An Example Disproves the “Moral Case for Circumcision”

Flimmaker Eli Ungar-Sargon (Cut) has an excellent post on Rabbi Smuly Yanklowitz’s flawed essay I wrote about earlier this week. He rejects Rabbi Yanklowitz’s arguments for many of the same reasons I did. Read it because it’s worth your time, as Eli’s thinking always is. Here I want to excerpt part of the background and context Eli provides. It’s important.

In the interests of full disclosure, Rabbi Yanklowitz is a member of one of the Jewish communities that I belong to here in Los Angeles and I have a cordial relationship with him. He is the founder of Uri L’Tzedek, a wonderful Jewish group that is devoted to social justice issues. This is remarkable in so far as Orthodox Jews have historically not been as involved with social justice as Jews from the more Liberal movements are. Rabbi Yanklowitz’s commitment to both Orthodoxy and progressive causes makes him something of a rare bird, which demonstrates a moral courage and awareness that few Orthodox Rabbis can manage. And yet, here he is trying to defend the indefensible.

Yanklowitz begins his article by declaring that he is someone who believes that mitzvot, religious commandments, have an ethical foundation. Taken literally, this statement is obviously false. There are a number of commandments that historically required Jews to commit acts of genocide and there are many other ethical problems with the structure of Jewish law (the status of women comes to mind as an obvious example). But the rabbi should not be taken literally here. What he means by this statement is two things. First, that he is not a fundamentalist, because he believes that human agency is a necessary part of religious interpretation and practice. Second, in his personal hermeneutics, ethics play an important role in shaping religious interpretation and practice. The rub, of course, is how one deals with situations in which morality conflicts with the Jewish tradition. Circumcision is an apparent, and I argue actual, instance of such a conflict. Yanklowitz seems to be trying to argue here that circumcision is not such an instance. …


Related to Rabbi Yanklowitz’s essay, I found a quote I’d like to highlight. In a Q&A with Soraya Mire, a human rights activist and survivor of female genital mutilation, she states:

[Q.] Your father, a general under the military dictator and former Somali president Mohamed Siad Barre, objected to FGM. Why do you think your mother insisted the mutilation be performed?

A. Not only did Father witness the suffering of my sisters but he understood the backward cultural mindset and conformity in the face of violating a child’s bodily integrity. The institution of marriage is the focal point for mothers, and FGM allows them to prepare their daughters’ future security. In my case, Mother was so worried about securing my worth and marriageability that she didn’t consider the unbearable pain she was inflicting on me. FGM is physically and psychologically traumatic to any child and, yet, we have surviving mothers, like my own, who refuse to acknowledge this cultural torture, let alone feel or address their own pain. They became branded lambs with sutured lips as they watched our bodies ripped open like curtains. They had no power to stop the actions of those cruel hands or condemn the violation of our human rights. To them, this reckless ritual, called a “rite of passage,” was justified because the tradition must continue in order to preserve our virginity and, therefore, the family honor. It’s time to address the damage that is done to millions of women, along with the violation of their basic human rights. The atrocity must stop and we must do whatever it takes to bring an end to this ancient genital mutilation.

Compare that to Rabbi Yanklowitz’s argument on “Parental Values and Social Acceptance” (i.e. cultural conformity):

… Not circumcising a Jewish boy may hinder his social acceptance and his chances of finding a Jewish spouse. The overwhelming majority of Jewish women look for a mate who is circumcised. It would be cruel to prevent a man from potentially finding a suitable mate. …

As I wrote, this is a claim commonly made in defense of female genital cutting. In Ms. Mire’s answer we have the same scenario presented by Rabbi Yanklowitz, with only the gender changed. There is no compelling reason why this defense is acceptable for male genital cutting. Gender is irrelevant in the ethical/moral case against non-therapeutic genital cutting on non-consenting individuals.

“Moral Case for Circumcision” Ignores Morality

In this essay Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz attempts to make the moral case for infant circumcision. Rabbi Yanklowitz fails in every all seven attempts, and in the familiar ways. This is not surprising since non-therapeutic genital cutting on a non-consenting individual is immoral.

He starts with health. He makes the mistake of focusing on relative risk without concern for absolute risk or the implications of his approach. He concludes the paragraph with this:

… Is it fair to avoid giving a boy protection when it is available? It’s not only Jewish law to maintain one’s health but also Jews should serve as a model for this important health practice.

“To avoid giving a boy protection” is a weird way to frame this point. It shows the flaw because it suggests that the conclusion informs the defense rather than the reverse. It assumes parents are unreasonable if they don’t circumcise healthy boys. Is it fair to avoid giving any child any protection that might reduce the risk of something, regardless of how small that risk?

This approach to healthy children is only applied to the male foreskin. Every other possible intervention is rejected. We are not immoral when we “avoid giving” other potential protections. The moral case against infant circumcision demands its rejection as we already refuse to consider any other intervention that might reduce something at some point. Rejecting infant circumcision is the only consistent moral approach.

