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It was gratifying on June 23 to be among a selected group of “pioneers” honored at the University of Colorado in Boulder for sustained years of working to end the forced circumcision of boys and girls.

During a “Meet the Pioneers” event, to kick off a three-day gathering on genital autonomy. I was among dozens — living and deceased –who were recognized and remembered. We were largely selected by Marilyn Milos, R.N., of San Anselmo, Calif., founder of the National Organization of Circumcision Information and Resource Centers (NOCIRC). She has led the effort for more than 35 years after taking part in a circumcision as a nurse and being repulsed. Her activism fostered an entire movement that has helped spur a sharp drop of circumcisions in the U.S., the most circumcising of industrialized nations.

Following our introductions with brief PowerPoint recaps of our work, we were given a moment to say why we continue our quest to awaken parents and the medical community to the insanity, torture and unethical practice of cutting foreskins and genitalia of helpless children who would never choose to have their healthy body parts amputated. I was cited for my extensive writings — newspaper columns, blogs, letter-writing and talks — over the decades.

I was the fifth to be recognized. After noting that I was standing before an audience of giants and mentors in the movement, I said this, “I support many worthy causes, but ending the cruel and torturous indignity of genital cutting of helpless, defenseless males is a noble and no-brainer undertaking that first requires awakening the clueless who don’t even recognize circumcision is a human rights issue. Ending the repulsive violation of young males requires our fierce work, legal actions, drawing especially from women’s innate compassion and relentlessly shaming those who perpetuate such hideous attacks on our precious babies, especially for financial gain.”

Some 150 of us from across the world gathered for the 13th International Symposium on Genital Autonomy and Children’s Rights — on the theme, “Whole Bodies, Whole Selves — Activating Social Change.” I had attended the 9th Symposium in Seattle in 2006. There I fostered friendships that were renewed and strengthened in Boulder. A good many are Facebook friends, and seemingly all have outlets to educate, research and rage against the cutting of a body part from a restrained, screaming child feeling betrayed and experiencing his first violence on earth.

I trace my work to 1971 while a graduate student at Northwestern University. I purchased Gore Vidal’s novel, “Myra Breckinridge.” Reading along, I came to chapter 22, a mere five paragraphs. It was an epiphany moment. Here are the first three sentences, “Just as I suspected, seventy-two percent of the male students are circumcised. At Clem’s party, I had been reminded of the promiscuous way in which American doctors circumcise males in childhood, a practice I highly disapprove of, agreeing with that publisher who is forever advertising in the New York Times Book Review a work which proves that circumcision is necessary for only a very few men. For the rest, it constitutes, in the advertiser’s phrase, ‘a rape of the penis.”

Then it goes on, “….Until the Forties , only the upper or educated classes were circumcised in America. The real people were spared this humiliation. But during the affluent postwar years, the operation became standard procedure, making money for doctors as well as allowing the American mother to mutilate her son in order that he might never forget her early power over him. … Myron never forgave Gertrude for her circumcision of him …. What is truly sinister is the fact that with the foreskin’s removal, up to fifty per cent of sensation in the glans penis is reduced … a condition no doubt as pleasing to the puritan Jewish doctor who delights in being able to mutilate the goyim in the same vivid way that his religion (and mother) mutilated him.”

That opened my eyes, but those pre-Internet years offered few sources for further research. Medical books were sparing, so matter-of-fact, so clinical, so uncaring. Each diagram of male genitalia typically showed the glans without a foreskin, as if that was “normal.” Books on circumcision were not to be found in those years. Thankfully, my instincts ensured that when I married and had a son in 1975, he was left intact through my insistence with the doctor and with some rolled eyes from family members. I still remember the heartfelt joy that came from the triumph of defying a mindless, makes-no-sense tradition.

As can be the case in many emerging social movements, I felt relatively alone. Did anyone else care? When I was managing editor of the Tempe (Ariz.) Daily News in 1986, I wrote a column titled “World must be better 100 years from now.” I noted that “though the march of history, we somehow escape from some of the shackles of ignorance, prejudice and foolishness. It often takes whole generations to be dead and buried to rid our world of so much nonsense.” What followed was a bulleted list of things I predicted would be gone. The second was this: “For, in non-religious applications, mutilating baby boys by practicing the primitive child abuse act of circumcision, something long abandoned, if every adopted, in more civilized nations of the Earth.”

