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I was in the U.S. Army in 1969 when my Parkersburg (Iowa) High School Class of 1964 held its first class reunion – a gathering marking five years after  we graduated. So I didn’t make the trip from Fort Polk, La., where I was stationed. I don’t know if I was held during my time in boot camp or advanced infantry training  — or what? that year.

I chaired our 10th Year Reunion in August 1974, just a couple days after President Richard Nixon had resigned from the shame in Watergate.  I would chair our 25th and 40th class reunions and attended several others.  There weren’t enough classmates interested in holding  a 35th-Year Reunion.    On July 12, 2014, many of the 43 living alumni from the 47 graduates of PHS are gathering in Aplington, Iowa, at a place called Stinkey’s Bar and Grill, to catch up on each other’s lives. It will be a fast three hours or so together.

That spring of 1964, we, the first Baby Boomers class, were the largest graduating class that school district had ever had.

For the 40th class reunion in 2004, I produced a 70-page booklet with updates on all but a couple  graduates.  (Just two classmate did not respond to requests for information.)  This year I produced  a  58-page book with mostly color photos, and, like the other, it is a mix of memories and nostalgia. I dedicated a page to the four classmates whom we have lost.

Desktop publishing has come a long ways since even 2004, and the cost of color has really fallen.  (This time, six classmates did not respond, some because of health challenges). Classmates mostly wrote about what they are doing in retirement.  Most of us are 68 years old now.  All but three of our original 47 married at least one time.  Our singles were  all males, and two are now deceased.  We were a class of 30 girls and 17 boys.  It was a class I take special pride in, as the class’ valedictorian, the editor of the school newspaper my senior year, as freshman and junior class president and a member of the Student Council.  I penned the class theme, as well:  “Success docks at the Port of Effort.”

Of the 43 classmates, 24 live in Butler County where  Parkersburg is  — or an adjoining county.  Five live in other parts of Iowa, four reside in Minnesota and three in Arizona.  One each lives in seven other states: Illinois, Texas, Colorado, Wisconsin, Connecticut, Tennessee and Oregon.  In previous booklets, I added up the number of children our class produced, but, now, with non-responses from  some classmates and the blurred area of birth and adopted children, it became too inexact to tally.   I think we averaged about two children per graduate.

Four major moments of our senior year were the boys football team winning the Big Marsh football championships, the assassination of President John Kennedy, the Crusaderettes girls basketball team making the Sweet 16 State Girls Tournament in Des Moines and the Beatles’ Invasion of America.

Classmates say they don’t want speeches and a long program for the dinner, in order to get maximum one-on-one conversation. One of our teachers, who was a coach, plans to attend, along with a former superintendent.

Needless to say, some of us will have to think a moment to figure out who that nearly 70-year-old bald guy is.   It’s confounding why some classmates, even given more than a year of advance notice on the date of the reunion, let other things supersede and not go to the reunion.  Some classmates will go across the country to attend a reunion while some living in the hometown opt not to attend “because we see each other all the time at the store.”  I remember one classmate telling me before our 10th reunion that she wasn’t  attending because she didn’t like that particular restaurant’s menu.

From Arizona as a reunion dinner prop, I will again transport to Iowa the yard-tall cardboard “moon” covered in aluminum foil that hung in the school gym in April 1963 for the junior-senior prom.  Our theme was “Moon River,” after the mega-hit Henry Mancini song that became an Andy Williams standard.   My twin brother, Lincoln, who went on to be an aeronautical engineer crafted the moon, as he did a spinning cylinder with a light inside that made silver, hanging streamers shimmer as if we were beholding a waterfall.  Meanwhile, nearby the school’s bulky tape recorder was playing a recording of the hydrant of the cow tank on our farm churning out water to create the waterfall sounds.   As class  president, I coordinated the committees that handled all parts of the prom we were throwing for the senior class.  When it came to decorating, the gym doors and windows were covered to keep the prom theme a big secret until the night of the big dance.

So my wife, Patty, and I are going to my 50th class reunion to see whether we still have class –we survivors of a half-century of life, mindful that we will never all be around again — or together again –for yet another reunion.  We had our kids, now relish in our grandchildren and even have started the great-grandchildren generation.  We served our nation, paid our taxes, plugged our skills into the fabric of the American work force and survived.

 

A few weeks ago, 16 of us on a high school sex education curriculum study committee made our recommendation to the Tempe Union High School District here in Tempe, Ariz.  After six months of work, our assignment came to an end.  The five-member governing board had a spirited debate about our suggesting the Family Life and Sexual Health, or FLASH, as the best of five programs we examined to use to teach high school students about sex.  After some fierce discussion, the board voted 3-2 to use FLASH as the framework to craft its own distinct program.

As I noted in a blog post a month ago, I felt compelled to use the opportunity of studying sex ed curricula to pitch for the rights of baby boys and not let circumcision be taught as an acceptable step of parenting a boy.

I had raised the same  issues when our committee itself met for the final time April 14 and voted 13-0 for FLASH.  I chose to join 30 community speakers at the school board meeting on May 7 to reinforce that.   The sound system in the district’s temporary meeting site, the new Compadre High School gym, was atrocious. None of the speakers could be heard well.

Even with the merits of FLASH, the curriculum is pathetic when it comes  to “discussing” circumcision.   In the “Reproductive Section,” it has a box that says “Foreskin” with a mere three bullet points: “1) Protects the penis; 2) Provides sensation; and 3) Males who’ve been circumcised don’t have one.”

When my name was called to speak, this is what I shared in my allotted 3 minutes:

Good evening, my name is Lawn Griffiths, a 30-year Tempe resident and father of two graduates from McClintock High School.

It was an honor to serve on the task force. I certainly hope our efforts translate into enlightened, informative comprehensive sex education for many years to come in this district. Our young people deserve a solid, well-grounded curriculum, and I believe we found it with the Family Life curriculum.

I think back exactly 50 years ago to my small school district in Iowa when the best high school teacher I ever had was accused by the school board of teaching us too much regarding sex education in our sociology class. His much needed information was so refreshing and honest, but Mr. King didn’t get his contract renewed the next year because of that. It was tragic. I wrote and posted a blog about that sad episode when Mr. King died little over a year ago. 