Next, explaining circumcision’s role in “sexual morality”, he quotes Maimonides and responds:

… Circumcised men may not have less sexual desire or more self control but teaching a value of sexual moderation may be one pedagogical goal of this ancient ritual. We have many sexual wrongs in society to be reminded of such as rape, adultery, impropriety, and molestation. Perhaps circumcision can serve as a sacred reminder for men, in our over-sexualized world, to cultivate self control.

What is this, if not a means to control male sexuality? I’ve written before about the mistaken belief that non-therapeutic male child circumcision does not involve control. It does, even if this is not consciously understood when expressing intent. So it is again with Rabbi Yanklowitz’s reasoning.

Worse, this is borderline insulting because he seems to imply that men are less likely to control themselves without some external intervention against their genitalia. If my foreskin hadn’t been removed shortly after birth, would I now be inclined to commit rape, adultery, impropriety, and molestation?

Next, Rabbi Yanklowitz offers a utilitarian approach:

If an uncircumcised man chooses to have the procedure done later in life, it will be much more painful (even with anesthesia) and dangerous than it would be for a newborn. It is the responsibility of parents to shield their children from unnecessary pain.

There is no guarantee a male left with his foreskin and choice will need or want circumcision later in life. Statistics show neither is likely. Yet, pain is guaranteed when a child is circumcised. The choice that shields the most children from unnecessary pain is to leave everyone intact until need arises or they can make the choice themselves. Instead of every child – male only – experiencing pain, only those who have the misfortune to have a malady or who decide that the potential benefits outweigh the costs (e.g. pain) for them will experience pain. From a utilitarian standpoint, the prudent (i.e. moral) position is to leave children intact with their normal genitals because this non-action causes the least amount of unnecessary pain.

It’s also questionable whether or not circumcision later in life is more painful and dangerous. If it’s more dangerous¹, the individual facing the danger can consent or reject the surgery if he doesn’t want the risk. (My assumption there is for elective, non-therapeutic circumcision, which is the issue involving infants.) And infant circumcision has its own dangers, since the foreskin is fused to the glans and it’s difficult to judge how much to take off since the child still has all of his growing remaining. Severe consequences like amputation and death can – and do – occur, as well.

The utilitarian approach is subjective and has a tendency to favor whatever argument someone is making because it assumes all people favor the same choices. Yet, each person must provide his own weighting to the relevant issues. (The typical flaw of utilitarianism is to completely ignore the value of the foreskin in the equation. Its loss somehow isn’t a cost of the surgery.) The utilitarian push for circumcision ignores that individuals are must live with the negative outcomes and/or the intended outcomes he may not want. All children together won’t share the lost glans, lost penis, or lost life in the instances of severe complications. It makes no sense to consider all children lumped together.

His fourth point is parental values and social acceptance. The topic itself demonstrates the necessary proof that this is about control. That control makes it immoral. The circumcision is unnecessary, yet the values of the parents override the child’s lack of need and possible preferences throughout his life. Making sure that others accept him via surgery elevates the opinion of others above his own about his body. It denies personal autonomy. The paragraph endorses that view, but these sentences warrant focus:

… Not circumcising a Jewish boy may hinder his social acceptance and his chances of finding a Jewish spouse. The overwhelming majority of Jewish women look for a mate who is circumcised. It would be cruel to prevent a man from potentially finding a suitable mate. …

This is a claim commonly made in defense of female genital cutting. If we reverse the genders in his position, it’s easily understandable that this is about controlling the child. There is no compelling reason why this defense is acceptable for male genital cutting while being (rightly) rejected for female genital cutting. It is immoral when imposed on either gender.

Next, he extols the virtues of modesty. I don’t have much to say on this. Parents surgically altering their son to remind him to live up to their idea of modesty is self-evidently about control, and thus, immoral.

Next, “unconscious memory”:

…We give our baby boys one token formative experience, and then we do all we can to protect and shelter the child. This experience helps to ensure that the boy can be a moral agent. However, this reasoning, of course, should not be extended beyond this minor example.

Whether this experience is “token” or not must be decided by the individual receiving it, not the individual giving it. It is a subjective judgment.

Beyond that, empathy is a wonderful trait. There are better ways to instill this in children involving parenting rather than surgery. Are males not empathetic enough, or capable of learning through logic and example, that they require such an experience before they can practice it in their lives? This is preposterous and impossible to prove. Using it as a defense isn’t acceptable, as evidenced by the qualifications offered at the end of the paragraph. Again, they suggest that the conclusion informed the defense rather than the reverse. (Every defense of circumcision suggests this in some way.) Inflicting pain and the removal of healthy body parts to teach lessons is immoral.

The last item is that circumcision is a symbolic reminder. It focuses on religion, which I’m going to leave alone. My response is that symbolism isn’t valid if the individual doesn’t value the symbols. There seems to be a considerable chance that a child will value many of the same things his parents value. I accept that without reservations. But the focus must be on the individual. This is not guaranteed for any individual. Permanently altering a child to remind him of something he may one day reject is problematic, at best.

