

Posted: June 19th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: "Voluntary", Control, Ethics, Media Marketing | No Comments »

It’s no longer surprising to see the hyperbole concocted to make circumcision appear legitimate. The latest example comes from the Southern Africa HIV and AIDS Regional Exchange, which summarized a survey with the following:

New study in Kenya reveals the majority of women prefer circumcised partners

To summarize the study – Women’s Beliefs about Male Circumcision, HIV Prevention, and Sexual Behaviors in Kisumu, Kenya, by Thomas H. Riess, Maryline M. Achieng, and Robert C. Bailey – the way SHARE does is presposterous. The study involved 30 women, with 23 of them saying they preferred circumcised men. The proper way to summarize it is the second line from the abstract:

Women’s beliefs about MC and sexual behaviour will likely influence the scale-up and uptake of medical MC.

Counter to SHARE’s summary, the authors note (emphasis added):

There are limitations to this study. Since we relied on self-reports it is possible that some respondents could have fabricated answers or not fully disclosed information based on what is socially acceptable, particularly on sensitive topics such as sex and HIV. We did attempt to select respondents who were representative of sexually active women ages 18-35 but given the small sample size and geographic location of our research, our data might not be generalizable to other populations, particularly those where MC is not being promoted as HIV prevention. Our intention has been to gain insights into female perceptions and sexual behaviors related to MC in western Kenya in order to inform and improve programs scaling up MMC for HIV prevention in the region.

It’s misleading to report the study as revealing what the majority of women prefer.

Of course, it’s irrelevant what the majority of women prefer. The ethics center on what the male prefers for himself. In what ways could we rewrite this paragraph to allegedly demonstrate something about what women should do – or have done to them – to conform to the preferences of men?

Respondent: Actually, me personally, I hate uncircumcised men.
Interviewer: Why?
R: I just feel they are dirty and, … this last time, some other guy seduced me, … I didn’t know he was uncircumcised. So when we went out a bit for around four months, so it’s this day was he was telling me like we go to bed, after finding out that the guy is uncircumcised I just told him it can’t work. He should go get circumcised first and come back.
I: So how did he react?
R: Well actually he felt bad, but later he came to understand. That is when he went and got circumcised and we are together now. (25 year-old Luo woman)

Body shaming is body shaming, whoever its target may be. Repeatedly the excerpts emphasize a belief that circumcised men are “clean” and intact men are “dirty”. While the authors note this, and are perhaps genuine, in saying:

… While some women support MC based on their personal experience and beliefs, there may also be the potential for discrimination against uncircumcised men as circumcision programs scale up in sub-Saharan Africa. …

I find no reason to believe public health officials cared or will care. Discrimination is a strategy of these campaigns, as in this awful propaganda ad from Uganda. And the tactic is already paying the expected dividends. The interview excerpts in this study are evidence of that:

I: Do you desire circumcised men?
R: Of course a circumcised one (laughs).
I: Why not the uncircumcised one?
R: I don’t want diseases. (22 year-old Luo woman)

And:

I: And say you get some man who is not circumcised, what will you do?
R: You tell him that circumcision is good, a circumcised person has less chances of getting infected with these diseases, these minor diseases.
I: And if he still refuses?
R: If he refuses you just leave him. (27 year-old Luo woman)

The excerpts also reveal the well-tested “heads, circumcision wins / tails, foreskin loses” approach to sexual satisfaction.

… no matter how the lubrication is, that foreskin will, I don’t know, it moves … and then let me say they don’t stay long. … Yeah they didn’t stay long when you guys are the uncircumcised. Out of curiosity I did ask how come you don’t take long. They say like if that skin is moving it makes them crazy and they release so fast, and I said, okay. And then unlike the circumcised people maybe it’s to our advantage, the ladies, maybe it could be not to them but I think to our advantage they’ll take long. Like they might make you reach a peak faster than the uncircumcised. (23 year-old Luo woman)

The authors state that circumcision campaigns “should ensure that MMC promotion campaigns and counselling are clear that studies have shown that MC does not affect male time to ejaculation.” But campaigns like this count on individuals to sell the message, however well they grasp or fail to grasp that message. Intentionally engaging people to market on behalf of public officials involves spreading anecdotal evidence. There is no comfort or absolution in “the studies show” once they’ve started the game of telephone.

