“Being Targeted”, Predictably

Posted: December 14th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: "Voluntary", Ethics, Public Health | No Comments »

The latest strategy to circumcise children is underway:

Over 900 boys and men in Mombasa County are being targeted for circumcision in a new drive by the government to reduce new HIV infections caused through the exercise.

The National Aids and STI Control Programme (NASCOP) said on Friday that it is targeting men aged between 10 and 50 years to undergo the cut under Voluntary Medical Male Circumcision (VMMC).

The first paragraph mentions boys. The second paragraph discusses 10-year-old men, because fewer would participate in the lie of “voluntary”. It’s always this way in advocating for circumcision, with the meaning of words being malleable to the goal. (e.g. “Medical” rather than “medicalized”) When public health officials advocate for voluntary, adult male circumcision, they never mean “voluntary” or “adult”.


The Lie Feeds Itself – PrePex Is Predictably More Unethical on Circumcision

Posted: December 1st, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: "Voluntary", Ethics, Public Health | No Comments »

Over the course of five years, it’s been clear where PrePex would go. Circ MedTech made it clear earlier this year that it would not be satisfied with a device aimed at voluntary, adult male circumcision. It only cares about two of those four words. Its adherence to the use of PrePex in voluntary, adult circumcision was always a delay in technology, not a wall of ethics. Now, it shares predictable evidence of its lack of ethics in developing and promoting PrePex. From its FAQ, Is PrePex available for adolescent boys?

The manufacturers of PrePex are committed to assisting males of all ages with appropriate male circumcision technology. Non-surgical circumcision using PrePex is now available for males ages 13 years and above. Devices for Infants & Children (0 days to 13 years) based on the existing PrePex technology are underway.

The only appropriate male circumcision technology appropriate for a normal, healthy male under 18 who does not – or cannot – consent is the technology that remains in the package, unused. Instead, Circ MedTech wants to assist¹ males of all ages, whether or not they want – or will ever want – to be assisted. It does not care about voluntary or adult.

Note that, despite being dated December 3, 2014, that link did not include the italicized language on April 22, 2016. It stated:

The manufacturers of PrePex are committed to assisting males of all ages with appropriate male circumcision technology. Non-surgical circumcision using PrePex is not yet available for youths under the age of 18, although it is being developed and tested.

An ethical organization would not mislead in this manner. I will not pretend to be surprised, however small the offense.

Circ MedTech’s absurdity with language continues in Who is eligible for circumcision with PrePex?:

PrePex has been proven safe and effective for adult and adolescent men over the age of 13. In studies to date, approximately 90% of men who volunteered were eligible to undergo the procedure. Men interested in medical male circumcision should consult with a trained healthcare provider to determine whether PrePex is right for them.

Every time I think circumcision advocacy can no longer shock me, something ridiculous like “adolescent men” appears. Dare I predict the eventual use of “infant men”? Surely that’s too absurd?

I have another ethics question. Did all of the “adolescent men” volunteer, or were they volunteered by their parents. And it’s disgusting² that the prospective patients in “Is PrePex available for adolescent boys” became “adolescent men” when discussing the actual circumcision of those healthy-and-unable-to-consent individuals.

On April 21st, that link stated:

PrePex has been proven safe and effective for adult men over the age of 18. In studies to date, approximately 90% of men who volunteered were eligible to undergo the procedure. Men interested in medical male circumcision should consult with a trained healthcare provider to determine whether PrePex is right for them.
Non-surgical circumcision is not yet recommended for youth under the age of 18 outside the clinical evaluation framework. Several African countries are currently investigating the safety and efficacy of the PrePex procedure for adolescent men, and study results should be available in early 2014.

“Adolescent men” was already there, but within one two-sentence paragraph, Under-18s transitioned from youths to adolescent men. That’s at least impressive in its shamelessness, I suppose.

As always, when public health officials speak of voluntary, adult male circumcision, they never mean voluntary or adult.

¹ The violation of rights seems to require euphemisms.

² I rewrote the euphemism I initially used. I prefer to speak truthfully.