My other hope is actually an appeal, a call coming from the deepest fibers of male soul. We appeal to your better instincts and your humanity that the health educators who take up the task of teaching about sexual health teach the truth about the male body and that all the parts that nature or God supremely created for that body belong there permanently, that the foreskin is not something to cut off at birth.

Circumcision is not one of the steps that come with having a son, and curriculum should reflect that this entrenched practice of destroying a body structure forever changes that child’s genitals, something he would never choose to have done himself. Gone are 20,000 nerve endings, the ridge bands, the frenulum, Meissner’s corpuscles, mobile skin — what amounts to 15 square inches of skin in the adult male. Much is lost forever.  And such a waste of precious health-care dollars.

We need to stop looking the other way and respect males’ right to wholeness, the right to keep their foreskins. Genital cutting of girls in this nation rightfully is outlawed, but the practice of cutting off, excising the foreskins of male babies oddly is allowed. How does that happen? It’s sheer hypocrisy and a double standard. Circumcision is performed on a child who has no voice– except his scream. Whose body is it, anyway? Where are the ethics?

 If circumcision were a good thing, the males who survived childhood intact and whole would be getting circumcised, and they don’t — for obvious reasons. They want and like what they have. There are at least 16 functions of the foreskin, and it is not a expendable body part.

 So, we believe young students in Tempe Union need to be educated to respect all the bodies of males and females. It is wrong to teach circumcision like it won’t make any difference. The Family Health curriculum, I’m afraid, soft-peddles on this.

 Adult males do resent they were violated after their birth, and educators ought to have accurate knowledge and empathy. Schools can help ensure that all minors — male and female — remain whole and intact as is so common in most of the world. Please, teach genital integrity and infant rights along the way.

I urge you to adopt the Family Life program and ensure that students learn that males have universal rights to be safe in their bodies when they come into this world.

Please think of the baby boys — beautiful with all their God-given parts, all with intended purposes.

 

Recently, the president/CEO of two hospitals in the Phoenix metropolitan area spoke to my Kiwanis Club.  Nice man. Totally fit for the job.  In the question and answer session, I suggested his hospital close down their circumcision units and asked him how ethical is a hospital in this day and age when it performs circumcisions on helpless infants against their will.  He gave a fairly quick and dismissive answer: Yes, circumcision is controversial. He knew of no hospitals that have quit circumcising and his hospitals would continue to do so.

I subsequently sent him this letter. I am still waiting for a reply:

May 4, 2014

Mr. Tim Bricker

President and CEO

Dignity Health

Chandler Regional/Mercy Gilbert Medical Centers

1955 W. Frye Road

Chandler AZ  85224

Dear Tim,

It was a pleasure to meet you Thursday when you spoke to the Kiwanis Club of Tempe.  You are vastly articulate and a skilled spokesman for your hospitals and the complex medical industry.  You exhibit the energy and form so necessary in such work.

Thanks for taking my question on circumcision. Your response was predictable — so corporate and safe.  The circumcision industry is  hopelessly intertwined in the cultural cabal of public ignorance and medical myths.  Males have had their foreskins since humans first roamed the earth and never became instinct from any of the contrived pretexts for cutting them off.  That this is the 21st century and clean and well-lit places like your hospitals can get away with cutting off healthy, functional tissues from helpless infants so, so, so defies medical ethics.  The medical doctors’ shameful violation of their Hippocratic Oath — ‘First do no harm’ — is nothing short of breathtaking.

I realize you are just one executive in a far-flung matrix of upward-moving authorities not about to rock the boat and question practices.  Corporate America is insidious like that.  No one has the courage to step into the circumcision unit, listen to the desperate cries and see babies so traumatized that they fall into a protective semi-comatose state that apologists for circumcision say is “sleep.”  You and your peers don’t see the bloody results of the sexual assault that is circumcision. If you demanded parents to observe the procedure, watch the slicing, see how a perfect baby is turned into a wounded, panicky, screaming, confused young human, there would be changes.  

It is only because this torturous madness is visited upon helpless, strapped-down, defenseless baby boys that it can be done.   Older boys or young men would never allow it.   There is a profound quote in iconic anthropologist (‘The Naked Ape’ author) Desmond Morris’ book “Man-Watching: A Field Guide to Human Behavior”:  “Circumcision is, in fact, the only really severe form of primitive mutilation to have resisted the modern trend toward abhorrence of body violation.  If, as used to be the case, it was performed at puberty instead of at infancy, that, too, would no doubt have vanished long ago, swept away by the outrage of the initiates. But the protests of babies are more easily ignored and with the false accolade of medical hygiene to help it on its way, the genital deforming of young males continues unabated.” Page 229.

How can such a cultural practice, not endorsed by any medical society in the world, continue in a medical center that takes itself seriously? There is no other “surgery” that a parent can authorize for a child.  Doctors would reject clipping ear lobes or carving of breast buds from girls so they don’t grow up to have breast cancer.

It is so confounding that educated medical professionals, not even trained in medical school about the complexities, functions and features of the foreskin, can so blatantly perpetuate this medical fraud.  It is said the many medical doctors, because they know better, don’t subject their own sons to the cruel indignities of circumcision. Another outrage is the failure of studies to elicit the true neurological impact of circumcision on the young brain. The sudden and vicious attack to his body and the painful contact of urine/feces on his wound have to have fierce impact.  There are theories that cut males carry this shock experience deep in their psyches and may act upon that violation later in their lives in striking back at society.

Tim, you need to know that the Intact Movement is huge and growing fast. What is so heartening is the number of young women, especially, who have gotten on board and who passionately speak out against it and approach expectant parents to debunk the myths people woefully believe.

We were so pleased when AHCCCS in 2002 quit funding Medicaid circumcisions in Arizona because the “cosmetic surgery” procedure was regarded as a waste of taxpayer money.  Tragically some hospitals will “throw in” free circumcisions to low-income families to circumvent what has been human rights victory.

In my 40 years of saving baby boys from circumcision through teaming up with others and speaking out, I have enjoyed seeing the rates fall.  It has been great to see insurance companies move away from reimbursements.   I personally think it will be class-action lawsuits and wrongful death suits (117 recorded deaths last year in the U.S. as a result of circumcisions and more that cannot be directly linked to it) that will cause institutions like yours to lay down the knives and put male genital integrity on par with the rights and protection of females from brutal cutting.