There also remains the possibility that the sources for the claim that circumcision does not affect male time to ejaculation are inaccurate. Note, too, that whether or not the male considers this change good is nowhere to be found. The ethical issue remains absent in this push for networked propaganda.


The Equation Is Unnecessary Genital Cutting Minus Consent

Posted: March 23rd, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: "Voluntary", Control, Ethics, FCD, FGM, Logic, Media Marketing, Parenting, Politics | 1 Comment »

Many have heaped scorn on Mary Elizabeth Williams’ Salon piece that criticized Alan Cumming for calling male circumcision genital mutilation and comparing it to female genital mutilation. This scorn is deserved.

Alan Cumming wants to tell you about his penis. He wants it to be a shining example to the world. In a candid interview with Drew Grant this week in the New York Observer, the 49-year-old Scottish actor reveals his strong opinions on “Girls,” naughty cellphone pictures, and, most controversially, circumcision. Or as he puts it, “genital mutilation.”

“There’s a double-standard, which is that we condemn the people who cut off girls’ clitorises, but when it happens to boys,” Cumming says. “I mean, it is the most sensitive part of their bodies, it has loads of nerve endings, and it can go horribly wrong. I’m speaking out against it … I’m just so suspicious of the medical industry, which just flings pills at people to ensure everyone is reliant on things. ‘Here are some pills, Mommy. Take them, and we’ll take your baby away and hack its thing off, and then we’ll bill you for that too.’”

I don’t share Mr. Cumming’s view of the medical industry. Its complicity strikes me as cultural inertia and cowardice. My experience suggests that profit-driven focus on circumcision is limited, although it motivates some. But that’s a distraction. The key is that he is correct about the comparison.

Circumcision of a healthy male minor is mutilation of that male’s genitals. To be valid, it must involve his consent prior to the surgery, not assumed to be later granted retroactively. This is the standard inherent in 18 USCS § 116, which criminalizes all non-therapeutic genital cutting on female minors without regard for parental justifications or potential benefits. The difference we imagine is an accident in the history of Western child genital cutting.

Later in the essay:

… And earlier this week, protesters threatened to disrupt Bill and Melinda Gates’ TED Vancouver talk because of their organization’s efforts to increase the practice in Africa as a means of “limiting the spread of HIV in the parts of Sub-Saharan Africa.”

There is good reason to find the work of the Gates Foundation repugnant, as it pertains to male circumcision. It speaks in the euphemism of voluntary medical male circumcision, when it also means infant circumcision. This is unethical because it violates the principles of bodily integrity and consent. And this study, commissioned and funded by the Gates Foundation, hardly provides reassurance when examining the context of WHO and UNAIDS, who think violating this human right of male children can be legitimized through question begging. Mental gymnastics like that are not admirable.

Cumming’s equation of circumcision with female genital mutilation is an insultingly inaccurate one — boys are not circumcised as a ritualized means of suppressing their future sexual enjoyment,

Although it’s easy to find similar defenses of male circumcision, ritual or not, this implies that the critical issue is intent rather than outcome. Female genital mutilation, in all its forms, is wrong because the female is mutilated, not because she is mutilated for “bad” reasons. Some reasons given are the same as those for male circumcision. And not all females who were mutilated reject or condemn it. Yet all reasons for surgically altering the healthy genitals of a female minor are still bad. This focuses on the principles and facts involved, not our feelings.

Notice, too, how often erroneous claims like “[t]here is no evidence whatsoever to support the notion that it affects function, sensation or satisfaction” are made about male circumcision, as it’s made with that quote from Williams’ link to reader comments on an article. The statement is wrong on its face because circumcision changes the function. If you change the form, you change the function. The function of the penis, including its structure, should not be lazily defined as “to have sex” or something similarly ridiculous. The foreskin is normal anatomy with functions for the penis and belongs to its owner.

The quote is disputable on sensation, considering the (anecdotal) arguments in favor of male circumcision stating that males can “last longer“. Consider the heads I win/tails you lose efforts of Brian Morris here, as all outcomes are assumed to be favorable to overall satisfaction, even when the studies cited do not involve anything near 100% on the subjective evaluation of satisfaction.

nor does a clean male circumcision compare with the often crude, blunt and unsanitary practice of female genital mutilation.