Rabbi Yanklowitz proved nothing he set out to prove. The moral case for infant circumcision he attempted is little more than the most common responses given. The emphasis is on the parents, not the child. The moral case for surgery with children starts and ends with their physical need. For circumcision, there is no need. There is no moral case for non-therapeutic infant circumcision.

¹ This is where I’ll invoke the articles on the PrePex as an example. My objection to the recent pieces about it centers on the poor journalism rather than the device. I expect the device will eventually be tweaked to allow for infant circumcision at some point. That would be wrong. For now it’s a device for voluntary, adult circumcision. I have no objection to that. The claimed risks involved with the device are low. The claim that adult circumcision is more dangerous than infant circumcision doesn’t appear to hold up, generally, regardless of the method. This claim is a framing device of dubious quality rather than a fact to be negate ethics.

Flawed Circumcision Defense: Dr. Paul Rein

As activists we’ve all encountered poorly thought out, often incomprehensible arguments advocating for non-therapeutic child circumcision. In their mildest forms, these merely conclude that parents should do what “works for their family”, as if all penises in the family belong to the parents. In their worst form, they’re clueless, uninterested in learning, and offer any number of bizarre justifications that defend the decision while remaining ignorant of basic facts. This essay by Dr. Paul Rein is built on the latter foundation, with the surprise of an irrational excuse for surgically altering healthy boys that I’ve never heard before.

After an introduction and a brief, incomplete history of circumcision, Dr. Rein quotes Genesis 17, including the bit about circumcising one’s slaves. In response, he writes:

… WOW, pretty powerful stuff when taken literally. So why do you think this “law” came about? For me, like Jewish dietary laws (sic) it was all about health. In days past, before modern times, food such as a pig was not considered ok to eat by the Jews because pigs were dirty, ate garbage and carried worms. Bottom feeders in the waters fall in the same category. Circumcision was a matter of numbers of complications for not doing it. Circumcision is done on day 8 of life for what reason? Is there something magical about day 8? It turns out that on day 8 of a boy’s life his blood clotting factors are normal, such that his risk for bleeding is less. In most countries of the world where babies are delivered in the hospital a circumcision if performed is done in the first couple of days and the babies are given a shot of Vitamin K which helps the blood clot, in other words it is a convenience to be done then. Surely the Jews figured out by trial and error that day 8 was the earliest, best and safest time to perform the circumcision. Most likely their dietary laws also discovered that eating pigs caused more illness than not eating them. So lets get back to circumcision.

This is conjecture. It shows the logic-optional framework upon which Dr. Rein is willing to build his conclusion on non-therapeutic child circumcision. I’d like to see citations for the number of complications throughout history “for not doing it”. But I can accept that without citations because it’s irrelevant to the more immediate question: what is justified today?

For example, whether or not there’s something magical about day 8 or the availability of Vitamin K may be interesting, but neither is a valid defense for circumcising healthy infants. Being convenient doesn’t make it acceptable. Any biological magic of a healthy human’s Day 8 ability to properly clot his blood still applies to his Day 6,574¹ ability to properly clot his blood. But, ethically, only one of those is valid.

When Dr. Rein begins to discuss risks of circumcision, he fails to include a complete list of objective outcomes. Some are possible and some are guaranteed.

… The risks include, pain on performing the procedure, bleeding and infection, irritation of the glans, increased risk of meatitis- which is an inflammation to the opening of the penis, injury to the penis during the procedure, and a belief by some that removing the foreskin decreases sexual pleasure. There are also some people who believe it is a violation of the child’s human rights because they did not consent to the procedure.

He should’ve mentioned that circumcision includes the risks of amputation and death. Those are rare, but if he’s not including the absolute risk of the maladies against which non-therapeutic circumcision is a prophylaxis, a full set of known risks should be included.

He should also state that circumcision leaves a scar. That could lead into an actual discussion of whether the male himself wants that, as well as the intended cost of the surgery, the loss of his foreskin. The foreskin is not, biologically, an inert afterthought. I’m not surprised he would omit this because I don’t think he understands this. But the burden is on him to be educated, not on others to defend why healthy, normal body parts exist.

His advice focuses into one key paragraph:

What is a FAMILY to do when they have a newborn boy? …

Celebrate and not cut his healthy genitals. This is what a family does when they have a newborn girl.

… As I have mentioned in the past it is up to you to make informed choices. You as the responsible adult who has had a child should make an informed decision. Educate yourself as to the benefits and risks remembering that most of the risks are small, but when they do happen to you they are 100% in your experience. Nothing is without risk and you weigh the risk versus the benefit. …

Being the “responsible adult” does not mean that option is valid. Tradition does not justify its imposition. The possibility of benefits, the “responsible adult’s” subjective minimization of the risks involved, or the doctor’s omission of the full costs also fail as justifications. The surgical alteration is not medically indicated or necessary. That is the sole relevant information. Where circumcision is being imposed on another who can’t consent, only medical need can justify it.

