ReligionSkepticism

New Video: Judge Orders Boy Circumcised Against Mother’s Wishes

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Sort of transcript:

Last week, a judge in Florida decided that a 4-year old boy would be forced to undergo a circumcision against the wishes of his mother. And honestly, if you could explain it to him in a way he’d understand, I’m pretty sure it would be against his wishes as well.

The story is this: shortly after the child was born, his parents separated. They wrote up a parenting contract in which it was stated that the father would be responsible for scheduling and paying for the boy’s circumcision. However, by the time the father scheduled the procedure, the mother had done her research and decided she was opposed to having her son cut. For several years now, the issue has been in the court system.

What the mother realized is that circumcision is completely unnecessary in the majority of cases. Yes, sometimes there are problems in which the foreskin must be removed, as in some cases of severe inflammation, but for the vast majority of men, the foreskin is a perfectly normal part of the body.

There’s also the argument that circumcision prevents the spread of HIV. When talking about educated men in the developed world, this is an utterly bullshit argument. A study found that circumcision may reduce the chances of HIV infection by 38–66%. Let me put this to you: if I told you that you could reduce your chances of getting HIV by about 100% by putting on a condom, or by about 50% by cutting off a piece of your penis, which would you choose?

There are also some studies to suggest it may reduce the chances of HPV infection and penile cancer. There are also studies that show you can reduce your chances of breast cancer by having both your breasts removed, but no one argues we should remove the breasts of infants just in case. In fact, the best way to prevent cancer in an infant is to have an abortion. You’re effectively cutting off all the parts that could ever develop cancer. It’s foolproof!

The little boy in Florida right now runs a 4% risk of severe adverse events from this ridiculous and unnecessary procedure. The most common complications include the removal of too much or too little of the foreskin, excessive bleeding, and infection.

Here’s a site where you can help contribute to the mother’s legal costs, and also a Change.org petition you can sign.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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23 Comments

    1. I really don’t understand your feelings on this. There are literally millions of circumcisions performed yearly on boys who cannot consent to or even understand the procedure. If an individual case of this is sickening, why are we not talking about this as an epidemic? Why is it only sickening when it’s done against the mother’s wishes?

  1. While I agree circumcision is ridiculous and unnecessary, arguing that a 4% risk of complications trumps a 38-66% of HIV infection doesn’t make sense.
    Why doesn’t anyone ever point out that it’s not necessary to have male or female circumcision done AS A CHILD, that people can have it done as adults, so just don’t do it and let the children choose for themselves when they’re grown up? Because they know the children won’t choose it.

    1. Part of that 4% adverse effects sometimes involves complete or partial loss of the penis. Yes, sometimes the knife slips. Make you feel any different about the risk profile now?

      There are horrible stories of babies who lost their genitalia and experts telling their parents to raise them as girls. Which is strong evidence of heavy wiring for sexual preference in the brain, because they had extreme gender dysphoria, were attractecd to girls, etc. even when the info had not been revealed to them prior.

    2. That’s not how the math works. It’s a 4% risk of complications PERIOD. It’s a 38-66% REDUCED chance of HIV infection. The HIV rate in the US varies from region to region, but is about 0.3% overall.

      We can roughly estimate the risk of lifetime infection from percent of people living with HIV (which assumes it’s at a stable rate in the population), so we get a reduction in HIV contraction on the order of 0.2%.

      So, doing the math like this, it’s a 20x higher chance of complications from circumcision than that circumcision would help avoid HIV.

    3. The adult seroprevalence rate in the United States is 0.2%. (Before you ask, most other Western countries are lower, as are quite a few countries in East Asia and Latin America.) Now, understanding what that means for non-MSM, non-injection drug using males, both of whom can be exposed to the virus through means other than their penis, that’s…more difficult because we don’t have an accurate count of men who have sex with men or injection drug users. But a disproportionate number of men with HIV are MSM or injection drug users.

