Start a pilot project on the ethics of consent

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”

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.

Science is more than intervention

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.

And:

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.

http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs241/en/

*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.

Finally:

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?

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.

Circumcision Is

In a comment on a post last month, paper0airplane wrote:

Sorry this comment had a typo, and now apparently my blog is being screen capped and line by line minutia is being debated so I want to make sure there’s no confusion or conspiracy theory because I delete or edit the comment lol.

Act shocked when I note that paper0airplane has used screen caps five times in posts in the last month. Some of that appeared to be in direct response to my criticism of unsupported claims. And I’m not actually criticizing the use of screen caps. I think they can be useful, as some of those links show, even if their point is incorrectly generalized. If it helps make the point, and they’re presented as fairly as possible, why not? For example, they can demonstrate when someone deleted a post, as this screenshot shows that paper0airplane deleted a post without comment.

That’s merely an intro for my “line by line minutia” response to this post.

Medical Circumcision and Brit Milah is not…

Circumcision is not rape

On the obvious intent of that statement, I agree. This has been the biggest frustration for me recently. It’s offensive. It isn’t effective. There’s more nuance involved, which I addressed in Truth and Loaded Words, but that isn’t how “circumcision is rape” is used. So, here, the core point remains. I agree with paper0airplane.

Circumcision is not violence

To the extent that paper0airplane probably means “intent” to injure or harm, sure. But that’s a pedantic way to address it. Circumcision is violence. There is a foreskin. Then there isn’t a foreskin. The foreskin doesn’t just fall off without specific action. That action is violence.

Circumcision is not dangerous

Again, I suspect paper0airplane means “intent”. Again, that’s a pedantic way to address it. Or the claim is that complications are usually minor. Either way, it’s wrong. Circumcision is objectively dangerous. There is always risk involved. How dangerous it is and whether that danger is worth the trade-offs are subjective. The problem here is that in paper0airplane’s view, the subjective preference of a (male only) child’s parents is enough to ignore the objective danger involved without concern for the child’s preference (or – obviously – need, as the circumcision we’re discussing is non-therapeutic). If circumcision weren’t dangerous, the death rate would be zero. The complication rate would be zero. Neither rate is zero. And there is objective harm in every instance. Circumcision is dangerous. When circumcision isn’t therapeutic, proxy consent is unethical.

Circumcision does not ruin your sex life

Probably, although I hope we can agree that a boy who loses his penis or his life probably has a ruined sex life. Policy from the margins is usually bad. Ignoring the margins for policy is usually bad. This does the latter, which is unacceptable here because there are individual human rights involved. It’s foolish and cruel to treat individuals as mere statistics within the group. We can’t know which boys will actually have their sex life ruined. We can know that some will. For a non-therapeutic intervention, that is indefensible.

Circumcision does not mean your parents didn’t love you

Circumcision is almost never the reason you’re not enjoying sex

Almost certainly, although the same caveat about the margins applies.

Circumcision does not increase sales of Viagra or increase ED

I wouldn’t make the opposite claim because I can’t prove it. A citation for the negative claim would be appropriate for such a definitive stance.

Circumcision does not make someone a pervert

I read this as “circumcising”, not “being circumcised”. Both are obvious. To the former, support for bodily integrity rights for all people (i.e. opposition to non-therapeutic male child circumcision) does not make someone a pervert, either, despite the ease with which some propagandists casually lob that smear. To the latter, being circumcised does not guarantee a preference for being circumcised, regardless of how many times someone like Brian Morris¹ trots out the irrelevant “regarded by most men and women as being more attractive”.

Circumcision does not make someone a cripple

In the generalized context, this is true. How much can we debate the crippling effect of rare-but-serious complications from (non-therapeutic) circumcision? This is about individual rights, so individual outcomes matter.

Circumcision is not replaceable with a made up ceremony for Jewish boys

It seems like there are Jewish individuals who disagree with that point. Even if that false claim were true, individual rights in a civil society must trump the religious rights of another individual over that person when the rite inflicts objective harm. Circumcision inflicts objective harm, regardless of the obvious-but-irrelevant implication above that parents do not intend harm. Of course they don’t, usually. But circumcision always inflicts harm. So, even if I grant paper0airplane’s point here, it’s irrelevant. Religions must adapt, not human rights.