Tim, it is only a matter of time.  Sadly, how many thousands of baby boys more have to lose half of their penile shaft skin, their ridged bands, the mucous membrane, the Meissner corpuscles, the mechanical gliding action of a wholly intact penis, the more than 20,000 nerve endings  because of an entrenched medical procedure?   Look to Europe, South America, Asia, most of Africa and most of Canada.  They reject circumcision. They scoff at some Americans’ obsession with a skinned penis.

If hospital presidents and CEOs cannot see the sheer idiocy, the serial assault, the relentless stream of violations of the sexual integrity of another human being, then where is the compassion so advertised in the your soft commercials? Where is the “dignity” in Dignity Health? My registered nurse mother in 1946 should have known better. I have in my files the hospital statement, her $83 bill for delivering twins at Iowa Methodist Hospital in Des Moines, Iowa.  The bastards charged her a mere $10 for cutting two boys.  I lost my foreskin for $5!  Now charges run $200 to $500 or more. Easy money for fast work on a strapped down victim. I would pay 100 times that fee for my foreskin back.  Now hospitals, like yours, sell foreskins to labs for profit.  How hideous is that?  Trafficking in purloined human body parts.  How perverse.

In July at the University of Colorado at Boulder, I will be joining hundreds of intactivists from around the world — doctors, ethicists, nurses, attorneys, doulas, educators, authors, parents and more — at the 13th International Symposium on Genital Autonomy and Children’s Rights on the theme “Whole Bodies, Whole Selves: Activating Social Change.” http://www.genitalautonomy2014.com/public/ I invite you and your Dignity Health colleagues.   We are often portrayed as harpies spitting into the wind. Our mission is working on both the circumcision industry to see the cruelty of their ways and on expectant parents who need to abandon their shallow notions that circumcision is one of the steps of having a baby boy, that the foreskin is expendable and foul body tissue or that boys should look like their fathers.  Then there is the red herring about AIDS. We mourn for what white, western medicine is doing to Africans.

So, Tim, you are part of an industry that needs to re-examine its stake in true care and procedures that don’t hurt and cause permanent loss to structures of the bodies created by God/nature.  I have long declined to support fund-raisers of hospitals that cut baby boys. I’d be a hypocrite if I did.  We’ll go on trying to get to parents first to see reason and show respect for their sons.  I consider our intact son and grandsons fortunate to have been rescued from people like your circumcisers.

Close down that macabre unit.  Health care dollars need to go to real medical needs. Don’t let boys grow up in Chandler, Gilbert and beyond resenting any one of your hospitals that violated their bodies when they could not fight back.  Be a humanitarian, Tim.  After all, civilization is just a slow process of learning to be kind. As I like to say,  “Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.”

 Spend some time listening to those cries and then talk to some intact adult males about the joy of being sexually complete.  Start sending the whole babies home from Chandler Regional and Mercy Gilbert. Be liberated from the tyranny of a dark side of medicine. Baby boys are too precious for such crude treatment.

 Sincerely,

 Lawn Griffiths

 

We recognize the life of Dr. Robert “Bob” Drye, a psychiatrist and longtime Tempe resident, who died suddenly mid-day Monday, April 28,  at his home in Tempe. His family said he had made himself a sandwich and collapsed and died. He has suffered from bronchial issues.   Emergency medical folks were there in 10 minutes after he was found, but he was pronounced dead.  Sort of that swift death many of us would want some day.  Bob was 86.

I first met Bob Drye in 1994 when he joined University Presbyterian Church in Tempe.  A number of us from that church served on the board of directors of Presbyterian Service Agency, a mental health provider largely serving Maricopa County (now PSA Behavioral Health Agency with services across the southern half of the state).  I was in my 7th year on the board and my first year as board president.  We invited Bob, with his credentials, to join our board.  He immediately proved to be a valuable voice of knowledge and experience on the board.  After three years as president in 1998, I gave way to Bob as our board leader.  He served as president through 2002, left the board in 2005, returned in September 2010 and retired in January 2013.

Our homes were 3/4th mile apart, and we often rode together to mental health board meetings. We covered the spectrum of issues, mostly politics.  Bob was a very active Democratic Party member and had served as a State Democratic Committeeman.  He closely watched the emergence of new candidates for public office, and he took time to know the field of candidates and party workers.

Bob earned his medical degree in 1951 from New York University.  He would practice psychiatry in Chicago, California and Pennsylvania.  He was once chairman of a National Institutes of Mental Health Psychiatric Training Committee and was a Life Fellow of the American Academy of Psychiatry.  He told me he had been a friend of the late Dr. Benjamin Spock, the iconic pediatrician whose common-sense theories of child care helped guide parents around the world for a half century.   For a time, Bob was an assistant professor at the University of Arizona Medical School.

Bob was a longtime member of University Presbyterian’s Social Justice and Peacemaking Committee, a determined group of church members who meet monthly to discuss local, national and global issues, including rights, environment, peace and fostering positive change in a troubled world.  He served as its chairman in 2001 while on Session. He wrote a lengthy summary of that year for the church’s annual report, noting efforts of participating in the Faith Works Event on Poverty, attending a Ramadan supper at the Islamic Cultural Center, sending a couple to the National Peacemaking Conference in North Carolina and ongoing support of such programs as Habitat for Humanity, Paz de Cristo homeless kitchen and outreach to lawmakers on mental health funding and the scandalous Alternate Fuel car-sale catastrophe.

For many years Dr. William Raby and I took turns teaching the Contemporary Issues class at University Presbyterian on Sunday mornings, and Bob was a loyal attendee contributing to the conversations.    During the church’s  prayer time in which people typically stand and share prayer concerns, or sometimes joy, Bob often stood and asked prayers for his current or former patients dealing with onerous issues.  He frequently told the joys of new grandchildren or marriages in his family.