In hindsight, I realize I made an exception for religious circumcision, something I cannot condone nearly 30 years later, given the deleterious impact of circumcision on Jews, Muslims and others. My Jewish brothers are leaders in the intactivist movement, and many Jewish families across the world have chosen for genital integrity and wholeness over an ancient tradition. Jewish representation at the symposium was inordinately high.

The movement picked up great steam in the 1980s, with the picketing of hospitals and clinics. NOCIRC chapters were started in many states. The 1st International Symposium on Circumcision was held in Anaheim, Calif., in March 1989 with development and endorsement of a “Declaration,” which opened with the statement, “We recognize the inherent right of all human beings to an intact body. Without religious or racial prejudice, we affirm this basic human right.” Among other statements within it: “Parents and/or guardians do not have the right to consent to the surgical removal or modification of their children’s normal genitalia. … Physicians and other health-care providers have a responsibility to refuse to remove or mutilate normal body parts….”

Those were heady days. Tim Hammond in San Francisco founded the National Organization to Halt the Abuse and Routine Mutiliation of Males (NOHARMM). R. Wayne Griffiths formed the National Organization of Restoring Men to teach cut males techniques to stretch their foreskin remnant into semblance of what was taken away. Nurses for the Rights of the Child formed in Santa Fe, N.M., after nurses at a hospital declared conscientious objection to participating in foreskin cutting and balked at being a party to circumcision. (In 1987, I interviewed one of those nurses in Mesa, Ariz., for a newspaper column, but one of my superiors “spiked” or killed the column, saying the issue was not relevant.) Doctors Opposing Circumcision (DOC) was launched in Seattle by Dr. George Denniston.

In 1996,  the late John A. Erickson in Biloxi, Miss., produced a 150-page booklet, “Deeper Into Circumcision: An Invitation to Awareness” in which he swept through the media and literature on circumcision and pulled things together for a timely resource guide. We corresponded, he gave me a copy of his book and spurred me to go further in my work.

In 1949, Joseph Lewis wrote “In the Name of Humanity: Speaking Out Against Circumcision.” Edward Wallerstein’s 1980 book, “Circumcision: An American Health Fallacy” was especially important in giving momentum to the movement. .

It was followed by book after book debunking circumcision:   Jim Bigelow’s “The Joy of Uncircumcising!,” Rosemary Romberg’s “Circumcision: The Painful Dilemma,” Dr. Ron Goldman’s “Circumcision: The Hidden Trauma” and “Questioning Circumcision: A Jewish Perspective,” Dr. Thomas Ritter and Dr. Denniston’s “Say No to Circumcision: 40 Compelling Reason,” Billy Ray Boyd’s two books, “Circumcision: What It Does” and “Circumcision Exposed: Rethinking A Medical and Cultural Tradition,”   Kristen O’Hara’s “Sex As Nature Intended It” (which contrasts the sexual experience for men and women when the male is intact or circumcised.”)   Leonard Glick’s exhaustively researched “Marked in Your Flesh: Circumcision from Ancient Judea to Modern America,” which revealed how inconsistent Jews have been at adhering to the ritual through the centuries. Highly respected pediatrician Dr. Paul Fleiss, along with Frederick Hodges, delivered the consummate book in 2002, “What Your Doctor May NOT Tell You About Circumcision: Untold Facts on America’s Most Widely Performed — and Most Unnecessary — Surgery.” (Dr. Fleiss died in late July).   The only notable novel on circumcision was “The Measure of His Grief” by Lisa Braver Moss, who spoke at the symposium. Bernhard Schlink’s 2001 novel, “Flights of Love” contains a lengthy, poignant story called the “The Circumcision” in which a German male, an exchange student to the U.S., submits to the pain of adult circumcision for his Jewish girlfriend only to find her oblivious about it.

