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Opinion: Consent for Circumcision

Dena S. Davis, professor of bioethics at Lehigh University, believes a circumcision practice used by ultra-Orthodox Jews is wrong

The debate on circumcision is heating up again. After being criminalized in the Cologne Regional Court of Germany, the first violation resulted in a recent charge against the traditional Jewish practitioner. Other countries such as Denmark are calling into question if this practice violates health codes.

In New York City, concern has focused on a practice used only by ultra-Orthodox Jews: metzitzah b’peh.  This involves direct oral suction of the circumcision wound, and has recently been implicated in the death of two infants who were infected by herpes.  Concern over herpes infection has pushed New York City health officials to pass a regulation requiring parents to provide signed informed consent before allowing their child to take part in metzitzah b’peh.

Dena S. Davis, professor of bioethics at Lehigh University, believes insistence on metzitzah b’peh is wrong. In an opinion piece she wrote for Bioethics Forum, a service of The Hastings Center, Davis outlined the latest political occurrences and medical ethical implications regarding male newborn circumcision. Davis believes that informed consent is an inadequate approach to the issue.

“If oral suction puts infants at unreasonable risk of death, it ought explicitly to be made illegal (in fact, one could argue that it already is illegal and could be prosecuted as negligent homicide or child endangerment),” she said. Also unreasonable, she said: the fact that traditional Jewish circumcision "can legally be performed by anybody, and has absolutely no regulation" in a state that regulates who may shampoo a person’s hair.

Jonathan Gerard September 24, 2012 at 01:04 PM
"Metzitzah b'peh" (literally, "sucking by mouth") is a medieval method for cleaning the circumcision wound. Ms. Davis is correct to say that it is wrong. This is not a religious opinion; it is a medical fact. The original and still valid goal was to promote cleanliness and health and today we know much better ways to achieve that goal (thank God!) and we must use them. Regarding the issue of circumcision in general--beyond it's Biblical source as a sign of the Covenant between God and the Jewish people--I wonder what women think. Let us know: do you prefer a circumcised penis or an uncircumcised one? And is it just what you are used to or is there some other reason for your preference? It is easy to speak of the "barbarity" of the practice. But it may be seen as akin to piercing an infant's ears. I know of no men who, as adults, regret being circumcised or women who later regret that their parents pierced their infant ears. (Surely some such people exist.) But considering it solely as a cosmetic issue, what do women prefer?
Carol September 24, 2012 at 01:57 PM
The discussion of the religious, medical, and ethical issues about the practice is appropriate. A discussion of "preferences" devalues the discussion to one that of a sensationalizing tabloid. Is that Patch wants to be?
Jonathan Gerard September 25, 2012 at 04:54 AM
I did not mean to sensationalize the issue. I meant to point out that there are more reasons than religious or medical that motivate parents to circumcise their sons. I apologize for misleading readers.
Daxton September 25, 2012 at 05:16 PM
Looking at this from a medical safety standpoint, she is completely correct. This 'method' would subject the child to un-reasonable levels of risk. She did not say that circumcision is bad or that it should be stopped just noting that safety should be the main concern. I personally think this should be up to the family as well as they are well aware of the consequences of this practice.
Jacob Bah September 25, 2012 at 07:15 PM
In my opinion, all forms of male circumcision are a relic from the age when humans relied upon religion for answers to the mysteries that surrounded them, and also a time when religion held ultimate power. Today we have laws and science and yet this barbaric practice continues as a cultural norm. No infant should have that irrevociable choice made for him by someone else. If circumcision's religious practice is so important, why not allow the boy to make the decision when he becomes a man. Isnt that a central component of all faiths? To make a choice for youself about your beliefs? Or are we condoning the thrusting of parental religious beliefs upon the child who has no recourse, let alone voice, in the matter?

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