In 1997, after my mother died at age 87 in Iowa, we brought my 85-year-old father to Tempe. In March 1998, Bob, who had organized a Grief Support Group, attended the American Academy of Bereavement Conference in Tucson.  He invited anyone dealing with family loss to the gatherings.  My father found it enormously valuable.  I had to apologize a number of times to Bob for my father often dominating sessions — conversationalist that he was.  Bob served three years as  a church deacon (1996, 1997 and 1998) and three years as an elder on the Session (2000, 2001 and 2002).

For a number of years, ending about three years ago,  Bob was a front-counter clerk at the Tempe Main U.S. Post Office at College Drive and Southern Avenue, selling stamps, taking packages and fetching certified letters.   He had a wonderful smile for customers.

Our prayers and thoughts are with his devoted partner of 20 years, Neria Ryder, and Bob’s far-flung family.

Back in mid-February, we Arizona intactivists got excited when a Sun City state senator filed a bill in the Arizona State Senate to put a stiff penalty on female genital mutilation. Senator Judy Burges called for it to be a Class 2 Felony with at least a $25,000 fine.  We quickly pointed out that while we also opposed female cutting,  there was already a federal law passed in 1996 to cover the issue, but why didn’t she put on an easy amendment to her bill and include the protection of males from genital mutilation, namely the assault of routine infant circumcision?  Let’s make things fair.  Let’s protect all our people from sexual assault.

In reaction to the bill’s filing,  Senator David Bradley, D-Tucson, was quoted in the press as wondering aloud and suggested “perhaps the proposal should be extended to procedures done on boys.”  When we saw that, we went to writing both senators, and two of our finest voices for boys’ genital rights traveled to Tucson one Saturday to discuss the issue with Sen. Bradley, hoping he might work to amend the bill or raise the debate.   When you are Democrat in the Arizona Legislature, with both houses solidly controlled by Republicans — mostly very conservative to boot — you don’t get far.  If Bradley was serious, there is little evidence he pursued this.   Some would say it will snow 40 inches in Phoenix before male circumcision is curbed in this state given the mindset and political culture.

I posted my letter to Bradley in  a Feb. 13 blog.  Like my letter to Burges, I got no response.

Senate Bill 1342, tagged “Unlawful Mutilation – Female Genitalia,” moved swiftly through Judicial, Health and Rules Committees.  In the Senate, it was approved in early April on “consent agenda,” a packaging with other bills that got approved without comment.  Exactly 18 seconds were devoted to it on April 3 when the Arizona House approved it with zilch discussion.  All were unanimous votes, and it goes on to female Governor Jan Brewer, who’ll certainly sign it.

Males got the shaft.  Hypocrisy, double standard, an ignoring of equal protection under the law as guaranteed by the 14th Amendment. What will it take?  How can these lawmakers not see such a sham?

Below is the text of the bill as they raised the issue and laid down the law.  It could be so nicely adapted to include males, as well.

HISTORY

The Office of Women’s Health (OWH) reports that the terms female genital cutting (FGC), female circumcision, and female genital mutilation (FGM) all describe the cultural practice of partially or totally removing the external female genitalia. This cultural practice is performed on infants, girls, and women of all ages, varying from country to country and even within countries.

According to OWH, many people believe that FGM is associated with a particular religion, but it is not supported by any religion and is condemned by many religious leaders. The practice crosses religious barriers and many reasons are cited as to why this practice is performed, including social, economic and political reasons.

It is estimated that between 100 million and 140 million girls and women worldwide have received FGM, and there are 3 million girls at risk each year. It is unknown how many women in the United State have received FGM.

Federal law specifies that whoever knowingly circumcises, excises, or infibulates the whole or any part of the labia majora or labia minora or clitoris of another person who has not attained the age of 18 years shall be fined or imprisoned not more than 5 years, or both. Federal law also makes it illegal to transport a person from the United States or its territories to another country for the purpose of FGM and specifies that violations are punishable by a fine or imprisonment of not more than 5 years, or both.

PROVISIONS

  • Specifies that it is unlawful for a person to:
  • Mutilate a female who is under 18 years of age.
  • Knowingly transport a female who is under 18 years of age to another jurisdiction for the purpose of mutilation.
  • Recklessly transport a female who is under 18 years of age to another jurisdiction where mutilation is likely to occur.
  • Prescribes a Class 2 felony and a fine of not less than $25,000.
  • Specifies that persons convicted of unlawful mutilation must serve the entire sentence.

SENATE BILL 1342 further:

  • Stipulates that unlawful mutilation is punishable as a dangerous crime against children if the victim is under the age of 15.
  • Prescribes sentencing guidelines.
  • Declares that parental consent or the consent of the victim is not a defense to a prosecution for unlawful mutilation.
  • Defines mutilate and mutilation.
  • Specifies that mutilate and mutilation as defined by the bill do not include procedures performed by a licensed physician that are proven to be medically necessary due to a medially recognized condition.
  • Adds unlawful mutilation as a reportable offense for the purpose of mandatory reporting. Specifies that civil actions for recovery of damages based on an act of unlawful mutilation or the failure to report must be commenced not later than 10 years.

 

Because of my 12-year role as chairman of the Adolescent Pregnancy and Parenting Program Advisory Committee in the Tempe Union High School District, I was invited last fall to serve on a district task force to study sex education curricula that are available and to recommend one for implementing in the district’s seven high schools.

We examined five, and our task force chose to recommend one called Family Life and Sexual Health (FLASH).  Twelve of 16 volunteers voted (three were absent) to call on the district to adopt it.  One of our task force members serves on the school board as president, and she abstained. Thus, all who voted want FLASH.

As I pored over the teacher manuals and materials for each curriculum, I was especially on the lookout as to what they said about the male anatomy and whether they addressed circumcision, and, if so, was it accurate?  As I expected, the matter was handled in just a passing sentence or two, and some curricula had no illustrations. In all, circumcision was treated as part of the birth process.  Not a mention of the ethical or human rights issues of genital cutting.