I just finished reading one of the newest books, “Unspeakable Mutilations — Circumcised Men Speak Out” by New Zealand researcher Lindsay Watson. Fifty men from nine countries individually and candidly tell how their circumcisions were botched or left them with skin tags or left indelible damage to their neural wiring and destroyed their sexual wholeness. They can’t forgive parents, loathe doctors and hospitals and live with distrust. Such independent analysis of their own regrets of being circumcised speak volumes for other males who are bitter or yet unwilling to self-address what was done to them.

The Internet, along with Facebook, has allowed for a vast proliferation of activism to bring an end to circumcision, primarily through education. A multitude of people in their 20s and 30s have taken to Facebook and picket lines to denounce the cutting. Intactamerica.org and Attorney for the Rights of the Child (arclaw.org) are at the forefront of important work.

For three days in Boulder, there were 45 speaking sessions as attorneys, doctors, ethicists, nurses, educators, activists and other professionals from about 15 countries who gave updates on their work. Some predicted circumcision’s end in the nation is in sight. It is helped by the growing European momentum to outlaw circumcision, along with some strategic U.S. lawsuits, better education and younger parents who just get it and choose to end the madness of circumcision.

The cause to end circumcision is wide and deep. Males, like females, deserve the right to their genital autonomy, all the God-given structures that come with life itself.

 

This letter is being sent to Chris Pegula of Los Angeles, father of  three and originator of Diaper Dude America. He failed miserably to accurately address circumcision in his newly published book, “From Dude to Dad.”:

Dear Mr. Pegula,

I recently picked up your book “From Dude to Dad: The Diaper Dude Guide to Pregnancy.”   It is a readable and well-thought-out book.

Alas, you are completely ill-informed on circumcision. I was embarrassed to read the woefully constructed three pages dealing with the topic because you put forward the typical tripe that trivializes the role of the foreskin, a valuable structure of male adult sexuality with 16 primary functions and more.

The foreskin is nothing to joke about or to dismiss as some sort of residual skin. It is rich with some 20,000 nerve endings that are taken away in circumcision.   Your urinary tract infection (UTI) pretext for circumcision is a particularly weak one because UTI’s are so rare and can be easily treated.  It is said in 100 boys, there is typically just one who will have a UTI. Why would we subject 100 boys to circumcision to prevent one boy from getting a UTI, that is easily taken care of in treatment? By the same reasoning, we should cut out the breast buds of all girls because invariably some of them will otherwise get breast cancer.

Circumcision is medically unethical because it is done without informed consent of the victim and it violates the pledge medical professionals take, “First Do No Harm.” Circumcision is painful, even with anesthetic , and when pain-killers wear off, that nasty wound is met with the vicious burn of urine and feces. The child winds up with a ring scar that brands him as circumcised for life. Then comes a glans that is hung out to dry for the rest of his life. (The glans is an internal structure that emerges only for cleaning, urination and sex and is otherwise protected from rubbing and injury by the foreskin with its ridged bands, frenulum, Meissner corpuscles, tiny muscles and so much more). Eventually the male’s partner will experience richer coitus from the gliding action of a foreskin that rolls and unfolds in her vulva, preventing chafing and giving great sensation.   Circumcision is penis reduction. Why would any thinking male want that?

You truly exposed yourself with these bizarre statements:

“The question of circumcision is for you and your baby momma to decide and no one else.” Yes, why not let the owner of the penis decide? Why the rush? Maybe it is the impelling pressure of the nurses, doctors and circumcision industry that derive billions of dollars. Did you know hospitals actually sell foreskins to other industries? Did you know Oprah Winfrey promotes a cream that uses the foreskins of newborns to protect women of wrinkles? Doesn’t that sound like peddling in purloined body parts? What boy would grow up to appreciate he lost his foreskin, with all its value, so some dame could apply an expensive cream to her countenance? How perverse that you might be talking to a woman whose face is smeared with the makings of a helpless baby’s prepuce!