… Regarding circumcision if you choose not to have your child circumcised and as an older boy or adult he needs to be circumcised the risks increase. The risk of surgery such as pain, bleeding and infection are higher for older boys and men. …

This logic could be applied to any non-therapeutic surgery one might choose to force on a healthy child, primarily with respect to pain. The claimed inability to remember the pain as an infant does not mean the infant does not experience the pain. As an adult, the individual has the choice to use sufficient pain management. It’s also worth noting that actual need for circumcision is rare. Where an adult male’s circumcision is optional, his preference for the possible benefits demonstrate that he values them more than the costs, including the pain. Infants don’t get that choice.

… If you believe that the pain of a circumcision is traumatic to the child and affects him for the rest of his life then don’t do it. To that I say, c’mon. A newborns brain is immature and the few seconds to minutes of crying is no more traumatic that a night of crying from colic. Does that baby who has colic from a formula become so traumatized that he never wants to drink from a bottle? …

Dr. Rein’s lack of concern for the child and what he may experience from unnecessary surgery is scary. Is “c’mon” the scientific term for a newborn’s pain coping mechanism?

… Arguments such as decreased sexual pleasure from a man’s point of view are pretty tough to make. Do you really know any guys who say, geez I wish ….?

Here I am: Geez, I wish I had my foreskin. I am not alone. Dr. Rein should research the topic before he mocks opinions he does not understand. Research would allow him to reject his own incorrect ideas that are easily refuted.

It gets worse:

… Another thing to think about in making your decision is are you a single mother having this child? Little boys, 5 and up are probably not inclined to have their mom making sure that they are practicing proper hygienic techniques and in light of the fact that the USA has the highest rate of single parent homes in the western world that might be something you want to consider. …

Yeah. I thought I’d heard all the dumb arguments. I’m not pleased to know that more creative stupid excuses develop. Raising children involves teaching them proper hygiene and setting expectations for maintaining that throughout childhood. Dr. Rein’s suggestion is nothing more than telling parents (i.e. the “responsible adults”) it’s okay to abdicate their parental responsibilities because that responsibility is too uncomfortable.

To put it in a different perspective, as someone stated in the comments section of the essay, would it be legitimate to suggest that single fathers have their daughters’ genitals cut because it would be too uncomfortable to monitor their hygiene? Even if I accept the incorrect suggestion that forced, non-therapeutic female and male genital cutting don’t involve the same rights (and ethical) violation, the underlying implication of Dr. Rein’s statement is that parents should act against their child if it’s more convenient for them to do so. All other considerations be damned. It’s about the parents, not the patient. That’s unethical, anti-science nonsense.

Dr. Rein addresses the human rights point, badly:

… Finally the human rights issue is in my opinion a weak argument. As parents we are making many decisions for our children. Children don’t get to make too many medical decisions including vaccinations and antibiotics that are often forced on them when they don’t need them.

This decision is not like other decisions. It’s the unnecessary surgical alteration/reduction of a child’s body in pursuit of subjective outcomes based on someone else’s preferences. Parents vaccinate to protect their children, so, yes, in that limited non-useful manner, vaccinations and non-therapeutic circumcision can be viewed the same way. But the same thing could be said about comparing vaccinations to removing the healthy breast buds of a girl whose family has a history of breast cancer. There has to be more for it to be intelligent and useful. So, vaccinations work to build the body by using its natural mechanisms. Circumcision simply removes a body part that may develop a future problem. Dr. Rein’s comparison is invalid.

If Dr. Rein thinks that the irresponsible use of antibiotics by parents is a defense of the irresponsible use of circumcision, he’s more interested in establishing defenses for his pre-determined conclusion than reaching a conclusion based on facts and logic. I’m going with that because I read his essay. He didn’t provide any evidence for me to conclude otherwise.

¹ Or Day 6,575…

Flawed Circumcision Defense: Dr. Edgar Schoen

This is more than a three months old. I never posted it because I wasn’t quite happy with it. It’s not current, but as long as Schoen is promoting circumcision or being listened to by parents, doctors, and educators, it’s relevant to publish.

Dr. Edgar Schoen wrote an essay on the end of the ballot initiative in San Francisco that would’ve extended equal protection to male minors against non-therapeutic genital cutting. Schoen, being the advocate that he is, again deals in misdirections and half-truth omissions to sell his unethical view. From the beginning, he refuses to play fair.

Fittingly, Judge Loretta Giorgi ordered the removal of the proposed San Francisco initiative to criminalize infant circumcision from the ballot. However, supporters of the measure continue to voice their undocumented and erroneous claims that circumcision has harmful emotional effects and no medical benefits.

That’s an interesting way to phrase opposition. I have no doubt he’s aware of individuals who state that circumcision has harmful physical effects in spite of the potential medical benefits. His equation is only the side he wants. If it doesn’t help his case, he ignores it and pretends that it’s a lie sold by people who don’t care about the health of children, which can only be achieved through circumcision. Somehow. He’s nothing but a propagandist.

For example:

These “intactivists” ignore the overwhelming evidence and the multiple health benefits of circumcision from infancy through old age, including a 60% protection against the heterosexual transmission of HIV/AIDS.