Those qualifiers obfuscate. What about clean female genital cutting compared with crude, blunt, and unsanitary male circumcision? A sterile surgical environment does not grant legitimacy to a rights violation. Again, the act is what matters. There are degrees of harm possible, but the inevitability of harm requires first priority, whatever the degree.

The World Health Organization calls FGM “a violation of the human rights of girls and women” with consequences that include “severe pain, shock, hemorrhage (bleeding), tetanus or sepsis (bacterial infection), urine retention, open sores in the genital region and injury to nearby genital tissue,” while it in contrast notes, “There is compelling evidence that male circumcision reduces the risk of heterosexually acquired HIV infection in men by approximately 60%.”

WHO also explains that female genital mutilation “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.” There is no unethical caveat for “but if we find some benefits to female health, or even male health, we’d have to weigh mutilating injury against potential benefits.” That unethical caveat is always applied to male genital mutilation, as Williams does here. An adult male volunteering is not the same as an infant male being volunteered. Consent is the issue, not how horrible female genital mutilation usually is or how innocuous and/or beneficial male circumcision appears to be. Non-therapeutic genital cutting on a healthy individual who does not consent is unethical. It involves harm. Gender is irrelevant to the principle.

One can argue, quite persuasively, about whether the practice of circumcision still has validity here in the West, especially among those who don’t have a religious directive. What’s needed, however, is education and enlightenment, so families can make the healthiest choices for their children. …

I reject the premise. This is a not a decision parents should be allowed to make for their children. The argument that parents may decide this for their healthy children requires this decision to be a parental right. If it’s a parental right, then the prohibition of non-therapeutic genital cutting on daughters is indefensible. The basis for thinking about genital cutting can’t be girls and the parents of boys. That’s absurd.

… It’s not helpful to make far-fetched comparisons, and it certainly isn’t constructive to imply that men and boys who are circumcised are somehow damaged, “mutilated” goods. That’s a shaming technique that serves no one, one that turns having a foreskin into a bragging point. …

Why are we only worried about shaming men and boys by using the term “mutilation”? Isn’t there the possibility or likelihood that women and girls will feel shamed if we describe their genitals as mutilated? Are the psyches of females more able to handle facts?

There is a difference in stating a fact and demanding a value judgment from that fact. The bodies of males who were circumcised as children were mutilated. Their rights were violated. Circumcised males are not obligated to think this is bad or shameful. The obligation (for everyone) rests in understanding that it is unacceptable to perpetuate this violation on their children or to permit its continued practice in society.

Or to put it in terms of individual autonomy, circumcision mutilated me through the deprivation of an essential¹ part of my body. Where I had a normal human foreskin, I now have only scars. My penis is mutilated. No one gets to reject that fact for me. But I do not feel shame. This sense that males might feel shame is what encourages parents to circumcise their sons for conformity. We have to stop being afraid of shame. We’ll achieve that only when we are no longer afraid to state that shame belongs with those who circumcise, not those who are circumcised.

… And it’s an unfair judgment coming from a man who admits, “I myself don’t have kids. I just have managers, assistants, agents and publicists.”

I feel second-hand embarrassment, so that at least someone feels what her statement deserves.

¹ Quibble with essential as something other than an obvious stand-in for normal, and I’ll roll my eyes and ask if normal parts of female genitalia are essential.


Brian Earp Confronts the Genital Cutting Double Standard

Posted: February 26th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Control, Ethics, FGM | 1 Comment »

I’ve discussed the comparison between male circumcision and female genital cutting/mutilation in depth across various posts. In a great post, titled Female genital mutilation (FGM) and male circumcision: time to confront the double standard, Brian Earp discusses the principled comparison in a single post that should become the “Go To” link. It’s worth the read because it’s so thorough and sourced. I know there are people who will read that and remain unconvinced. That is not because the proof isn’t there. He demonstrates the complexity that dismisses the “FGM is always the worst extreme/male circumcision is always the best extreme” that perpetuates superficial thinking on the principled comparison.