Joint Government Effort to Eradicate Consent

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

As always:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Put Health Before Politics

Posted: June 10th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Ethics, Public Health | No Comments »

I’ve never had much respect for public health officials when it comes to infant circumcision. When they say adult or voluntary, they never mean it. It’s also seemed clear for a long while that they’re not much interested in health, either. The latest example is New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio’s approach to protecting infants from herpes transmitted during metzitzah b’peh. I’m ignoring for now the horrible optics of the new makeup of the New York City Board of Health. The actual proposal allegedly aimed at protecting the health of infant males:

The mayor’s proposal, which requires approval by the board and will be presented on Wednesday, is … would waive a requirement that parents sign a consent form before the ritual, which involves sucking blood from the incision on a baby’s penis.

Instead, the mayor’s plan would create an alternative system that would test a circumciser, or mohel, for herpes, although only after a baby is found to be infected. If the circumciser tests positive, penalties would be pursued if DNA tests can prove that the mohel and the baby were infected with the same strain.

We know infection happens with metzitzah b’peh. We know that herpes can have devastating effects on infants. That alone should be enough to demand a proactive rather than reactive approach to protecting the health of infants. The case for a potentially effective plan, not this proposal, is impossible to ignore when also remembering that infants have rights that the government and Board of Health are no less obligated to protect.

The consent rule, introduced under Mayor Bloomberg, was assailed by Orthodox leaders as an infringement of their religious rights. Mr. de Blasio pledged to rescind the rule, and his aides later said the consent forms had been difficult to enforce, saying that herpes infections linked to the practice actually rose in 2014.

“This approach hasn’t been working in the past, and we need a new approach to truly reduce the health risk for infants,” Mr. de Blasio’s press secretary, Karen Hinton, said in a statement on Tuesday. Ms. Hinton added that the mayor had an “obligation to ensure that the Board of Health is fully staffed with highly qualified health experts.”

Protecting the bodily integrity rights of all infants is a new approach to reduce the health risk for infants. We haven’t tried that yet. And trying that is the ethical approach.

I don’t pretend protecting the rights of all infants, the correct approach, will be easy. Even with the “consent” document Mayor Bloomberg implemented, infections increased. Protecting the rights of infants in law and in reality are separate issues. The former would not guarantee the latter. But public health officials, ostensibly entrusted to (ethically) protect the health of all members of society, must aim for effectiveness, not politics.


The stink of uneaten side orders

Posted: February 19th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Politics, Public Health, Science | No Comments »

Continuing on the implication from the government possibly reversing itself on cholesterol recommendations, Charles Lane ponders what the reversal means for public health and policy in, Science, with a side order of humility. Since this is not a diet blog, this is what matters here:

There’s a lesson here for all of us, especially those who urge that this or that public policy be dictated by “the science.”

We’re doomed to rely on science; imperfect as it is, it beats the alternatives. The trick is for scientists to produce their work with appropriate humility, and for citizens to consume it with appropriate skepticism. …

Precisely because it is, or aspires to be, value-free, science is better at describing social problems than solving them. Policymaking is all about value judgments and trade-offs. Science can prove that man-made climate change, for example, is real; the “right” way to address it is a matter of morality and politics.

In the past Mr. Lane very much cared about “the science” of circumcision in the way he rebukes above. Commenting on reactions to the Cologne court decision in 2012, before German legislators (i.e. policymakers) passed a law to override the court, Lane wrote (several links omitted):

I suppose I would agree with the court, and Andrew [Sullivan], if there was definitive proof that male circumcision, even performed under medically appropriate conditions (as the vast, vast majority are), constitutes “barbaric” “mutilation” of the genitals. Thorough as always, Andrew musters a video of some uncircumcised Canadian guy talking about masturbation and a blog post by an Oxford philosophy prof to prove that a) foreskin serves a vital sexual function and b) studies showing circumcision prevents HIV transmission are flawed.

The truth is that male circumcision does no permanent harm and might be slightly beneficial. There are risks to the procedure, but they are generally exceedingly minor. Both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Urological Association take the position that neonatal circumcision is a choice that may be safely left to the informed discretion of parents. Among other insults, the Cologne court impugns parents’ concern for the health of their own children.

On the sexual function point, the World Health Organization has declared that it “has not been systematically reviewed, and remains unclear due to substantial biases in many studies.” To those like Andrew’s Canadian dude who insist that missing foreskin would diminish sensation, I offer the circumcised Woody Allen’s famous assessment of his orgasms: “My worst one was right on the money.”

Anyway, injury to this bit of erogenous tissue would not be mutilation of the “genitals,” strictly speaking, since it plays no direct role in male reproduction.