“Overwhelming”, being an adjective, is subjective. Declaring the potential benefits from non-therapeutic circumcision to a healthy child to be “overwhelming” is to ignore evidence in the way he mistakenly accuses others of ignoring evidence. That 60% protection against female-to-male HIV transmission also contains the caveat of high-risk population (i.e. sub-Saharan Africa rather than the United States). That 60% figure is relative risk reduction to normal genitalia (among adult volunteers in a high-risk population), not absolute risk. The absolute lifetime risk of female-to-male HIV transmission to American males is in the low single-digits, regardless of circumcision status. He’s playing loose with the facts because dealing with them honestly demonstrates how absurd it is to declare the potential benefits “overwhelming”.

Schoen continues this pattern with his standard talking points on the potential benefits, except he omits the potential aspect. Rebuking every claim he makes would be tedious rather than productive. Antibiotics, condoms, etc. His bias is decipherable (and embarrassing) once you see his only trick. Instead, it makes more sense to address his ethical and logical lapses.

The neonatal period is ideal for performing the procedure, as circumcision is quicker, less traumatic and has fewer complications than when performed on older patients. Newborns are very resilient and uniquely equipped to deal with stress, having high levels of stress hormones as well as pain-relieving hormones. The thin foreskin means that sutures are not usually needed like in older patients, and local anesthesia is effective at numbing the area to further minimize pain.

“Ideal” conditions for non-therapeutic surgery do not overcome the ethical violation inherent in imposing that non-therapeutic surgery on a non-consenting individual. He ignores the patient’s preference, the physical harm to each recipient, the implications of the complications that do occur to healthy children, and the physical differences between neonatal and adult circumcision. His approach implies that there are no trade-offs, that the potential benefits of non-therapeutic child circumcision are a surgical “free lunch”. He never acknowledges that the foreskin offers benefits, too. (He relies on the silly notion that the foreskin is an accidental leftover from evolution.) Dr. Schoen is either ignorant or dishonest.


Opponents of circumcision have no problem making up unintended side affects that can result from this safe and accepted procedure. …

This is ad hominem. For someone who cites women’s sexual preference for a circumcised penis as a benefit to neonatal circumcision, he should tread carefully with his ridiculous accusations. Either call out examples of lies, or don’t write the charge.

Defending circumcision as “accepted” is a logical fallacy. A popular position can be wrong. The principle matters, not the irrelevant opinion of everyone other than the male upon whom this violation is imposed.

The crux of his failure to address all aspects of this debate is this:

As study after study shows the benefit of circumcision throughout the male life span, one has to wonder what motivates supporters of this extreme initiative. No one is forcing them to circumcise their child, yet they will continue to take that choice away from other parents regardless of the available medical evidence.

“Throughout the male life span” includes the majority of his life when the male is an independent individual with the power to consent or refuse. Circumcising a healthy infant creates a circumcised adult, eventually. That is the ethical issue he fails to address. Yet, he only offers the irrelevant “no one is forcing them to circumcise their child” trope. True, but the actual issue is that someone is forcing another person to be circumcised forever, regardless of whether he wants to be or not, and in direct contradiction to his obvious, objective lack of any need for the intervention. That is unethical. Non-therapeutic genital cutting on a non-consenting individual is wrong.

Flawed Circumcision Defense: California Assemblyman Mike Gatto

California Assemblyman Mike Gatto is an authoritarian. He believes that male children do not have human rights equal to the rights of their fellow citizens. Mike Gatto believes that freedom and liberty involve parental ownership of the genitals of their male children. He believes that the individual right involved in child genital cutting is exclusively the right to cut a male child without medical need. He believes that subjective, non-medical “affiliative benefits” are enough to justify surgery on a child, even if the child does not or might not want to be forcibly affiliated. California Assemblyman Mike Gatto prefers mindless, unquestioned deference to parental choices about non-therapeutic male child genital cutting.

Thankfully for Mike Gatto, his colleagues in the lesiglature and California Governor Jerry Brown share his authoritarianism. Gov. Brown signed Assembly Bill 768, which prevents local governments within California from prohibiting non-therapeutic circumcision on male minors. Now history may know that these individuals supported genital mutilation after the point at which sufficient evidence existed to understand the correct position that respects individual rights, science, and morality.

To understand what these politicians have failed to grasp, imagine a male. He is an adult. He is intact. He is healthy. He tells his parents that he has unprotected sex with HIV-positive women. What rights do his parents have to deal with this? Under the illogic of Assemblyman Gatto and his colleagues, his parents may force him to be circumcised.

But he’s an adult, so they don’t have that right, correct? Of course. Yet Mike Gatto has accepted a delineator based on age to define when the child receives his right to decide which permanent, non-therapeutic alterations he wants or does not want inflicted on his body. By legislating an endorsement of non-therapeutic genital cutting against healthy male children, Mike Gatto endorsed a form of permant parental control over a male’s genitals. Circumcising an infant creates a circumcised adult, without regard for the adult’s opinion.