Circumcision is not to blame for everything wrong in the world

Agreed.

Circumcision is not on the decline

Please provide a citation. Even Brian Morris recognizes that circumcision among newborns has declined. That paper claims an increase to 81%, but I hope we can agree that an increase from 79% to 81% among 14 to 59 year old males is hardly the demographic in this debate. Where those 14 to 18 who don’t consent matter here, the remaining males in that group are irrelevant to this part of the debate. (Note, too, that he states, “Delay puts the child’s health at risk and will usually mean it will never happen.” A delay that means circumcision will usually never happen means that circumcision will never be necessary or needed. That’s damning.)

Circumcision is not used to routinely acquire foreskins for cosmetic or medical uses and never without parent’s informed consent

This asks used and routinely to do too much work, to the point of question begging. Are neonatal foreskins routinely used for cosmetic or medical purposes? No, I don’t think so. Does it happen? Yes. Whatever happens to the foreskin matters, whether it’s used for another purpose or is tossed in an incinerator. It matters because the foreskin belongs/belonged to the individual, not his parents. Their informed (or uninformed, which is also permitted) consent to this non-therapeutic surgery isn’t sufficient to negate his right to self-ownership. A male’s foreskin is part of his self. He owns it.

And until things change with presentation…

Intactivism will not succeed at changing minds.

That’s a weirdly broad statement. But I agree with the implication that making unsupported claims, tossing around hyperbole, and generally being an ass are unhelpful, at best. In the sense that people who nominally share a goal with me believe those are acceptable, there is work to do. And I’ll state it as many times as it takes for the point to be internalized into others’ activism, circumcision is not rape. This claim is offensive and unhelpful.

May I trust that the same expectation to improve one’s activism applies to those who (mistakenly) believe that parents have a right to choose genital cutting (for their sons only – of course, somehow)?

¹ I never provide hyperlinks to Brian Morris’ site. Throw a dart at any paper he’s authored and you’ll probably find this claim. Regardless, the specific quote is from the summary page of his site.

Error 404 proves paper0airplane’s “Standards for thee, not for me”

An image for your consideration:

paper0airplane-Error404

That link is http://thecaseagainstintactivism.wordpress.com/2014/08/09/choose-intact/, but that page no longer exists. Remember, that’s the page where paper0airplane wrote in the comments that “the post I’m responding to appears to have been edited somewhat, and included a blurb about someone else in a middle of an article about my posts. Interesting.” The only thing interesting is how that post is now gone (i.e. “edited somewhat”) and paper0airplane will almost certainly continue the smear tactics with zero acknowledgement of how cowardly and dishonest that behavior is. And how ironic, given paper0airplane’s complaints. Again, should that behavior reflect poorly on everyone who shares the mistaken view that parents should be able to choose non-therapeutic genital cutting for their children sons only? Or should it reflect poorly on only paper0airplane (and anyone who explicitly¹ endorses it? I still choose the latter.

I’d like to say that makes me happy. Maybe it should, since it’s an obvious vindication of what I’ve said and a self-inflicted error by paper0airplane. But I bet it’ll be pyrrhic. Why should I doubt that paper0airplane will continue smearing as if all people must own the behavior of a few and will continue imagining this standard applies only to opponents? The evidence I’ve presented suggests I shouldn’t doubt my reservations about paper0airplane.

The details from paper0airplane’s now-deleted post can still be read in my post.

**********

¹ Unlike paper0airplane, I know what the word explicit means. The standard is on the accuser, not the accused. In an acknowledged edit to a post, paper0airplane wrote:

EDITED TO ADD

I suppose it’s obvious that I don’t feel that it’s necessary to post any commentary on this. However, I am shocked that so little response was given to such a heinous thread. Why is this ok, intactivists? Sure, a few prominent intactivists distanced themselves FROM THIS POST. FROM THIS OPINION. But not THIS PERSON. To me, that is an EXPLICIT acceptance of this behavior.