Witness how Lane discarded the position that male circumcision constitutes mutilation. The claim comes from “some uncircumcised (sic) Canadian guy talking about masturbation and a blog post by an Oxford philosophy prof,” so we can dismiss it. That’s ad hominem, not refutation. Experience is anecdotal, but can be informative. And philosophers should obviously be involved. Non-therapeutic circumcision by proxy consent implicates ethics and rights, particularly – but not limited to – the rights of the child as expressed by the German court.

Rather than discussing the ways studies may be flawed to rebut them, Lane moved on to his opinion, omitting the fact that removing the foreskin itself constitutes harm. He quotes two professional organizations to support his position (while ignoring the flaws in the AAP’s position, for example). Enjoy what he wrote yesterday:

Doctors and researchers, authors of “medical miracles,” are more like a priesthood, or a cadre of sorcerers, than we generally admit. Their legitimacy is based on something real, and time-tested — the scientific method — but it also comes from the mystique of their diplomas and white coats.

He supported a policy statement based on science applied as value judgement and trade-off, with input on the value judgement and trade-off from everyone except the person upon whom it’s applied.

He moves on to the World Health Organization’s statement that sexual function “has not been systematically reviewed, and remains unclear due to substantial biases in many studies.” So we’re just supposed to accept that “male circumcision does no permanent harm”? Why? I don’t remember learning that the scientific method says we may assume whatever is necessary for our argument in the absence of reliable data, bolstered because someone told a joke once.

Lane showed his full (2012) commitment to SCIENCE! rather than science in the last quoted paragraph. If the foreskin is erogenous, why did he argue that removing it permanently does “no permanent harm”? More to the point, if someone sliced up my leg with a razor, leaving scars, would he say I’m not mutilated because I can still walk? His argument was nonsense, including the implication that the foreskin is not part of the genitals.

I wonder if Mr. Lane would reconsider his misguided 2012 analysis today with a side order of humility previously absent. He should.

**********

There are more problems with Lane’s 2012 essay than what I criticize here. He was wrong from start-to-finish in that essay.


Unsettling the settled

Posted: February 11th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Ethics, Politics, Public Health, Science | 1 Comment »

This has no direct connection to circumcision or genital integrity. But it has pertinent implications right now.

The nation’s top nutrition advisory panel has decided to drop its caution about eating cholesterol-laden food, a move that could undo almost 40 years of government warnings about its consumption.

The group’s finding that cholesterol in the diet need no longer be considered a “nutrient of concern” stands in contrast to the committee’s findings five years ago, the last time it convened. During those proceedings, as in previous years, the panel deemed the issue of “excess dietary cholesterol” a public health concern.

The new view on cholesterol in the diet does not reverse warnings about high levels of “bad” cholesterol in the blood, which have been linked to heart disease. Moreover, some experts warned that people with particular health problems, such as diabetes, should continue to avoid cholesterol-rich diets.

After decades of one recommendation, the U.S. government discovers that settled science isn’t quite as settled as it led citizens to believe. This lesson arrives in the lull between the comment period and issuance of the CDC’s circumcision recommendation. The ethics of genital integrity dictate against its proposal. Of course. But looking forward, how much of the “settled” science of circumcision rests on speculation and guesswork? What might change over the next few years and decades? What will the CDC (or AAP or WHO or…) say if, in 2035, something unsettles¹ the science so many (almost exclusively American) authorities eagerly endorse today? Will the boys born today accept an “Ooops” for what is being forced on (i.e. taken from) them today if something unsettles the science tomorrow?

¹ The ethics of non-therapeutic genital cutting without the individual’s consent “unsettles” it now by making the application of the science in that manner inherently wrong. The availability of more effective, less invasive preventions and treatments for maladies involving the foreskin already unsettles the science, as well.