I started off the task force members’ assessments today. I gave my evaluation of the two finalists for adoption. With that said, I took the liberty to call on the school district governing board and those implementing a curriculum to not treat circumcision as one of the routine steps taken when a boy is born. It was an opportunity I had to take advantage of.  We had about 25 community citizens in the audience.  I am certain some on the task force were thinking that I was exploiting my speaking time with a topic far afield from the immediate topic — which curriculum was best.  In any event, this is what I said regarding circumcision

 That said, my previous written remarks on FLASH  included two lengthy paragraphs on the issue on what is said and taught on infant circumcision.  If this district is going to have an earnest and enlightened curriculum on sex education, then it should not, and must not teach, circumcision as just one of the routine steps to be taken after a baby boy is born.  All babies inherently have human rights, especially to be safe in their own bodies as nature made them. Millions of baby boys lose the most sensitive parts of their sexual anatomy because of a procedure parents mindlessly allow and the circumcision industry profits from. No medical society in the world recommends circumcision, but the tyranny of culture and tradition in this country perpetuates what is a violation of a child’s genital integrity, his right to be whole and complete.

The male foreskin is a complex structure that every male has a right to keep, and only he should determine whether to keep it.  Very, very few intact males grow up to want their foreskins amputated, so that debunks and discredits any notion that parents are doing what their sons would want by having them cut after birth.

Instead, there can be resentment.  What’s cut off would represent 15 square inches of penile skin in an adult. Medicaid won’t cover circumcisions in this state because it is medically unnecessary and it’s regarded as cosmetic surgery.  It is sad and perplexing that male circumcision is allowed while females are protected from genital cutting by federal law in this country. It is hypocrisy, a double standard, and violation of the 14th Amendment of equal treatment under the law.

     So I would hope that educators in this district in years and decades ahead will come to see that circumcision is medically unethical when performed on a helpless, defenseless child who has not given his consent and deserves to keep the 20,000 nerve endings of the foreskin, more than half of skin of his penile shaft, the ridged bands, the frenulum, the Meissner’s corpuscles, the mucous membrane and so much more.  Botched circumcisions,  117 deaths a year in the U. S. to circumcision, skin bridges, and loss of so much sensation — and we wonder why the U.S. needs to consume 47 percent of the world’s Viagra and Cialis to gain a modicum of sexual vibrancy. Do you think there might be a connection here? Men are truly missing something taken from them in infancy. The foreskin has 16 identifiable purposes. It is not throw-away, expendable skin. Eighty percent of males on this planet are doing nicely being intact.

    So let’s get the real facts, teach with humanity and genital integrity in mind in this district.  Let’s not teach that circumcision is part of normal parenthood.  As a father of an intact son and two intact grandsons, I say we can put this cruel practice behind us.  May the teens of this district, who grow up and become parents one day, respect their children’s perfect bodies and their birthright to keep all the body parts they came with.  It starts with education.

 So, that said, I recommend the FLASH curriculum to governing board of this district.

One task force member thanked me publicly and acknowledged it caused a gasp in the room when I brought up circumcision, but she said it raised awareness about something she knew little about.  A male parent of five circumcised sons also said my information was fascinating and the best thing to come out of the meeting for him.  He just didn’t know that circumcision was an issue.

I intend to follow through with the hope that when the program is implemented, health educators will teach that newborn males have the right to remain intact — and reasons why. I know:  We are talking about educational bureaucracy and the likelihood this one issue will fall through the cracks.   But it is a step.   As the 12th recipient of the city’s prestigious  Don Carlos Humanitarian Award (1995) for a community of 166,000 people,  I believe I was re-earning the honor and fulfilling my duty to live up to it.

Hopefully, we saved some boys from the perverse practice of penile reduction today. It is all about education.

Most of us in the international movement to banish routine infant circumcision are offended by hospital web sites that show happy babies and information about how efficiently their staffs can take care of that thing called circumcision. Banner Ironwood in San Tan Valley talks of “The Little Things” and “A Little Pampering” and “Circumcision services offered daily by our experienced pediatricians.”  Oh, wow, every day they run the little guys through the penile-reduction room where their bodies are altered for a lifetime.  

I felt compelled to write the Banner Health CEO about all of this:

Mr. Peter Fine, President and CEO, Banner Health Executive Offices, 1441 N. 12th Street, Phoenix AZ   85006

Dear. Mr. Fine:

There comes a time when medical ethics have to trump cultural traditions, a time when human rights for the defenseless supersedes what misinformed parents request.   In your strategic role as president and CEO of major hospitals, Mr. Fine, you are in a place to examine a practice and lead the way to rejecting bad and unjust medical practices and advance humanity’s quests for caring for those with no voice.

 Across this planet, thankfully, sanity is coming to how we treat our newborn males. Routine infant circumcision rates are plummeting as more and more parents come to realize such cosmetic surgery on their male babies cannot be justified and that their God/nature-given bodies are not to be violated by misguided do-gooders in medicine.  If medical centers like yours joined others that have ceased performing circumcisions, we would have a more just and sane world. As the father of an intact son and two intact grandsons, I can categorically say that I take pride in breaking the tyranny of hospitals that perform circumcisions.  Oh, yes, your staffs will say they are only providing what parents ask for and turned-away parents will then go elsewhere.  If Egyptian parents requested you to do female circumcision on their daughter so that she won’t be spurned by her culture or would otherwise lead a wanton, immoral life with all her parts, would you consent to accommodate them?   Yes, we know Congress outlawed female genital mutilation in 1996 and that it goes on underground in the U.S., nonetheless. The travesty is the double standard, the hypocrisy, in this country where minor males can undergo genital cutting while so much as a pin prick to a 10-year-old Muslim girl to meet some modicum of “ceremony” is outlawed. The bottom line is circumcision meets the criteria of de facto sexual assault. It is only legal because of the medicalization of all things related to birth carried out by hospitals and clinics like yours and a wanton ignorance of the foreskin and its functions by doctors.

Interesting, State Senator Judy Burges, R-Sun City, has a bill in the Arizona Senate to stiffen the penalties for female circumcision, including a $25,000 fine, even though federal law already is in place. The irony and injustice is that young males are currently denied the protection from genital cutting. How absurd.