Again, it’s all worth reading, but I like this the best (links in original):

So what are the implications here? Given that both male and female forms of genital cutting express different cultural norms depending upon the context, and are performed for different reasons in different cultures, and even in different communities or individual families, how are we meant to assess the permissibility of either one? Do we need to interview each set of parents to make sure that their intended act of cutting is intended as an expression of acceptable norms? If they promise that it isn’t about “sexual control” in their specific case, but rather about “hygiene” or “aesthetics” or something less symbolically problematic, should they be permitted to go ahead? But this is bound to fail. Every parent who requests a genital-altering surgery for their child – for whatever reason under the sun – thinks that they are acting in the child’s best interests; no one thinks that they are “mutilating” their own offspring. Thus it is not the reason for the intervention that determines its permissibility, but rather the consequences of the intervention for the person whose genitals are actually on the line. …

That’s the truth missing from society’s moral relativism. One is judged on outcome alone, with intent assumed from the outcome. The other is judged on intent alone, with outcome assumed from the intent¹. For female genital cutting we focus on the female. For male genital cutting we focus on the parents. That’s the mistake. Separate approaches for the same inherent violation – non-therapeutic genital cutting on a non-consenting individual – cannot hold under inspection. Earp’s post is great for revealing that error with such clarity.

¹ This is especially maddening because the intent we assume and praise is not benign.


Renee Lute’s Circumcision Decision Deserves No Respect

Posted: October 11th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: "Voluntary", Control, Ethics, FCD, FGM, Logic, Media Marketing, Pain, Parenting, Science | No Comments »

At The Good Men Project Renee Lute makes a request: Please Respect Our Circum-Decision. It only requires a short response: No. Still, her essay is worth analyzing to explain why the only answer is “no”.

Circumcision on a healthy child is a permanent body alteration without the child’s consent. I’m under no obligation to respect that. I do not believe anyone should respect that. If Lute understood circumcision as well as she claims, she’d understand how absurd it is to request respect for her decision from someone who recognizes this surgical intervention as the human rights violation it is.

She is, of course, due a respectful rejection of her request. I will not engage in ad hominem, nor will I call her names as a result of what she intends to do. Anyway, facts and logic are enough to demonstrate her errors.

She begins:

… I’m apologizing to [my unborn son] for writing this piece, because now the world will know just a little bit about the future state of his penis, and most little boys don’t have to deal with that. …

This common theme is strange. Intact genitals are the human default. Unnecessary intervention is the only reason the status of a child’s genitals is considered an issue if people know, as if knowing is a Big Deal. Or, rather, unnecessary intervention is the only reason the status of a boy’s genitals is considered an issue if people know. This bizarre reality is the result of intervening, not some inherent shame in having others know we have human genitals.

That gets to the reason why I won’t respect her and her husband’s decision for their unborn son. A daughter’s normal, healthy genitals are off-limits for surgical intervention, and rightly so. Those who recognize the ethics involved as gender-neutral must stand against the opinion that a son’s normal, healthy genitals can be subjected to surgical intervention. (There will be more on the valid comparison below.)

She discusses Mark Joseph Stern’s terrible Slate piece (my post) and Brian Earp’s reply at The Good Men Project. She writes:

Neither of these articles really threw me. I know the arguments against circumcision, and I know the arguments for circumcision. What did surprise me, however, was what I found in the comments section under The Good Men Project article. …

Never read the comments. We know that doesn’t mean “never read the comments”. But it’s a reminder that the Internet is a place for bad manners and emotional responses. That’s particularly true in comment sections. Discussion of circumcision is no different. I’m not excusing the behavior. The rude, hateful, and misogynistic garbage is wrong and needs to stop. But reasoned proponents of bodily integrity, as I aim to be, have our argument harmed only in the sense that someone is willing to generalize about those who disagree based on the miscreants that any group has.

… I am not a circumcision enthusiast. In fact, I could not care less whether other people circumcise their sons or not. Do it if you want! Don’t if you don’t want! But I am begging you—begging you—to not make families who choose to circumcise their sons feel like they are abusers of children, or human rights violators.

“Do it if you want! Don’t if you don’t want!” is the false argument. What does the child who will live with the circumcision want? That is the core. Without knowing what he will want, imposing it as a non-therapeutic intervention is a human rights violation. I suppose it’s unfortunate if that makes someone feel bad about circumcising their healthy son(s). But I recognize that my parents violated my rights when they circumcised me. I won’t pretend¹ that someone else circumcising their son isn’t violating his rights because stating a truth makes them feel bad about the choice they make. (I do not take a position on how individual males should feel about being circumcised.)