Another of your weird comments:

“I will freely admit that seeing my boy get circumcised was the single most disturbing event I have ever witnessed.” Okay, and what about your son meeting the first violence of his life — sexual assault. A stranger chopping his most intimate, gender-identifying structure? His body altered forever to comply with some adults’ false presumption that it would be for his own good, but probably guided by peer/family pressure. You should have been disturbed. There is a name of a subculture of people called “Regrets Parents” who seek personal healing from the tremendous pain of realizing too late that they allowed their son(s) to be cut and would never have consented if armed with information that circumcision is harmful and wrong.

As a father of an intact son and grandfather of two intact grandsons, I challenge you, Chris Pegula, that there could be what you call “hygiene risks.” At least you didn’t try to perpetuate the nonsense of “looking like one’s father” or “getting teased in the showers.” Did you know a considerable number of circumcisions require repair surgeries, including fixing botched jobs and dealing with skin bridges? Did you know that conservatively there are 117 deaths of male infants annually, triggered by circumcisions that lead to excessive bleeding or unintended consequences? You failed to mention that circumcision was really introduced in this country in the 19th century to curb masturbation?   You write that, “It wasn’t until 1870 that the medical community could wrap its collective heads around circumcision and cut away the nonsense.” However, you don’t explain. The nonsense was circumcision itself. And it certainly did not become popular that early.   The true medicalization of circumcision was more a 20th century abomination, especially with hospital births where doctors could impose their marketing pressures on captive, uninformed parents and contrive such compelling reasons as better hygiene. (My foreskin can be thoroughly washed with my daily shower’s water in 10 seconds. What’s the issue?)

Perhaps your most absurd comment was this: “The last thing you want to do it (sic) is leave it up to your kid to decide when he is an adult. Oooh, I just got a horrible pain between my legs when I wrote that…” This is precisely the tyranny of ignorance that keeps the unethical practice continuing today.

Your statements only serve to sentence yet more young males to circumcised status. They may only grow up and live in the same oblivion that you live in and think they’re OK without 15 square inches of penile skin with what it can do and what it can feel like. But some of these males will be alert to the violations and compare it to the rape of their bodies by a stranger with the support of clueless, uninformed, misinformed parents who did not protect them. Circumcision removes the most sensitive part of the penis. Who would want that?

I invite you to joined tens of thousands of men who have used some of many techniques to grow new penile skin and get back lots of skin (even full coverage) albeit it lacking the specialized components that only the original foreskin had. It is truly an exercise toward wholeness that is worth it.  I suggest you check out, “Unspeakable Mutilations,” also a new book, written by Lindsay Watson and documenting the pain and resentment of many men who felt betrayed by parents, harmed by the medical community and marginalized when they speak out against the medical indignity.

Dr. George Denniston with Doctors Opposing Circumcision concludes:

The solution to this ethical and human rights dilemma is simple: Do not perform circumcision on infants. By ceasing to perform infant circumcision, nothing is lost. Any adult male may, with fully informed consent, have circumcision whenever he wishes.

  As the public becomes aware of the accumulating scientific evidence, circumcision is declining, and with the current attention to unnecessary cost, insurance plans are ceasing to pay for circumcision. Most hopefully of all, caring physicians are reviewing this operation in the light of their own ethical standards and are refusing to perform infant circumcision.

So, Dude, go for more information and get informed. We dads who respected our sons’ rights to wholeness know that many, many have changed their minds and have come to see the tyranny of medical traditions can be rejected. You have made a grave mistake with your words, but you can be redeemed. Even the late famed icon of baby advice, Dr. Benjamin Spock, changed his mind and called for leaving baby boys intact.

For more information, I suggest you go to:

  1. http://www.intactamerica.org
  2. http://www.nocirc.com
  3. http://www.thewholenetwork.com
  4. http://www.circumstitions.org
  5. http://circumcisiondecisionmaker.com/

Should you revise your book for second editions, please revise that segment so that young males can be protected from the repulsive, invasive, uninvited act of genital cutting. In the final analysis, circumcision is a cruel rip-off.

Lawn Griffiths

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).

 

Lawn Griffiths

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

RSS Spiritual Life at BLOGS.EVTRIB.COM

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