This is not ok.

That is not what explicit means. If someone distanced themselves “from this post”, that’s an explicit rejection of this behavior. Perhaps the rejection needs to be stronger. (e.g. Was my response sufficient?) Yes or no, that is a different argument. But it should be obvious that an explicit rejection is not an explicit acceptance, unless one believes in “Heads I win, Tails you lose”, as paper0airplane’s behavior demonstrates.

Deplorable Behavior in Screenshots

8/12/14 Edit: I’ve edited the links in this post because the html was broken. All content remains unchanged.

Disclaimer: Based on what I documented in my last post, I’m unconvinced this disclaimer will be noted or accurately represented by paper0airplane, but I write it with the common usage of the words: The behavior in the linked screenshots is deplorable. It isn’t something I support.

I asked for evidence to support paper0airplane’s accusation that a “prominent intactivist … has decided to set up a database of circumcised boys.” I said it was deplorable and that “[m]y guess is that it’s true,” while asking for a source. That was a simple demand that brought a ridiculous response (that didn’t source direct criticism with a link to my post). That response, addressed here, included this in a comment:

… It’s not a problem to provide their sources. However, I am pretty sure that even if I were to, that fact wouldn’t make it into the blog post.

In what I presume is a passive-aggressive challenge, paper0airplane posted two screenshots to support part of the original claim. I encourage you to review them. They’re repugnant and deplorable. Learn from them what the behavior of an ass can include.

I, of course, expect it to be completely obvious that my original point stands. It is not appropriate to assign the bad behavior of a person to every person who shares a nominal goal. I expect paper0airplane’s behavior in this series of posts to reflect only on paper0airplane, and not well. But anyone else who also incorrectly believes parental choice is legitimate for non-therapeutic child circumcision is not responsible for paper0airplane. I expect the same basic courtesy, which reflects my belief that people are individuals first.

For the record, I do not know the person mentioned in the screenshots, as I wrote twice, nor am I aware of any alias Facebook accounts she might use. I do not use Facebook for my activism.

As for the database mentioned in the screenshots, I have questions.

  • I’m with paper0airplane’s point from the original post. Why? This database doesn’t achieve anything toward ending the practice of non-therapeutic child circumcision.
  • Where is she getting her data? Medical records are private. HIPAA is supposed to protect this data. Is it collected from what people post publicly on Facebook?
  • Is there evidence that this website exists or is under construction? Is there a URL? Is it “merely” pointless, damaging trolling?

The comments in the screenshots aren’t dated, so I don’t know when they occurred. Also, this doesn’t provide evidence that the person was arrested for harassment.

Standards for thee, not for me

Partial Synopsis: Deplorable behavior is deplorable, even and especially when it is from people with whom I purportedly agree on a goal. There, so that it’s not missed or misunderstood below.

In my last post about The Case Against Intactivism, I wrote that I think “paper0airplane’s overall approach is that the good intactivists should call themselves something else because the bad intactivists are ruining the term.” I don’t think I believe that any more. Maybe it’s just a week of sloppy blogging from paper0airplane, but this post, Invite Crazy, and its comments do not suggest a willingness to recognize even the most obvious nuance. It’s a smear job.

From the beginning:

The truth about intactivism is that, in the vein of Pro-Life zealots, it is becoming more and more extreme. It’s hard to believe there as many intactivists as there are (though truthfully, there aren’t that many). Honestly, it’s fine with me if you have an ethical objection to circumcision, but medically, there are benefits. It’s up to each parent to decide if those benefits are worth it. It’s up to each parent to decide if it’s culturally or religiously relevant to their family. It’s not up to intactivists. Unfortunately, they’ve decided that it is or should be.

This question begging is not a refutation of the ethical objection to non-therapeutic circumcision of a child. There are potential benefits, both medical and cultural. So what? There are harms and risks, too. The ethical question involves self-ownership, not merely “can we maybe achieve something according to someone else’s subjective preferences” or “but it’s easier if we do it to children”. Bodily integrity applies to the foreskin, just as it applies to every other part of a child’s body, male or female.