President’s Endless Plan for Avoiding Rights

Posted: January 28th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: "Voluntary", Ethics, HIV, Politics, Public Health | 1 Comment »

PEPFAR held an event today, described as:

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

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

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


If the press release says it’s “voluntary”…

Posted: August 1st, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: "Voluntary", Media Marketing, Politics, Public Health | No Comments »

There are few things more predictable in an article titled A Lesson in Health: Scaling Up Voluntary Medical [sic] Male Circumcision than the false use of voluntary. (all emphasis added)

[Seventh-grade teacher at Kopong Primary School in Botswana, Mothusi Joseph] Kgomo and five of his students who were circumcised that day (with their parents’ consent) are a few of the more than 1 million men and youth in sub-Saharan Africa who have chosen to protect themselves and reduce their lifetime risk of contracting HIV by participating in Jhpiego-supported VMMC programs. …

While the unprecedented scale-up of this lifesaving intervention in countries with high HIV-infection rates is impressive, what’s more remarkable are the people who helped make it happen: fathers who brought their sons to clinics, best friends who encouraged their peers, military lieutenants who set an example for their platoons, tribal chiefs and concerned wives, as well as nurses who took on added responsibilities and roles at health centers, and healthcare providers from neighboring countries who traveled long distances to help their fellow Africans during busy VMMC campaigns. …

This article – by Leslie Mancuso, President and CEO of Jhpiego – is adapted directly from a press release (pdf). That press release¹ declares that “More than 1 million men and youth in sub-Saharan Africa have chosen to protect themselves and reduce their risk of contracting HIV by participating in Jhpiego-supported voluntary medical male circumcision (VMMC) programs.” It’s always the same. When public health officials say “Voluntary Medical [sic] Male Circumcision,” they never mean voluntary. Never. I’d suspect the word will eventually be dropped altogether, just as adult disappeared, except it’s useful for the propaganda needed to circumcise healthy children.

¹ How soon before we get another “news” story about Selemani Nyika, Triza Liyasi’s husband, or Lt. Suwilanji Musamba?


Another Reminder

Posted: April 15th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: "Voluntary", Public Health | No Comments »

When public health officials advocate for voluntary adult male circumcision, they never mean voluntary or adult. From Zimbabwe:

The ministry was working together with the Population Services International (PSI) on the programme.

PSI director for voluntary medical male circumcision Ngonidzashe Madidi said for the purposes of sustainability, they were studying the early infant male circumcision (EIMC) to ensure protective effect of male circumcision is sustained.

Madidi said they wanted EIMC to run parallel with the adult Voluntary Medical Male Circumcision (VMMC) programme.

“Currently, EIMC is in a study phase and we are happy to say we managed to circumcise at least 560 babies successfully,” Madidi said.

Are the infants happy? Do they think it was successful?


Journalists Doing Brian Morris Undeserved Favors

Posted: April 10th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Ethics, Media Marketing, Public Health, Science | No Comments »

It isn’t difficult to see how Brian Morris’ process works. He publishes a “new” paper making bold, biased, often-unsupported claims citing his prior work doing the same, and receives circulation for his ideas from unquestioning journalists acting as stenographers. His latest, with Stefan Bailis and Thomas Wiswell, is a good opportunity to assess the reporting within consideration of an excellent article by Ian Sample, “How to write a science news story based on a research paper“.

1. Find a good paper

That rules out anything written by Professor Morris, but I’ll grant that his focus on non-therapeutic infant male circumcision satisfies the criteria that the work be “controversial”.

2. Read it

You cannot cover a paper properly without reading it. The abstract [ed. note: Or the press release] will give the barest essentials. You need to read the introduction for context, the discussion and conclusions for take-home messages. Check the methods. Was the experiment well designed? Was it large enough to draw conclusions from? Find weaknesses and flaws. You will probably need help to work out how fatal they are. Spend time on the results. Have the authors omitted key data? Look at odds ratios, error bars, fitted curves and statistical significances. Are the results robust? Do they back up the scientists’ conclusions? …

Given that Morris’ latest paper is only 10 pages (pdf), including references, this shouldn’t be hard. Yet, I found no initial article covering it that suggested the reporter bothered to read beyond the press release, or perhaps the abstract. For example, both of these articles cite the “benefits exceed risks by at least 100 to 1” line as truth, despite there being no support within the paper for this preposterous claim. It’s merely a statement. Where is the support for this in the paper? The questions Mr. Sample suggest provide a path for investigating this paper further. There is a table of potential benefits cited for circumcision, but no data offering how these are weighted to produce an objective mathematical conclusion.

