One Special Body Part

Recently the news media has been buzzing with reports on two “news” items: The American Academy of Pediatrics’ promised Circumcision Policy Statement; and Johns Hopkins researchers’ speculation that lowered rates of circumcision will raise health care costs by billions:

Circumcision is believed to prevent STDs by depriving pathogens of a moist environment where they can thrive. The inner foreskin has been shown to be highly susceptible to HIV in particular because it contains large numbers of Langerhans cells, a target for the virus. Tobian and his colleagues developed a computer-based simulation to estimate whether declining circumcision rates would lead to more STDs and thus higher medical costs.”Really? What about the contradictory research which shows there is a dearth/abundance of Langerhans cells in the male foreskin [very different conclusions…but the recommendation of circumcision is the same]? No mention of the fact that Langerhans cells aren’t specific to males or to the genitals? Why not? No reporting of the lower STI and HIV rates in Europe? Why not? Can we expect cost-benefit analyses of any other “preventive” AMPUTATIONS which are forced on healthy children? No.

No, complete penises aren’t creating health crises in “developed” non-circumcising nations. The USA has a much higher rate of circumcision and higher rates of STIs and HIV. How exactly have we benefited?

When you see the same names and institutions over and over in connection with circumcision research it’s pretty easy to see that circumcision, not real medicine, is their focus. How can we tell? They try to distract us with scare tactics rather than answer one simple question: is this medicine as practiced on any other normal, healthy body part? NO. So why do we have medical and legal exceptions just for penis cutting?

But, let’s imagine for a moment that the speculative statistics offered were true– would any amount of data or statistical “evidence” convince us to cut off any other part of a child’s normal, healthy body? Nope, and certainly not any part of an infant girl’s genitals. Help make her future hygiene regimen easier? Protect her from “extra folds” of skin which may harbor pathogens? Anticipate that a future hypothetical partner may “prefer” a more “streamlined” look? Insist on procedures to ensure mother/daughter matching vulvas?

Ridiculous, right? But these are the oft-cited justifications to alter male children’s genitals. One sex is targeted for cutting by “researchers.”
”Although observational only, these data suggest a biologically plausible mechanism through which circumcision may decrease the risk of prostate cancer,” Wright said.” Note the weak language common in such studies (and especially apparent in the AAP’s Circumcision Policy): “Observational only”, “suggest”, “plausible”, “may.” The headlines in media reports do NOT reflect the speculative nature of these findings. Is researcher bias or conflict of interest ever questioned? Rarely. Rather, each and every hopeful report as to “potential benefits” of [male] circumcision is parroted as though it is fact. Essentially what we’re told is “We’ve given you the headline which conforms to your world view, never mind the details or contrary evidence.”

When considering the AAP’s new circumcision policy statement, no matter the specific details, the question still remains why it has two sets of rules; one set for the penis, and one set for everything else:

Parental choice. Parents certainly do have to make decisions for their children all the time, but tell us… how long is the list of normal body parts which may be partially amputated at parental request, without diagnosis of injury, disease or deformity? Answer: 1. Penis. Isn’t that enough of a red flag to question the history of medicalized circumcision?

The American Academy of Pediatrics is a product of our culture. As such, it will reflect the biases and habits of a society which has offered “special” treatment for boys. We cannot be shocked with its past failures or its current failures, but we can point them out.

In 1971, the Academy concluded: “There are no valid medical indications for circumcision in the neonatal period.” 41 years later, we must ask why this is still a “medical” discussion, why this one special body part gets its own set of rules. The conclusion we can make about the American Academy of Pediatrics is clear, its motto is a lie. Here, it has been corrected:

Those who oppose non-therapeutic, non-consensual genital cutting are often accused of being “obsessed with the penis”– but as you can clearly see, we aren’t the ones pleading for exemptions in ethics, oaths and application of laws to allow this one very special amputation. We don’t think boys are inherently flawed and must be altered in order to protect women, to protect society or to protect themselves from themselves. We must stand up for male children, because the American Academy of Pediatrics will not.

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