Fresh Controversy About Circumcision After Newborn’s Death

For religious, ethical and cultural reasons the topic of circumcision has always been one that is rife with controversy and the recent report of the death of a new born following a ritual circumcision has reignited the debate.

In September of 2011, a baby boy born in Brooklyn Hospital underwent an ultra orthodox Jewish ritual for circumcision known as metzitzah b’peh.  This ritual involves removal of the blood from the wound by the rabbi using his mouth. The baby reportedly died following a herpes infection and the cause of the death is listed as “disseminated herpes simplex virus Type 1, complicating ritual circumcision with oral suction.”

Controversy About CircumcisionControversy surrounding Circumcision

There is much controversy surrounding circumcision or the cutting of the foreskin of the penis of an infant, usually for religious but sometimes for medical reasons. There are ethical, medical and social considerations that parents need to consider.

Medical considerations

When babies are born with conditions such as Phimosis (tight foreskin or conjoined glans and foreskin) circumcision may be indicated to resolve the condition. It is also claimed that removal of foreskin makes for better genital hygiene.

Removal of the foreskin is thought to slightly reduce chances of contracting AIDS and certain other sexually transmitted infections later in life, but at the same time it also increases risk of an infected man passing on his infection to a sexual partner.

The risk of infection and surgical complications however has to be taken into account here. This is a painful and traumatic event for a baby which is also a consideration. Also while some men report improved sexual pleasure and function due to the surgical removal of the foreskin others report to having the opposite experience, of impaired penile function and reduced sexual pleasure.

On a balance many experts believe that circumcision has nothing to actually recommend it over non-circumcision because the risks and benefits of each seem to cancel one another out.

Ethical considerations

There are ethical considerations here, about performing an irreversible surgical procedure upon an infant without his volition or consent. It takes choice away from an individual which he could resent at a later stage. Some opponents of circumcision liken the procedure to a human rights violation.

There is also the view that the infant brain may register the act of surgical foreskin removal as an act of violence and this may do him psychological harm; even cause a trust deficit that negatively impacts bonding with the parents.


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