      Now, 38-66% reported in the MSM (this time meaning ‘mainstream media’) means, at best, 38%, but most likely just something they got off Facebook. (I’m not very fond of the media’s science reporting, as you can see.) And you’ll notice the big medical journals like the Lancet aren’t as excited about circumcision as low-impact ones.

      (As an aside, I should point out that the one submitted to the Lancet was rejected because they didn’t tell men when they seroconverted. Also many of the more well-known circumcision studies terminate early because ‘the results were so dramatic that it would be unethical to continue the study’; those of you familiar with classic skepticism where we just make fun of Bigfooters may recognize that as the exact same methodology used to test for the presence of psychic powers.)

      But even going with 66%, 0.66 * 0.002 = 0.00132 = 0.132%. A reduction from 0.2% to 0.07%. Whoopee doo.

      There are other issues, as well: The initial hypothesis was that the foreskin contained fewer epithelial Langerhans cells, but now that it contains more. And now for the lulz The current theory they’re working with is probiotic woo. (Seriously.)

      But most importantly, most men in sub-Saharan Africa are already circumcised. It does not seem to be helping them out one bit. It didn’t help Makgatho Mandela out at all.

      Similarly, with HPV, we have a vaccine for that. And cancer of the penis is extremely rare. (And one major risk factor is HPV, which, again, we have a vaccine for that.)

  2. I’m a nurse. Back in nursing scool, 30 years ago, I assisted with an infant circumcision and I swore I would never participate in another one. Back then they didn’t use even topical anesthesia (today there’s a good anesthetic cream) and they didn’t even give the babies Tylenol after. Nurses had to do atudies showing that circumsized babies acted more irritable to get any pain relief for the poor things.

    It’s a little less barbaric today, but it still involves taking a new born and strapping him down on a special cold plastic board. Given that the medical benefit in the developed world is so small, I still say “No Way!”

  3. Wow, that’s horrible. I tend to think that banning male circumcision, because of the religious element, does more harm than good. Not because I think genital mutilation of babies is OK, but because banning something that so many people feel is symbolic of who they are would cause a major social crisis.
    But that’s when both parents are on board with it. If someone tried to force me to circumcise my kid, I would flee into hiding with that kid.

  4. What confuses me is that in cases like this I thought that the interests of the child were held to be paramount, trumping the wishes of either parent.

    Is that not so in Florida? Could an appeal be mounted on that basis? Have things regressed to the point where circumcision is indeed thought to be in the best interests of the child? Because I thought that debate was settled 40 years ago.

    1. I suspect circumcision being against the interests of the child just hasn’t been established as fact in a legal sense. If it were, I suspect the government would effectively have to outlaw all circumcision.

      Given the massive support it has in public opinion and the implications such a precedent would set, that’s hardly surprising.

        1. Who talks about reality in a court of law? If we used reality, we couldn’t make millions of dollars screwing people out of things.

          (As an aside, I find it interesting that of all religious practices, everyone seems to insist circumcision has some rational basis. Never mind that it has been alleged to ‘cure’ or ‘prevent’ as many things as chiropractic and homeopathy put together, most of them as implausible as the above two modalities curing anything.)

          1. Fuck. Was that ambiguous again? I meant to imply that you had been screwed by the law, not that you were the screwer(s). At first I never considered that it could be taken the opposite way, but stranger things have happened.

          2. I understood what you meant, don’t worry. I don’t use any excuse to prove I’m the most noncompetitive, intersectional person of all. Mostly because in the last year, ‘intersectionality’ has totally excluded Indians.

            Most ndn law actually does have some sense to it these days, at least when they follow Felix Cohen’s ideas. Though Congress often forgets to; just look at KXL. And I have nothing but Schadenfreude for blue dogs who lost their Senate seats for trying to run as Republicans this year.

    2. The judge treated this case as strictly a contract enforcement matter. Requests by the mother’s attorney for a guardian ad litem or a psychologist to be appointed by the court were denied. Quite frankly, the child is being no differently than if he were a piece of furniture, despite the fact that he is now 4 years old, understands what circumcision involves, and has stated clearly that he doesn’t want it.