Legally there’s no reason to distinguish between a healthy newborn and a healthy teen one day shy of his 18th birthday. His penis belongs to his parents, according to the worldview of Mike Gatto. We understand that there is a difference and most (probably, hopefully) think that forcibly circumcising the latter male is offensive and shouldn’t be done. But that requires us to backtrack to the age where it becomes acceptable to circumcise a healthy child for no reason. We must ask why that age and not a later age. So, what is that age? Is it 17? 13? 10? 6? 3? 1? When does it become unacceptable to cut the healthy genitals of a male, because that distinction is arbitrary? What will it require to make Mike Gatto understand that the correct age is upon birth?

California already established that there is no arbitrary, unspecified age before which parents own the genitals of their female children. They may not allow someone to take a scalpel to the genitals of their daughters for non-therapeutic reasons, even if those reasons include a parental preference for forced “affiliative benefits.” The only factor involved in any decision to cut female minors is the presence or lack of medical need. That is the ethical, scientific view, which succinctly demonstrates that genital integrity exists within human rights. Mike Gatto believes that male children have only a mere subset of human rights, a subset that does not include genital integrity. It is a flaw in his character that Mike Gatto believes the full range of human rights only belong to male adults, female adults, and female children.

Flawed Circumcision Defense: Harold Witkov

When I first read this essay by Harold Witkov, I assumed it was just an offensive smear without research. On my second reading, it has to be a satire of how a non-thinking conservative views opposition to non-therapeutic child circumcision. I know it’s the former, but it’s also accidentally the latter.

After a brief description of a bris he attended recently, he writes:

Just prior to the blessed ritual, the Rabbi got everyone’s attention with a joke. He began, “We Jews are a team. Once you make the first cut you are on the team for life!”

Sad to say, there are some misguided Americans who would love to break up the Jewish team. They are the intactivists (as in keep the penis intact), a generic term for the activist opposition to infant circumcision. They have succeeded in getting a proposed ban on male circumcision on the San Francisco ballot this November, and are working hard to get similar ban proposals across the nation.

I do not wish to “break up the Jewish team”. Although I do not refer to myself as an “intactivist”, I advocate for the principle that all children have a right to be free from non-therapeutic genital cutting to which they do not consent. It’s a principle that everyone respects for female children. There is no justification sufficient to overrule that for healthy males. If a male reaches an age of consent (not necessarily the age of consent) and wishes to be circumcised for any non-therapeutic reason, he should be able to do so. I expect an overwhelming majority of males raised in Judaism would undergo the procedure. Wonderful, nothing would stop them. But the elective rate would not be 100 percent. That is why this individual right to reject the surgery must be protected.

So far, Mr. Witkov is wrong, but he’s barely dancing on the border of ridiculous. From this point forward, he’s abandoned logic in favor of the absurd and ad hominem.

Intactivists are twisted-minded do-gooders who are trying to convince the masses that a law to ban circumcision is as commonsense as a law that mandates car seats for infants. They are dangerous thinkers who have organized. While grossly exaggerating medical risks and denying the medical benefits of circumcision, the intactivists oppose male circumcision, citing it as an unnecessary cruelty and mutilation imposed upon an unwilling baby. While they hide behind their false front of grave concerns, I have figured out who they are and what makes them tick.

“Twisted-minded” is interesting. In what way? By demanding equal protection of existing law for male minors under the same principle? That’s not twisted, unless one ignores the reality of circumcision. Again, it’s non-therapeutic genital cutting on a non-consenting individual. There is nothing twisted in suggesting that no one should have normal, healthy, functional body parts removed without their consent. If protecting that right is pejoratively “doing good”, so be it.

A law to ban circumcision is common sense because circumcision is a form of harm inflicted on children. Think of it this way. A law mandating car seats is designed to protect children from harm. But how many infants are involved in accidents? Most infants would be fine if their parents didn’t use car seats because their parents don’t get into accidents. They would never be harmed by riding unsecured in a car. Yet, we know that illogical approach is flawed. The harm to all infants from being a passenger without being in safety restraints is the risk of harm from an accident. They probably won’t be in an accident, but they might be. We don’t know who will be the unlucky victims, so we protect every infant from the harm, to the extent possible.

The same applies to circumcision. Every circumcision involves objective harm, of course, which is neither an exaggeration nor a denial of potential benefits. But for the comparison to car seats, every circumcision involves the risk of harm beyond what is inevitable from the surgery. These include excessive bleeding, infection, skin bridges, meatal stenosis, partial or complete amputation, and death. Thankfully the more extreme complications are rare, but they occur. Any individual infant could be affected by such an outcome. So, yes, it’s common sense to protect all children from unnecessary, non-therapeutic surgery and the permanence and risks it involves.

Now, for Mr. Witkov’s ad hominem:

First and foremost, intactivists are anti-Semites. I do not use this accusation lightly. But what better term can be used for a group that advocates fines and imprisonment for those who follow one of the most important precepts of their Jewish faith? Intactivists have no respect for the covenant of Abraham and his descendants. By seeking to outlaw it, they have meddled with the primal forces of Judaism and declared war on it.