Why am I going to have my son circumcised? Because his father and I have done our reading. We’ve talked about it, and we’ve made our decision. There are legitimate reasons. Circumcision eliminates the risk of phimosis (in which a foreskin is tight and cannot be fully pulled back, which makes cleaning and passing urine difficult, and increases the risk of penile cancer). This affects 1 in 10 older boys and men. Circumcision reduces the risk of inflammation and infection of the head of the penis and the foreskin, and greatly reduces the risk of urinary tract infections in infants. Uncircumcised men have a 15-60% increased risk of prostate cancer (which affects 1 in 6 men). [1] We are not uneducated about circumcision. …

That last line is not necessarily true, given what comes before it in that paragraph. The sole source cited for this knowledge is a pamphlet by Brian Morris, which contains no sourcing of its own. (Some of the material in this excerpt is verbatim from Morris, without quotes to indicate as much.) It contains information that is biased and exaggerated.

To the claim that circumcision eliminates the risk of phimosis, this is incorrect. Contrary to the risk of phimosis being a “legitimate reason” to circumcise a healthy child, the ethical standard is that the risk of complications is a legitimate reason to refrain from intervening on a healthy child. Remember, too, that Brian Morris is the cited source for the 1 in 10 claim. He’s stated that all boys are born with phimosis, which is false. Even if the statistic is true, it is that phimosis will affect 1 in 10, not that it will require circumcision in 1 in 10. This mirrors his claim in the pamphlet that “the foreskin leads to 1 in 3 uncircumcised boys developing a condition requiring medical attention.” A condition requiring medical attention is not a synonym for circumcision. This is a rhetorical sleight of hand. The true incidence of medical need for circumcision within an intact male’s life is approximately 1%, which includes for phimosis.

As for the “15-60% increased risk of prostate cancer” statistic, that is a correlation, not a proven fact. “Circumcision before first sexual intercourse is associated with a reduction in the relative risk of PCa in this study population.” To quote the author, “‘These data suggest a biologically plausible mechanism through which circumcision may decrease the risk of prostate cancer,’ said study researcher Dr. Jonathan Wright, an assistant professor of urology at the University of Washington School of Medicine. He noted that the study was observational; it did not show a cause-and-effect link.”

She continues:

… One of the aforementioned commenters wrote that anyone who would have their child circumcised should have to experience it themselves, first. Well, my husband has experienced it (and remarkably, he gave me his permission to tell the world just now), …

I don’t like that pointless suggestion because it invites that pointless rebuttal.

…and while I have not gone through the completely incomparable horror of female circumcision (I am not going to detail why it’s incomparable here, but I do encourage you to research the differences if you don’t know what they are. You’ll find some information here), …

I know what the differences are. I know what the similarities are. The difference is in degree, not in kind. That difference in degree can be great, of course, but non-therapeutic genital-cutting on an individual without the individual’s consent is not a gendered principle. The WHO defines female genital mutilation as “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.” The perceived difference², including in the link Lute provides, rests on what constitutes a medical versus non-medical reason. If we assume the “no known health benefits” argument against FGM turned into “known health benefits”, would people change their mind and decide it’s no longer mutilation? Some might say “yes”. They’d be wrong. I suspect most people would not change their conclusion. As the WHO states, FGM “also violates a person’s rights to health, security and physical integrity, the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and the right to life when the procedure results in death.” That would still hold true if their were potential benefits. It holds true for male circumcision, as well.

… My husband and I aren’t unfamiliar with pain, and we are willing to put our child through a moment of discomfort for the benefits this procedure provides. Kind of like we’re willing to put our child through a moment of discomfort for the benefits that vaccinations provide.

But is their child son willing to have the moment (i.e. 1+ week) of discomfort and a lifetime without his foreskin for the potential benefits this procedure provides? (Remember from above that the Lutes do not appear to understand the benefits.)

Circumcision is not like a vaccination. Vaccinations work with the body’s immune system to trigger disease resistance. Circumcision merely removes a part of the body because it might cause a problem later. The comparison needs critical thinking beyond “prevents disease”, lest we further open parental decision-making to other ridiculous interventions.