In paper0airplane’s paragraph, you see no mention that circumcision has both harms (i.e. costs) and risks. In the comments, paper0airplane writes that doctors are “not harming babies.” That is legally and factually incorrect. Legally, although I am not an attorney, this is basic torts. All surgery is harm. It’s a form of battery. The defense is consent. So it’s not correct to state that doctors are not harming¹ babies. There was a foreskin, then there isn’t. There were nerve endings, then they’re severed. There wasn’t a scar, then there is. There is also surgical risk. This isn’t debatable, although we can. Those are objective harms. The question of harm implicit in paper0airplane’s statement is that of net harm, which is different and subjective. My non-therapeutic circumcision, for example, is a net harm to me because I value all the subjective factors involved differently than my parents valued them, including aesthetics, and I live with my circumcision, not them.

The defense to these harms is, of course, that doctors have consent from parents. The debate centers on the extent to which proxy consent is valid. Intactivists argue that proxy consent should not be sufficient for non-therapeutic genital cutting on male minors, just as it is already not sufficient for non-therapeutic genital cutting on female minors. A male owns his prepuce from birth as much as a female owns her prepuce from birth, and to the same extent that either owns their toes and fingers and legs and arms and so on. There is no magical distinction for the prepuce of a male minor within bodily integrity. There is a valid ethical argument paper0airplane did not refute in that paragraph.

In the comments, paper0airplane reminds that this is a philosophical question. Yep. But the argument that potential (subjective) benefits dismiss ethical concerns is also a philosophical question. For all the criticism of intactivists, some valid, it’s bizarre to approach this with a “Heads I win, Tails you lose” standard, which is still an unconvincing and indefensible rhetorical tactic. Should I assume all proponents of gendered parental rights² approve of this propaganda technique, or is it wiser to direct my criticism at those who engage in it? For me it’s the latter.

A prominent intactivist, who was recently arrested for harassment, and whose revolting commentary on the death of AIDS workers was decried even by other prominent intactivists, including her mentor, Brother K, has decided to set up a database of circumcised boys. This is extremely unnecessary, invasive and honestly just weird. A man can simply look into his pants if he is curious about the status of his foreskin. He knows who his parents are, and can find out who his doctor was. The database is the workings of a mind who is unable to figure out where the boundaries are.

What I read there is that intactivists are attempting to self-police a deplorable tactic. But since that isn’t the lesson I’m supposed to take, let me demonstrate that it is. Just as celebrating the death of AIDS researchers is deplorable, setting up a database of circumcised boys is deplorable. It has no justifiable defense. If I had knowledge of this, I’d criticize it directly. But I don’t, which it’s why it’s critical that paper0airplane provide a source for this claim. My guess is that it’s true, but for someone who criticizes intactivists for playing loose with facts to then accuse without providing evidence for the accusation is embarrassing.

Another prominent intactivist spent 30 years parading with the crotch of his pants painted red, holding signs and taking weird photos of the public that walks by. The easiest question is why. The next question is what does he gain by doing this? An unfortunate answer comes in the way of screen shots of him asking for photos of young boys penises. Not just once, but twice, and probably more. I think it’s obvious the conclusion I’ve drawn.

Again, if true, that’s deplorable. I’d criticize it if I saw it. I haven’t seen it. And again that’s the problem with paper0airplane’s claim. It’s an accusation. The burden of proof for such a scandalous charge rests with paper0airplane.

Leaders like this …

Where is the proof that this is a “leader”? If it is, I’d like to know, too. Self-policing is critical within any activism. Providing evidence lets opponents know, but it also lets nominal supporters know, as well.

… are what is encouraging other intactivists to start creating violent memes, some explicitly threatening the lives of anyone who performs a circumcision. …

Behavior like this is/would be deplorable. Again, source?

… In my opinion, it is only a matter of time until a urologist or pediatrician or OB or mohel is shot or injured somehow. Intactivists, why is this ok with you? …

It isn’t. Be careful with assumptions. And provide evidence so we can denounce those who allegedly do this rather than simply denounce everyone with ad hominem.