Is someone who opposes in civil law other actions prescribed in religious texts anti-religion? Of course not. There is a principle involved. The burden to prove anything about circumcision should rest with those who wish to impose it. Our society is flawed, so the burden is on me to prove that my position is stronger. I can and will. But to accuse all who advocate against child circumcision of being anti-Semites is an attempt to shut down the conversation. The language of the law is generally applicable and promotes a legitimate state interest. Any advocacy will attract its share of people on the fringes who hold offensive, incorrect beliefs. The anti-Semitic actions of a few are not useful as a blanket description of those who advocate against non-therapeutic child circumcision on principle.

Intactivists are a bunch of hypocrites. They see nothing wrong with a pregnant woman choosing to annihilate her fetus. Yet, they feel compelled to ban infant circumcision due to the suffering it inflicts. I wonder if they would be agreeable to circumcision in the womb?

Mr. Witkov is conflating opposition to non-therapeutic child circumcision with adherence to liberal politics. That’s incorrect. I am not a liberal/progressive. I have not stated my opinion on abortion here, so his sweeping claim can’t be proven. He does not know whether I’m a “hypocrite” or not. Regardless of one’s position on abortion, though, it’s clear that children, once born, have rights. That is the focus here. Abortion is a red-herring that distracts from the discussion. (I’m sensing a trend in Mr. Witkov’s non-rigorous methodology.)

Intactivist men and women are part of the far-left movement and are a threat to the American system designed by our founding fathers. Their mission is a big brother government that removes individual choice and imposes the will of their self-anointed elitism. Leftists, in most cases, love government-imposed regulations, are anti-Israel, are pro-abortion, and pine for the day the United Nations can regulate every human activity on the planet. Leftists believe in uniformity. They have no room for the individual, for non-Jewish parents who want circumcision for their sons, or for Jewish religious exemptions. Intactivistits [sic] are far leftists who embrace uniformity to such an extreme they want to regulate penises!

Again, I’m not a liberal/progressive. As a defender and promoter of individual rights, including the rights of children, I’m hardly a “threat” to the American system designed by our founding fathers. I don’t seek a big brother government that removes individual choice. The only ones in this debate who remove individual choice are those who remove their sons’ foreskins without his consent. In my view, every individual retains his choice, even if he chooses what I wouldn’t. In Mr. Witkov’s view, every individual male gets the choice of his parents. Unlike Mr. Witkov I don’t pretend to know what is appropriate for other individuals, which is why I want the decision left to each individual to choose – or reject – for himself. Mr. Witkov is defending individual choice over another, permanently.

His last two paragraphs are comedic proof of his accidental satire of a non-thinking conservative, with a nod to Godwin thrown in. I won’t bother highlighting them further. But in doing a moment of research, which is more than Mr. Witkov apparently did, I encountered this essay he wrote about being dismissed over his fear of a one-nation Islamic Middle East in the future. I am bemused that he opened with this:

Because I am a conservative, as far as the left is concerned, I am assumed guilty of several psychological disorders. I am, just to name a few, a sexist, a racist, and a homophobe.

Because I’m an intactivist, as far as the right is concerned, I am assumed guilty of several psychological disorders. I am, just to name a few, an anti-Semite, an elitist, and a hypocrite.


Flawed Circumcision Defense: LZ Granderson

The editorial I analyze in this post is several weeks old now, but it’s been referenced elsewhere a few times. It’s worth a response.

LZ Granderson wrote an editorial at CNN on the proposal in San Francisco to prohibit non-therapeutic male child circumcision. It’s an embarrassing piece, largely because Mr. Granderson never considers the healthy child as an individual who might not want to be circumcised.

Once he gets going:

Besides the measure having no provision for religious practices — thereby making it unconstitutional — …

This is armchair lawyering, and easily refuted. There are the merits of the First Amendment and parental rights, which are summarized quite well in these two posts at The Volokh Conspiracy from last week. The religious freedom to act on another is a lot more complicated than simply claiming a religious requirement. There are competing rights involved, including a right to be free from unnecessary harm that is not yet adequately (or equally) protected. Mr. Granderson’s dismissal is flawed. It doesn’t disqualify his opinion, but it suggests the level of research he has (not) performed on this topic.

We chuckle, but from interracial marriage to masturbation, politicians have been trying to tell us what to do with our genitalia for centuries. …

Here, parents are telling their sons what to do with their genitalia. If the male does not want his genitals altered, his genitals are still altered. Since his body has been violated, what difference is it to him that his parents did it than if his government had ordered it? The proposed government involvement leaves that choice to individuals rather than dictates how he must be, which is what parents have been doing for more than a century in the U.S. Proposals like this that protect individual rights possess the stronger liberty position.

I get the science behind not having the procedure done: There are nerve endings that are being severed during the procedure, and it is normally not medically required. But generally speaking it has not been proven to be medically harmful either, though there have been rare occasions of infection and excessive bleeding requiring stitches.