Deny it or not, millions of males in the U.S. resent their circumcisions. They feel violated, betrayed, sexually damaged at a time when they were too vulnerable to do anything but frantically cry, then drop into a semi-comatose protective place to try to recover.  Typically, they don’t breast-feed well after that. They feel betrayed with the first act of violence they confront after birth.   Many circumcisions are poorly done. Too much is cut, leading to painful erections as adults. Others have skin bridges — and always that ugly circumcision scar ring. Their glans is permanently “hung out to dry.” The foreskin protects the glans in the same way the eyelid protects the eyeball.  Some 130 baby boys die each year in the U.S. from circumcisions gone awry.   Fortunately, some fierce lawsuits have been filed against doctors and hospitals.   In 2002, we were successful in Arizona to get AHCCCS to stop paying for circumcisions under Medicaid, saving 12,800 babies a year in the state from the cruel indignity of circumcision.  Nationally, we could save 24 percent of all male babies, born under Medicaid, from such perverse medical practices.

I know medical staff in hospitals, OBGYN clinics and doctor offices shrink from having to participate in circumcisions.  Their instincts tell them it is wrong.  Doctors right there talk out loud how what they are doing is unnecessary.  Back in the 1990s, the nurses at St. Vincent Hospital in Sante Fe, N.M., balked en masse at participating any longer in genital cutting.  These R.N. Conscientious Objectors would inspire the intactivist movement and they formally organized Nurses for the Rights of the Child, empowering their peers elsewhere to tell their institutions that circumcision is wrong.  Cat Saunders, writes on their web site, says, “We recoil in horror at reports of female circumcision in other countries, yet we refuse to see that brutal acts of genital mutilation are committed every day on baby boys in the U.S.”  Tragically, cutting foreskins is a $2 billion business in the U.S. and a terrible waste of health dollars.

There is growing evidence that circumcisions play a key role in the enormous cases of erectile dysfunction in the U.S where circumcision has had its major inroad.  We are 7 percent of the population and 47 percent users of Viagra, Cialis, etc.  The loss of those 20,000 nerve endings goes a long way in diminishing sexual sensitivity as men age.  Viagra is in such demand in Israel where circumcision is so pervasive that Pfizer has just taken the unprecedented decision to sell it over the Internet.   Do you get the picture, Mr. Fine?

Almost 20 years ago, I earned the City of Tempe’s highest community honor,  the Don Carlos Humanitarian Award. It only re-energized me to work for the rights of children, especially those victimized by a medical culture that knows better and can’t seem to stop.

So, Mr. Fine, go listen to those dreadful cries in your circumcision units across your network of hospitals. They aren’t smiling like the babies on the Banner websites that say, “The Little Things” and “A Little Pampering.”   Imagine those baby boys someday wondering why no one spoke up for their wholeness, their completeness, the structures that go with male sexuality. Stop the cutting at your hospitals.  Read the vast literature out there on why the foreskin needs to stay with the infant.  Every human being has a right to self-determination and to be safe and whole.  The most well-meaning parents don’t own their children and cannot ethically order healthy, functioning parts to be cut off for such shallow, thoughtless reasons like looking like their father or locker-room comments or someone’s preference for genital carving.    It is said that “civilization is just a slow process of learning to be kind.”

Routine infant circumcision is cosmetic surgery, Mr. Fine.  And we don’t practice that on minors. Be a leader for human rights and child protection, Mr. Fine. Parents are hopelessly and woefully ignorant in this area because we talk to them. Most would abstain from it if they only knew better.

How about your hospitals laying down the knife and letting baby boys go home with all their parts so that one day they don’t resent the place where they were born, the circumcisers who violated their bodies and the administrators in positions like yours who allowed it all to happen.  As Horace Mann boldly said, “Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.”

Mr. Fine, you and your boards and staffs can help make our world a better place.  Baby boys deserve all they came with into this world.  Help make it happen. Shut down you cutting units.  Send all your boys home happy and whole.  Let’s join Europe, Asia, South America and other parts of an enlightened world and put circumcision on the dung heap of history’s misguided medical practices where it belongs.

Make Banner Health a leader in medically ethical treatment of our next generations of males. They deserve wholeness and a medical industry that respects that.

 Sincerely,

 Lawn Griffiths

Before my mother died at 87 from ovarian cancer in 1997, she informed me I was a “caulbearer.” I had been born with a caul on my head. She said the filmy remnant of the amniotic sac enveloped my head as I emerged from the womb, the second of a set of twins.    

My mom said the phenomenon had prompted the nurses in that hospital delivery room in Des Moines, Iowa, to exclaim, “He has a caul on his head! The baby has a caul on his head!” Delirious and exhausted as she was from delivering twins, my mother, a registered nurse herself, knew what they were talking about — an occurrence steeped in old wives’ tales and ancient lore especially common in the British Isles.      She explained that it had long been believed that when the caul clung to a baby, it was a sign of very good luck — an omen that the child was “destined for greatness,” but more importantly, that the child was safe from drowning.

So here I was, age 50, and my dying mother was finally telling me something she had withheld from me all those years.

Mother had chosen not to tell me simply because she feared I would be a risk-taker. Perhaps I would go swimming in dangerous waters and think I was immune to drowning. She told me how sailors over the centuries went to sea with a pouch of dried caul membrane in their pockets as protection from perishing in the great deep.

Since that time, I have occasionally researched the “caul,” described as a “shimmery coating” or “veil,” and I have wondered if, in fact, I have had a charmed life.

Well, of course , on many levels, that is true. But then it’s all relative.

Compared to what?

Certainly, I have been blessed with a lifetime of good fortune.

Could that caul have been a reason why I had perfect school attendance for 10 of my 13 grades in school, counting kindergarten, including not a day missed in high school? And only an upset stomach in seventh grade blemished what would have been a perfect attendance string from grades four to 12.

Or that the two days of work I missed with the flu in late January 1978 are all that mar a perfect no-sick-day record going back to June 1972, when I began full-time work? That’s just two days in almost 34 years. And no broken bones or surgeries in 60 years of life.

Can that good fortune be plausibly attributed to the caul? Or a long litany of other amazing events that have touched my life?

One Web site asks, “Were you born with a caul? Then you are one of the lucky who have spiritual gifts. When the caul, the membrane enveloping the fetus, does not break and the baby is born with the entire caul intact, the individual is gifted with strong psychic talents. Most often he is clairvoyant.”

According to that theory, a normal birth is difficult for the baby, and the child endures loss of oxygen that causes “cells responsible for paranormal perception to die. These brain cells don’t restore themselves.” So it follows that the caul not only protects the baby but also prevents those cells from dying.

