June 15th, 2015 Posted in Medical | No Comments »
On May 22, anti-circumcision advocates across America lost their battle over a 4-year-old boy’s foreskin when a Florida judge ruled that his jailed mother, Heather Hironimus, would remain incarcerated unless she signed a medical consent form allowing her former partner, Dennis Nebus, to circumcise their son. Georganne Chapin, the executive director of Intact America, an anti-circumcision advocacy group, said of the move:
It was pure bullying. It was pure coercion, pure revolting misogyny on the part of this judge to give the choice between jail indefinitely or supposedly agreeing to sign a form allowing somebody to cut off a perfectly normal, perfectly healthy part of her child’s body.
Hironimus previously signed a parenting agreement in court with her ex-partner, consenting to the circumcision of their son, Chase. However, after much research, she changed her mind and entered into a lengthy litigation, during which she took her son to a battered women’s shelter in order to avoid the court-ordered circumcision.
This case is unique. While custody battles are fairly standard in marital breakdowns, never before had a child’s foreskin been the subject of such intense debate. Focusing as it does on issues of consent and autonomy, the outcome of this case has repercussions for future conflicts regarding a procedure that most of the Western world considers unnecessary and merely aesthetic.
It wasn’t until I came to the United States that I encountered a circumcised penis. From my entirely unscientific survey undertaken over the course of a decade, I can’t figure out why Americans are so intent on discarding foreskins rather than teaching boys about hygiene and safe sex. I am British and from a medical family, and when my son was born, my (circumcised, Catholic) husband and I were opposed to performing the procedure on him for cultural reasons. My husband saw no reason his son would want to “look like Daddy,” which appears to be a remarkably common rationale for circumcising infants. Being a woman, I admit I don’t know how much time little boys spend examining their father’s genitalia, but still, it strikes me as a specious reason for cutting off a piece of your child’s body. In contrast, I can understand why someone might want to circumcise their child for medical reasons: Circumcision decreases the risks of contracting sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV and herpes. (As for religious belief, Nebus didn’t cite it as a reason for wanting to circumcise his son, so let’s leave that off the table.)
My husband and I preferred to teach our son how to clean his penis and have safe, consensual sex using condoms when appropriate. We consider this a more reliable method of preserving his sexual health and those of his future partners without needing to resort to a painful mutilation. While there is some debate on how much pain circumcision causes, after viewing several performed with and without anesthetic, I agree with Dr. Steven Lerman, a genitourinary surgeon at University of California at Los Angeles’ medical center and a respected mohel, who believes that circumcision is an extremely painful procedure for infants and adults alike.