Surgery is harmful. How can Mr. Granderson acknowledge that in sentence one and then deny it in sentence two? In the space between writing those two sentences, did severing nerve endings become not harmful? It’s more frustrating because his denial includes examples of medical harm. Other, more severe, outcomes are possible, too, including death. Mr. Granderson seems determined to believe what he wants to be true, regardless of facts.

Besides being an important aspect of some religions, circumcisions improve hygiene, …

Access to proper hygiene facilities is not a modern American problem in significant numbers. The same hygiene that females use to maintain their bodies works for males. To think that surgery is justified is simply begging one’s own question.

… which is effective in limiting urinary tract infections and the transference of STDs. …

The same treatments we use for UTIs in females work for males. For STDs condoms work better. Not all males engage in unsafe sex, so the potential benefit is useless for them. It is unethical to impose it because it may not be desired.

…And speaking of sex, having a circumcised penis saves the young man of the potential embarrassment of having a new partner look at his nude body and say “What in the hell is wrong with your… penis.”

Or something like that.


A recent study conducted by a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention researcher suggests the number of circumcisions performed dropped from 56% in 2006 to 33% in 2009. So chances are you or someone you know is uncircumcised, a fact that is really none of the business of complete strangers — government officials and busy-body voters alike. Why someone would sign a petition making it their business is beyond me.

This is just ridiculous. If a man reveals his normal nude body to a new sexual partner and the response he gets is “What in the hell is wrong with your… penis?”, I hope his parents will have taught him enough self-respect to treat his new partner as the person with the (hopefully correctable) defect. Would we accept that thought process if we started surgically altering girls so that they wouldn’t be shamed by their eventual sexual partners?

I could see the government getting involved in the decisions parents make about their children if there was evidence that circumcisions were a life-threatening practice — like failure to use car seats for young children. …

The standard is not whether the action is “life-threatening” or not. A punch to the face isn’t life-threatening, but it’s still wrong. Genital cutting on healthy female minors is illegal (and wrong), even where the damage is equally or less harmful than male genital cutting, which is to say, not life-threatening. (Typically.) This is once again question-begging.

Of course, some boys do die from circumcision. Circumcision is not usually life-threatening, but the risk of death exists every time it’s performed, which is why we generally avoid inflicting surgery on healthy people. Especially without their consent.

… I could see if the proposed ban was addressing a patriarchal practice such as female genital mutilation.

Male circumcision is a patriarchal practice. Aren’t many boys circumcised by their parents, at the father’s insistence that the child’s genitals match his genitals? Some doctors advise undecided parents to make the decision based on the father’s penis. Is that the rule of the male? Does it subordinate children? Mr. Granderson’s view here seems to be the mistaken belief that there is no harm if a practice is being imposed by someone onto someone else of the same gender. Do I need to link to examples of women imposing FGM on their daughters to demonstrate the fallacy of relying on this faulty standard?

This is about choice and preference and opinion and I am really tired of being subjected to ridiculous laws instituted by religious conservatives pandering to a bunch of crazy people or by meddling liberals who have nothing better to do.

This is about choice and preference and opinion? In what way? The child being circumcised does not choose. No one cares about his preference. No one waits to hear his opinion. The child is subjected to the choice, preference, and opinion of his parents. Permanently.

Seriously, if municipalities in San Francisco or Santa Monica honestly believe parents can’t be trusted to decide what’s best for their newborn’s foreskin, why on earth would they let them leave the hospital with the rest of him? It just doesn’t make sense.

California law already believes that parents can’t be trusted to decide what’s best for their newborn’s foreskin, but on the discriminatory view that only the female prepuce should be untouched without need or consent of the patient.

No wonder these anti-circumcision organizers have their sights on the rest of the country. We’re a bunch of nosy busy bodies who believe in an abbreviated version of freedom where we’re free to publicly debate what someone else should do with their private parts or the private parts of their newborn.

The status quo is the society with an abridged version of individual freedom. Again, the law in California (and most other places) already ended the public debate on what someone may do with the private parts of their daughters. Does that restrict parental “rights”? This debate is about fixing the status quo into a legitimate version of freedom where every individual, male or female, gets to decide which unnecessary genital surgeries they undergo or reject.


To address a point Mr. Granderson raises, the issue of the “Foreskin Man” comic book series is relevant to the discussion. It is not the end of the discussion, as some are suggesting. That the series is embarrassing, and that issue two uses anti-Semitic imagery, is undeniable. The comic book is disgusting and has no place in the discussion by anyone advocating against non-therapeutic male child circumcision. It is a shameful mark on its creators.

That said, I hope it’s abundantly clear that only a minority of people opposed to non-therapeutic male child circumcision accept this type of filth. As the Jewish Circumcision Resource Center states, “there is no organization that controls, or could control, what individuals who oppose circumcision may say or do.” The first issue of “Foreskin Man” is probably unhelpful, but issue two is unacceptable. But it’s not reflective of the principles involved or the majority of those who support and advocate those principles. I have commented elsewhere on this, and will let that stand as my personal defense. I also recommend this post from The Volokh Conspiracy as a useful guide on objectionable material.