I was not totally wrapped in a caul, just my head. So, for me, it means the “birth with a partial caul reaching up to the shoulders, or only covering the head, will result in lesser psychic talents.”

Cauls are more common in premature births, the literature says. My twin and I were born two weeks early.

Charles Dickens began his novel “David Copperfield” with the character telling how he was born with a caul that was advertised in the newspaper for “the low price of 15 guineas.”

“Whether seagoing people were short of money about this time, or were short of faith and preferred cork jackets, I don’t know; all I know is that there was but one solitary bidding . . . from an attorney . . . who offered two pounds in cash and the balance in sherry.”

The offer was withdrawn and 10 years later, the caul was put up for raffle.” Copperfield remembered feeling “uncomfortable and confused at a part of myself being disposed of in that way.” An elderly woman got it in that raffle and “was never drowned, but died triumphantly in bed at 92,” the Dickens story says.

It’s said that Lord Byron, Jesus, Alexander the Great, pianist Liberace, poet Kahlil Gibran, actress Lillian Gish and Shakespeare’s Hamlet were among those born with cauls, a phenomenon, by one account, said to occur about once in every 80,000 births.

One popular legend is that a caulbearer can see the future, and another says that a child born with a caul would grow up to become a vampire.

In medieval times, a midwife would rub a sheet of paper across the baby’s head and face, pressing the fetal membrane onto the paper and giving it to the mother as an heirloom. “Medieval women often sold their cauls to sailors for large sums of money — a caul was regarded as a valuable talisman.”

In one book, with a chapter on old beliefs about birth phenomena, I found: “The idea that children ‘born with a caul’ would have everything they wanted in life was very widespread, as many ethnographic reports testify.” It told of an ancient Chaldean text that good fortune would come to the entire household when a baby was born with a caul. It was said the Roman midwives stole cauls from newborns and sold them to lawyers for handsome sums because “they were convinced that ‘if they had it on them when they were pleading in court, it was a great help in winning the case.’ ”

The Catholic Church fought the caul superstition, notes the book “Welcoming the New Baby”: “. . . women anxious to reinforce the magic virtues of the caul would persuade priests to say blessings and masses of consecration.” In one case, a mother had the caul itself baptized when the baby was baptized and had nine Masses said over it. Even when bishops forbade priests from celebrating Masses over dried cauls, women hid them under altars, the book notes.

It also notes that a tradition of Iceland is that “fetal membrane appearing over the face at birth, is associated with a guardian spirit called a fylgja,” offering warning against potential danger.

So if a caul means a new child is especially blessed by God, who’s to say that everyone else is not? Likely no one has compiled a list of a people born with the “veil” and compared their rate of drowning versus the no-caul group.

I would be interested if any readers have their own caul stories. Let me know.

(This commentary first appeared in the East Valley Tribune (May 27, 2006) as a Spiritual Life column).

 

Many of us who diligently work for the rights of children, especially helpless newborn males, are astonished by an Arizona lawmaker, Sen. Judy Burges of Sun City, who is calling for Arizona to ban female genital mutilation. Clearly we oppose the cultural practice commonly carried out in Africa and other parts of the world, often on the pretext of tradition and muting a female’s wanton sexual desires. Surely, some immigrants to the U.S. from those areas are having it done here under the radar and outside of prosecution under 1996 federal laws that banned female circumcision.

We who find male and female circumcision repulsive, unwarranted, cruel and defiant of medical ethics are seeing once again that this lawmaker and supporters are blind to what is routinely done to young males.  How can one be justified and the other cutting banned? It is even illegal in the U.S. to make a pinprick to a girl’s genital to satisfy an “ritual” requirements.  But boys’ genitals are altered for life, not to mention more than 100 dying in the U.S. from circumcisions gone wrong, plus thousands with botched circumcisions, include skin bridges, overly tight cutting that make erections painful and much more.

The Arizona Legislature is moving the female ban forward.http://www.azcentral.com/news/politics/free/20140210arizona-panel-endorses-ban-female-genital-mutilation.html  Here is a letter I have written to a senator who showed some enlightenment  by speaking up for males:

Senator David Bradley Arizona State Senate 1700 W. Washington Room 313 Phoenix, AZ 85007 Dear Senator Bradley:

Re: Circumcision bill in the Arizona Legislature

How heartening it was to read Howard Fischer’s Capitol Media article in which you offered some thoughts on Senate Bill 1342, introduced by Sen. Judy Burges of Sun City West.  You nailed it on the head when you suggested that “perhaps the proposal should be extended to procedures done on boys.” 

As a health care administrator, you well know the human rights quest for decades to awake the medical community to the intrusion of male circumcision.  It is a practice imposed on helpless, defenseless males who would never have asked for it, as shown by the sheer paucity of uncut males who grow up and then have it done on their own. They are few. Circumcision is a dirty little practice because of a deceived, uninformed populace while the health industry happily goes along to reap  $200 or far more each time they spend 12-15 minutes cutting a foreskin. And parents are cowards to watch.

Where are the medical ethics? Where are human rights? Where is a child’s right to sovereignty over his own body? Why doesn’t he have the rights to grow up to be whole and complete as God and nature made him? Why does government sit back and permit such de facto sexual assault on the helpless?

Lawmakers need to end the hypocrisy, the double standard and recognize the 14th Amendment of equal protection under the law.   Stop trivializing male circumcision. Genital cutting is genital mutilation — male and female. All that nonsense about it being a little snip that doesn’t impact sexuality is rubbish. Tell a female that having her labia trimmed up is acceptable.

All humans should be safe from such seizures and destruction of healthy body parts and structures. More than a few males today resent that they lost their foreskins — the covering, the protection, the sensitive body part, the moisturizing structure — and it can’t be replaced. For eons, males have been largely safe to keep their foreskins. Only in the U.S. is it culturally entrenched cosmetic surgery on the helpless and non-consenting. Arizona lawmakers should be bold and protect all from the intrusions of circumcision. The circumcision industry, sadly, makes hundreds of millions because ignorant parents permit it.  I truly loving, thoughtful parent respects the genital integrity of each child. The U.S. Congress banned female genital mutilation in 1996, so an Arizona law of the same nature might well be unnecessary.  Females have protected foreskins.  Why aren’t males protected?  Our son and grandsons are intact because our instincts told us that circumcision was a repulsive and cruel act.