This piece is both explanatory and pleading. I am pleading with you. Don’t make these perfectly well intentioned families—like us—feel like monsters because you’ve decided to go a different way with your own sons. We’re doing something different, and that’s okay. We each have our reasons. I don’t care whether you breastfeed or formula feed. I don’t care whether you co-sleep or have your babies in their own cribs, and I don’t care whether you’ve named your child something completely traditional (like Kate) or whether she’ll be answering to Zenith for the rest of her life. I’m asking for the same courtesy.

It’s okay to do something different. It is not okay to do this something different. You can’t respect one right of your son less than the same right of his sister and brush it aside as “parenting”. If someone asks me to respectfully tell them they’re wrong, I agree with that request for decency. But I will not respect what is obviously indefensible and deeply offensive to basic human rights.

¹ I don’t call circumcision “abuse”. (c.f. Truth and Loaded Words)

² The other mistake is in thinking that FGM is designed to control sexuality, but that male circumcision isn’t and doesn’t. It controls male sexuality because it forces a specific form on the child for his genitals. (e.g. It’s more aesthetically appealing to women.)

There is also a history, up to the present, in circumcision reducing sexuality. Read Moses Maimonides or this.


Know the Facts That Discredit Infant Circumcision

Posted: June 23rd, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: "Voluntary", Control, Public Health | No Comments »

In a typical example of the “Facts About Circumcision” genre of public health journalism, this version from Zimbabwe demonstrates the usual public health misunderstanding of consent.

Reports that the Health ministry would make neonatal circumcision mandatory has also raised serious concerns.

But National Male Circumcision Coordinator in the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare, Sinokuthemba Xaba said male circumcision in Zimbabwe remained a voluntary procedure for adult males, neonates and infants.

“Those who are below 18 years have to have a consent form that is signed by a parent or legal guardian to allow them to go through with the procedure,” said Xaba. “In this regard, the programme remains voluntary and when the Health ministry rolls out Early Infant Male Circumcision, it will still be voluntary, where the parent volunteers and signs the consent form to allow the male child to be circumcised.”

This interpretation butchers all meaning from the word voluntary. Circumcision forced onto a healthy child who can’t provide his consent to permanent bodily alteration is not “voluntary”. Ignoring the healthy patient shows a belief that consent is a form to be signed rather than a concept for respecting basic human rights.

Xaba said there was a study that was being done to ascertain the safety of infant circumcision.

“It is focusing on the safety, feasibility and acceptability of early infant male circumcision,” said Xaba.

Sure it will be studied, but without studying the acceptability of early infant male circumcision to the male being circumcised in early infancy. It rarely means anything to public health officials that the number of males unhappy being circumcised as infants is non-zero. They do not concern themselves with individual rights. Their population is one, “the public”. As such, they never mean voluntary when they use the word voluntary.

For example:

“The programme will only be availed and rolled out, based on the findings of this study. Therefore, when it is available, it will be a safe procedure for the infants.”

It will be available. It will be inflicted on non-consenting infants. The outcome of the study – of acceptability – is known before it’s completed.

The article contains some discussion of legitimate individual consent and rights from citizens. There are rational voices for individual rights, but one pro-infant circumcision comment reveals a truth I’ve discussed before that is too often overlooked (or denied, contrary to evidence):

Some women said child circumcision was an opportunity to take control of their children’s destiny and shape it into a brighter future.

“It is all for their benefit, so I do not see where the issue of rights is coming from,” said Memory Mhishi, a shop assistant in a clothing boutique along First street.

This¹ is the belief that intention matters more than action. The attitude is that as long as parents intend to do good, we must not question the means within currently accepted standards. We must adhere to that even in areas where infant circumcision is now being introduced, as opposed to it being a long-standing tradition. But that demand is preposterous. Forced genital cutting for whatever non-therapeutic potential benefit parents seek is inherently a form of control. It’s a statement that the child should want this and, because he might reject it, his choice may be taken away from him “for his benefit”. That is indefensible if human rights matter. Human rights matter.

¹ Please please please do not focus on “Some women…” in that quote. If you obsess on that, you’re injecting your own agenda and problems into the debate that should be focused on protecting the bodies and rights of children. Men/fathers say the same thing “some women” told the author.