… Why do you put up with, support and rally around people who are so off the mark and who totally lack appropriate boundaries, which is vital when you consider the subject. Anyone dealing with a child’s genitals SHOULD be able to tell when they’ve gone too far. Sure, I get it, you consider it a human rights issue, a violation, unnecessary cosmetic surgery. Those are all opinions.

Non-therapeutic circumcision is unnecessary surgery. That is not an opinion here. Its objectivity supports the other words in its sentence more than paper0airplane acknowledges. But again, don’t assume that all intactivists “put up with, support and rally around” this behavior or those who engage in it. I’ve distanced myself from at least one person I’ve interacted with after attempting to convince him of his error. I know others who have done the same with different people. It’s too convenient to assume that the extremists represent the movement, or that moderates support the extremists. Guilt-by-association without evidence to prove accusations, providing no opportunity to address offenders directly, amounts to a smear campaign.

Are those opinions worth someone dying?

Of course not. But how can I personally work to prevent that from happening if I don’t know who to challenge?

The next post is Not violent? You’re mistaken. It has a bunch of pictures implying violence because of circumcision, which are damning and deplorable. Of course, they’re also not sourced to anyone. Some of them appear to be from Facebook, which suggests authenticity. Suggests is not proof. Is it so difficult to anticipate an alternate theory that paper0airplane or someone sharing such beliefs could’ve created these? I do not think that’s what happened. I am not accusing paper0airplane of creating these. I am asking for citations. I believe that’s a reasonable, minimum expectation with both posts.

Recently I noticed a weird bit of misogyny from a Twitter user, @ParentsChoices, who attempted to insult the Blood Stained Men by implying they needed tampons. Are all supporters of parental choice for non-therapeutic male child circumcision misogynists with poor debate skills?

Obviously an unoriginal misogynistic insult is trivial compared to the accusations paper0airplane makes. But I can source a claim that vocal pro-circumcision advocate Vernon Quaintance committed sexual offenses against children. As I wrote in my last post on paper0airplane’s tactic, it wouldn’t be fair or accurate to attempt to smear all advocates for parental choice on circumcision with the misdeeds and crimes of a few. Blame rests only with the specific actors without further evidence. Assuming others support the deplorable actions without evidence of support is unfair.

¹ My concern is the factual claim, not the emotional claim. Self-ownership, not “don’t hurt the babies”.

² paper0airplane claims: “According to the law, parents get those pesky parental rights.” If it’s about the parents and their “rights”, then this pesky “right” would allow them to have their daughters’ genitals cut, too, for the same subjective reasons. “But there are no medical benefits to FGC”, one might say. So? We’ve already been told “[i]t’s up to each parent to decide if it’s culturally or religiously relevant to their family.” It’s too convenient to claim that this parental right is somehow specific to the male prepuce but not the female prepuce for cultural or religious reasons.

Or are we highlighting that “the law” is subject to human error and does not equate directly to human rights, including the bodily integrity of all citizens under its authority?

“Enough. No. I will protect my son.”

There is so much to praise in this post from a mother who researched and rejected circumcision for her son. I like this the most:

So if you’re still reading, you are probably thinking, “Damn, okay you didn’t circumcise your little boy. He didn’t feel the pain, and his penis is just fine. So why are you still talking about it?”

I’d answer you with this: If everyone just stopped talking about it, where would mothers like me who were wavering in their decision find the information and the courage to say, “Enough. No. I will protect my son.” I was so lucky to know a woman who was passionate and outspoken, and at times even aggressive, about educating parents and protecting baby boys. She was such an invaluable resource for my entire pregnancy and labor/delivery and continues to be a good friend. She truly gave me strength. There were times when I may have given in to my husband and others pressuring me, but this woman gave me strength. She made me realize that it IS a BIG DEAL. No baby deserves to suffer through a needless surgery like circumcision. Thank God for her. She sparked something in me, and now here I am trying to pass it on to you.

The full post has a lot to offer. I recommend it.