Sen. Bradley, you hail from Seattle, Wash., a state, like Arizona, which does not pay for Medicaid circumcisions on minors because it cannot be justified. Arizona was the seventh state in 2002 to end the reimbursement.  Seattle is home of Doctors Opposing Circumcision (DOC) http://www.doctorsopposingcircumcision.org/.

We urge you to take your enlightened idea to amend the bill to include all people — male and female– to be protected from unwanted, medically unethical circumcision. It will be one step to a more civilized and kinder Arizona. End the screams, the lifetime of scars, the medical insult of circumcision.

Lawn Griffiths

Move over Mesa Arizona Temple of the Church of Jesus-Christ of Latter-day Saints.  You’ve been upstaged by a magnificent edifice 15 miles southeast in Gilbert. The Gilbert Arizona Temple is a stunning  jewel on the Southeast Valley landscape.  It’s an eye-catching landmark along Loop 101 that is well worth a visit before it is shut off to the general public so the church can begin the work it was built for.

The temple, 3301 S. Greenfield Road, is a veritable showpiece of architecture and design.   Some 30 of us took a two-hour press tour of the new temple on Wednesday, before hundreds of thousands of curious members of the public were to begin a marathon come-see Saturday and in the weeks ahead through Feb. 15. After the temple is formally dedicated March 2 by LDS Prophet/President Thomas Monson, it will be off-limits to the public.  Only card-carrying Mormons with “recommends” from their ward bishops will be allowed inside the building, used primarily for temple marriages, baptisms of the dead and other rites of the church. With 400,000 Mormons in Arizona and the biggest concentration in the East Valley, the time had come to add another temple.

It becomes the fourth LDS temple in Arizona, after the Mesa temple, dedicated in 1927; a temple dedicated in March 2002 in Snowflake; and the Gila Valley temple at Central, just north of  Thatcher, dedicated in May 2010.  A fifth temple is now under construction on West Pinnacle Peak Road near 53rd Avenue in northwest Phoenix, while yet a sixth is on the drawing board for Tucson. Leaders say they are accommodating a growing church that claims about 15 million members worldwide.

Thursday’s grand tour was led by Elder William Walker,  who has been executive director of the Temple Department at the church’s headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah, since 2007.   The church has been a temple-building binge, especially since 1993.  Theretofore, the church had 45 temples worldwide.  The Mesa temple was the seventh one built.   Since 1993, 97 temples have been dedicated, including 34 in the year 2000.  Walker skirted questions about construction costs, saying it was paid out of general church funds (no special fund-raising campaign) and that faithful Mormons, paying their 10 percent tithes, made it possible.  Asked if individual Mormons wanted to know how much was really spent on the project, he said a determined person could check City of Gilbert building office records, but that it was rare for a member to raise the question.  To a suggestion that the church could have better spent the same money on serving the poor and needy, Walker said the church already carries out a robust worldwide outreach to the poor and disaster relief.  He said temples become immediate icons for members, and teens typically display photos of their temples on their bedroom walls.

The Gilbert Arizona Temple is a magnificent building of straight lines, stunning and endless sets of stained glass windows, shining marble hallways, elegant carpets and craftsmanship in woodwork, seating, chandeliers and tasteful, classy furnishings. Walker deliberately promised nothing would be left out of the tour.  The jar-dropping stop was the  Celestial Room with a 1,500-pound 8-foot tall Swarovski chandelier, towering mirrors, striking pillars and rich furnishings.  It is regarded as the most sacred room in the temple and all are to remain silent within the walls of the brightly lit room with white carpeting.

The agave of the Southwest was repeated again and again and again in designs in the walls, windows and cornices. The temple, like most others (Mesa excluded), is topped by a golden figure of the angel Moroni — 195 feet atop the dramatic center spire that suggests a rocket ready to take off from a square launching pad.

Mystery has traditionally surrounded a Mormon temple for non-members. What REALLY goes on when they perform the baptisms for the dead?   And what are these “sealing rooms” for LDS weddings all about?  Our group wend it way through the labyrinth of  rooms and corridors, visiting a locker room where temple workers are able to step into their own private areas, change into white temple clothing and perform their ordinance work.  There are seven “sealing rooms” so that as many as seven marriage ceremonies can take place simultaneously.  Elaborately furnished side rooms large and small will handle the crowds of families as they gather, wait and eventually move to the sealing ceremonies.   One room with a  rug crafted with embroidery in Asia is where brides do their last primping after dressing in nearby rooms. Oddly, there is no locker or dressing rooms for males in wedding parties.

Massive mirrors, original large Arizona landscape painting complement a large number of scenes of Christ’s ministry or scenes from the Mormon Church’s earlier years.  On the first day of taking reservations for weddings, there were 100 inquires and 30 sealings booked. One caller insisted that she be penciled in the calendar for the first wedding, Walker said.  He said he expected the temple would be holding 30 to 40 weddings on some days.  Only temple-worthy church members may be present for the 20-minute sacred ceremonies.

Baptisms for the dead will take place in the lower floor of the temple.  The round baptistry is similar to those in all temple — a large round, walk-in pool erected on the backs of 12 oxen that symbolically represent the 12 tribes of Israel, which biblically is referenced in I Kings Chapter 7:24.  The temple, which has 85,236 square feet of space,  sits on 15.4 acres that are already assiduously manicured.

Plans call for about 100,000 members to be served from the Mesa temple and 100,000 from the new Gilbert site, which has its own new, stunning chapel to serve a stake.  About 200 wards, or separate congregation, can be found in the area.

As of Wednesday, there had been about 347,000 people scheduled for the open houses to tour the new temple  through Feb. 15, excluding Sundays.  Architekton in Tempe was the architect, while Okland Construction Company of Tempe was the main contractor.

Those taking tours will be asked to wear shoe coverings to protect the extensive carpeting in the temple.  Reservations for open houses can be made at http://mormontemples.org/gilbert. ABC15 will air a 30-minute special about the new temple at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 17.

Lawn Griffiths

A longtime newspaper journalist wonders aloud whether anyone else has discovered the same things and is going to blow the whistle.

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