Banning Circumcision?

In San Francisco, supporters of an initiative that would ban circumcision of males under 18 say they have enough signatures to place the measure on the November ballot. I find it rather rude for some to suggest that the state should prevent parents from making this decision for their own children. I would find it equally unpleasant if the state were to mandate that boys be circumcised. I am not aware of any evidence about health benefits or drawbacks that is strong enough to compel only one decision about this issue. When reasonable people have legitimate disagreements about how to weigh uncertain evidence on both sides, it seems wrong for the state to mandate one approach or the other.

Though the proposed San Francisco measure would not offer a religious exception, my reasons for considering circumcision always had to do with health rather than religion or culture. According to the CDC, circumcision may reduce the chances of acquiring or transmitting diseases like HPV or HIV. A reduced incidence of penile cancer is also reported. I understand that some men end up seeking circumcision later life due to phimosis or other physical difficulties in older age, but by then the procedure is more likely to have complications or a difficult recovery. Thus, if circumcision is chosen for potential health benefits, it seems better to have it done during infancy.

Though the above reasoning led me to conclude that I would probably circumcise a newborn son, I certainly appreciate the gravity of the opposing arguments, and I understand why parents might come to a different conclusion even from the same evidence. Any time a parent makes a decision for a child that has permanent effects and could cause suffering, it should be undertaken with great caution after investigating the available evidence. The mild hysteria about this issue in recent years can make it more challenging to find quality evidence. For all I know, the medical evidence may someday change, and my decision along with it. However, based on what we know today, the state needs to allow parents to weigh and decide this question for themselves.

Now that the circumcision ban is in the news, one argument I often hear is that medical organizations like the AAP do not recommend routine infant circumcision. However, this does not mean that they recommend against it, as some people misleadingly allege. Rather, there is insufficient evidence of health benefits to support recommending that the procedure be done routinely. The AAP, like other medical organizations, acknowledges evidence of both risks and benefits of circumcision. This is why I think parents who choose not to circumcise are perfectly justified in that choice and should be free to make it. Similarly, parents who choose to circumcise should be afforded the same freedom under the law.


2 responses to “Banning Circumcision?

  1. Why not just leave it up to your son? By the time he’s having sex, he’ll be able to make such a decision for himself.

    • Thank you James for your comment! I’ve asked myself this question, since I’m having a baby and don’t know what sex it is. In other cases, I make medical decisions for my children regardless of what they would choose, but in most of those situations there is no way to postpone the decision without causing harm. The circumcision case is not quite like this; however, my fear is that it would be harder to recover from the procedure later, making the decision much more difficult and momentous than it seems to be for an infant. I am also aware that I could be wrong about this. The procedure for infants could be worse than I’m realizing, or the adult version simpler. However, I have trouble locating clear information about this particular issue, since much of what I’ve seen appears to come from people with a strong agenda on either side of the issue. I feel like a fence-sitter who had to go one way or another, but was pushed by a fairly light breeze. Better evidence might change my feelings about these things.

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