It’ so confounding, so bizarre that otherwise caring, thoughtful people see nothing wrong with circumcision. Can’t they grasp the fundamental right of a child for wholeness — to possess and keep all the structures that God/nature so exquisitely engineered for his body? Where do they come down presupposing Junior won’t want or need his foreskin? Haven’t they learned the role of the foreskin for protection, mobility, sensitivity, pleasure and sexual mechanics?
I have to keep reminding myself that I have been speaking out against it for 40 years and the issue is not yet on the radar screen of most Americans. They know not. More often than not, they are captives to the tyranny of habit and tradition in condoning the ripoff of the penis. History is full of injustices continuing through centuries, to the astonishment of logic, fairness and outrage. Why does social reform take so long when blatant wrongs are identified generations before? Ignorance, power and the oppression of tradition resist change. And here we have a powerful health industry that has snookered generations of parents to OK a perverse and unethical procedure that bring billions of dollars to them. The immobilized victims are too young to stop it.
All of us in the human rights and social justice movement for the end of circumcision are stinging from the ruling a week ago by a superior court judge in San Francisco who determined a November ballot proposal to ban circumcision of male children within the city violates a California law that makes the regulation of medical procedures a function of the state and not cities. Judge Loretta Giorgi ordered the San Francisco elections director to have the measure removed from the ballot. Earlier in the summer, Lloyd Schofield and his group, “Prohibition of Genital Cutting of Male Minors,” had accumulated more than 12,000 signatures on petitions, far exceeding the 7,163 needed for the ballot. The proposal would make circumcising a minor in the city a misdemeanor offense punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and up to a year in jail.
OK, there is some logic to preventing individual municipalities from deciding what medical practices are acceptable. There could otherwise be a patchwork of regulations like ancient city states. The California Business and Professions Code triumphed here.
But Giorgi’s ruling cannot, and should not, be interpreted as exonerating the heinous, insidious practice of circumcision. It is still a nasty, body-altering act performed on a non-consenting human beings for no significant medical benefit and with risks of permanent penile injury and death. One estimate put medical deaths annually in the U.S. from circumcision at 229.
After Schofield’s ballot effort was first publicized in the fall of 2010, a howl rose from circumcision defenders. First were Jews, who argued it directly infringed on their ancient practice of the bris — the ceremonial circumcision of male babies on their eighth day by a mohel. Then there were the defenders of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution who contended that not allowing foreskin cutting violated religious folks the freedom to practice their faith. Then there were ignorant Christians who still think circumcision is mandated for them because “circumcision” is in the Bible and Jesus was cut. Add to that the American Civil Liberties Union, which normally follows common sense, but here came to the defense of religionists to the detriment of the rights of the child. Muslims complained, too, because circumcision is a staunch cultural practice. It is not required by the Quran, though that is often claimed.
The San Francisco measure brought to the American consciousness the human rights issues regarding circumcision for, perhaps, the first time. Many in the media reported on it. Many in the media had a field day with puns, double entendres and tee-hee comments over why so much fuss could be made about a chunk of skin attached to a guy’s intimate parts. Mainstream media have lacked the judgment or courage to acknowledge that circumcision is medically unethical, just as female genital mutilation is. They won’t acknowledge that all humans have the universal right to wholeness and safety from intrusive harm.
Most of us are familiar with the famous quote of Arthur Schopenhauer, which can be applied to how entrenched practices are changed: “All truth passes through three stages: First, it is ridiculed, second, it is violently opposed, and third, it is accepted as self-evident.” The San Francisco ballot experience was a combination of the first two stages. Those who had never before heard the case against circumcision were mostly scoffing, joking and deriding the idea that someone would try to put a stop to America’s most routine surgery. But the “violently opposed” included the Jewish communty, which has tried to justify their cutting practice since the days of Abraham (of course, adopting a tribal practice no way unique to them). It’s been a deeply contentious issue among Jews themselves, who do not universally circumcise and never have. Jews historically have taught to respect the human body. The Torah, for examples, notes this is Leviticuls 19:28: “You shall not make gashes in your flesh for the dead, or incise any marks on yourselves: I am the Lord.”
Several California legislators, alarmed by the San Francisco proposal, rushed to draft a bill in the California State Assembly to protect circumcisions. Meanwhile, a California congressman was working to get a bill adopted by Congress to allow the cutting to continue come what may.
All that aside, circumcision is on its way out. We will see the fulfillment of Shopenhauer’s statement that truth will weather ridicule and violent opposition to be deemed self-evident. Of course, male babies and boys should be left intact.
Better educated, sophisticated, sensitive parents are rejecting circumcision. They are repulsed, and they buck tradition because they recognize their sons should not be sexually altered to conform to quack medicine. They recognize that most of the rest of the world — Europe, Asia, Latin America and great parts of Africa — never adopted it and find America’s obsession with a skinless penis some weird cultural fetish.
A Centers for Disease Control study found the rate of circumcision in the U.S. fell from 56 percent to 32.5 percent between 2006 to 2009. Thankfully, here in the American West, the rate is lowest. It has been helped by the decision by health service departments in 18 states to drop Medicaid coverage of circumcision because it is not medically necessary and is essentially cosmetic surgery.
The days are numbered for circumcision. Those who worked to block the ballot measure in San Francisco should take no comfort. The are on the wrong side of history. Those seeking to perpetuate male genital mutilation on the helpless for whatever reasons have no case. Like slavery, child labor, discrimination against gays, minorities and women and voting inequality, the time is now on the American agenda for ending circumcision. It will happen because of lawsuits, public education, picketing and protests, politics, medical funding cuts and the work by such groups as Mothers Against Circumcsion, Attorneys for the Rights of the Child, IntactAmerica.org, NOCIRC.org and Doctors Opposing Circumcision.
Check out the July 28 protest by Jews opposed to circumcision outside the San Francisco courthouse. Put the knives down, doctors. Stop funding circumcisions, insurance companies. Shut down the circumcision rooms, hospitals. Respect the body integrity of your sons, parents. Wake up, folks.
My son and grandsons are intact. Yours can be, too.