Within the key table listing claimed benefits, Table 4, Morris cites a study by Dr. Jonathan Wright while omitting the necessary qualification that the study found a correlation, not a causal link. As Dr. Wright stated, “‘These data suggest a biologically plausible mechanism through which circumcision may decrease the risk of prostate cancer,'” said study researcher Dr. Jonathan Wright, an assistant professor of urology at the University of Washington School of Medicine. He noted that the study was observational; it did not show a cause-and-effect link.” How much does this correlation contribute to the “100 to 1” number?

4. Get context

Science builds on science. Know the previous studies that matter so you can paint a fuller picture. …

Like Dr. Wright’s study, for example. Or the way Morris previously used a study by Dr. Kimberly Payne to support a claim that the “highest-quality studies suggest that medical male circumcision has no adverse effect on sexual function, sensitivity, sexual sensation, or satisfaction.” Yet, Dr. Payne’s study, which Morris (and Krieger) rated as the highest quality, resulted in Dr. Payne stating that “[i]t is possible that the uncircumcised penis is more sensitive due to the presence of additional sensory receptors on the prepuce and frenulum, but this cannot be compared with the absence of such structures in the circumcised penis.”

5. Interview the authors

Get them to explain their results and justify their conclusions. What do the results mean in plain English? What do they not mean? Ask your questions in simple language to get answers you can quote. Run phrases you might use past the authors, so they can warn you of howlers. Do not ask multi-part questions: you will not get full answers.

Perhaps Morris should justify making up rights when he says “[d]enial of infant male circumcision is denial of his rights to good health, something that all responsible parents should consider carefully”. Do parents who do not circumcise their healthy son violate his rights?

This is especially interesting in light of a comment in the press release. Professor Morris said (emphasis added):

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

If not circumcising an infant male “will usually mean it will never happen”, that demonstrates that circumcision will usually not be necessary. Is this one surgery, and the ethical implication, somehow different than withholding from a healthy child every other surgery that will usually never be required?

This also shows the sleight-of-hand in “half of uncircumcised males will require treatment for a medical condition associated with retention of the foreskin,” which is included in the paper (and on Morris’ site). Requiring treatment is not the same as requiring circumcision.

In footnote e of Table 4, Morris cites a figure for risks associated with neonatal circumcision where “data show that risk of an easily treatable condition is approximately 1 in 200 and of a serious complication is 1 in 5000”. So, a complication is not an argument against non-therapeutic infant male circumcision because it will probably be easily treatable. And treatable medical conditions associated with the foreskin will usually not require circumcision, as Professor Morris states, but somehow also justify non-therapeutic infant male circumcision. That’s “Heads I win/Tails you lose” nonsense. Professor Morris is engaging in propaganda.

When the New York Times quoted Morris about this paper, he said: “Just as there are opponents of vaccination, there are opponents of circumcision. But their arguments are emotional and unscientific, and should be disregarded.” That is demagoguery, and should reflect on Professor Morris’ reputation. The argument against non-therapeutic infant male circumcision is rooted in ethics, but it is also rooted in the science of normal human anatomy. The foreskin is healthy, just as every other body part usually is. And opponents of non-therapeutic child circumcision support condoms, soap, and antibiotics, for example, which are all scientific inventions and discoveries.

6. Get other scientists’ opinions

Such as Professor Kevin Pringle, of New Zealand, and Dr. Russell Saunders, pen name for a New England pediatrician. While I disagree with the latter’s conclusion on parental choice, for my purpose in this post, he wrote: “Having reviewed Dr. Morris’s study, I find his statements about the benefits of circumcision as a routine procedure overblown, and the comparison with vaccination baseless.”

7. Find the top line

How about this, from page 7 of the paper:

The timing of circumcision is crucial. Medical and practical considerations strongly favor the neonatal period (Table 4).16 Surgical risk is, thereby, minimized and the accumulated health benefits are maximized.14,16 …

As Morris’ statement about the likely lack of need demonstrates, circumcising in infancy is not usually crucial for the male’s health to the point of circumcision becoming necessary. There isn’t a justification for non-therapeutic infant circumcision. It can wait until the male can choose – or reject – non-therapeutic circumcision for himself.

8. Remember whom you are writing for

This is where Morris gets what he needs most. The headlines encourage readers who only skim headlines to believe that Morris has proven that the potential benefits exceed the risks 100 to 1, that circumcision is similar to a vaccine, and that there is some case for mandatory circumcision of infants. It’s all absurd and does a significant disservice to readers and truth.

9. Be right

Ahem.