  5. This is a great video! Thank you for presenting so clearly. I’d like to add a couple of things, if I may.

    Could the fundraiser link be updated to SavingChase.org? The fundraising site YouCaring is no longer hosting this cause as they are getting out of litigation funding altogether. (And the new site also meets all the requirements of the court.)

    Two years passed from the time that the parents signed the parenting agreement that mentioned circumcision to when the father announced he was taking the boy to be circumcised. It was signed in January 2012 when Chase was barely a year old, and now he’s 4 years old. The mother had anticipated that the circumcision would take place, if at all, when her son was still an infant. Between then and December 2013, when the father unexpectedly made his announcement, the mother was informed by a good friend that circumcision is unnecessary, and began her own research into it. She became convinced they had done the right thing in not having Chase circumcised at birth, and advocated regularly against the surgery. The boy has been told what circumcision involves, and has stated clearly that he likes being just the way he is.

    The first hearing on this matter was in March 2014, with the trial opinion issued on May 9. The court of appeals declined to comment and simply rubberstamped the trial decision on November 6. The question now is whether to appeal to the Florida Supreme Court and how to find and pay an attorney. The trial attorney is not an appellate specialist, and has resigned from the case. Unless an extension is granted, the deadline to file a motion to appeal is this Friday, November 21.

  6. Thanks for raising awareness of this, but the reality of this practice needs to be addressed.

    Circumcision is not just unnecessary. It is actively and deliberately harmful and always has been. It is not a silly procedure. It is a sexual assault, it is mutilation and it is intended as such.

    The risk of complications is 100% – the foreskin and frenulum are more erogenous than the parts that are left after circumcision, and that is why the practice exists. Foreskin is the male version of lubrication, in effect a substitute vagina, and is required for normal masturbation. Without it, men & boys must resort to artificial lubrication & unhealthy techniques that cause further damage. Not to mention the effect it has on their expectations of women if they’re heterosexual.

    If they’re gay, an entire sex act (docking) has been permanently denied to them and if they’re trans, their SRS will be more complicated, more expensive and less satisfactory. This also means, of course, that circumcision is both homophobic and violence against trans women.

    The medical-fraud aspect of circumcision is a very recent phenomenon and applies mainly to those circumcisions carried out in the US, Canada and Australia. Globally, over a billion men and boys have been cut purely as an expression of religious control.

    Circumcision is an act of control and subjugation in exactly the same way as all other ritual mutilations both more and less severe. People are able to rationalize even more harmful mutilations than this using exactly the same reasoning. Only our belief that we are civilized allows us to see it any other way or to take it out of the human-rights context. We have cultural blinders that stop us from recognizing the physical act of cutting tissue from a child’s penis as being an act of violence or gender-motivated at all. It’s one of the most glaring examples of binary thinking, based on our associating the penis with violence (as circumcision is intended to do).

    The contemporary excuses given are cultural euphemisms for longstanding beliefs that male masturbation is immoral. “Hygiene” has been used as a euphemism for everything from moral purity to racial purity. Ruining masturbation was the primary reason that it was originally promoted by doctors in the US, and all of the religions that practice it have prohibitions on male masturbation or homosexuality. There are men alive today who were circumcised as punishment for masturbating.

    Whatever the pseudoscientific excuses given by those immediately involved in a given procedure, there is more pseudoscience and historical revisionism in the dismissal of it as merely ‘unnecessary.’

    1. There were other, even more ridiculous reasons, given. Some doctor named Sayers claimed he could cure paraplegia with circumcision. It has also at various points been asserted that circumcision cures or prevents bipolar, schizophrenia, asthma, tuberculosis, cancer (Pick a cancer.), HIV, syphilis, diarrhea, and, really, just pick any disease or symptom you can name.

      The current HIV claims fall into what I call Rath’s Law: “As awareness of just how divorced from reality an alternative medical modality approaches one, the probability that said modality’s proponents will claim it prevents AIDS approaches one.”

  7. Thanks for this video, but there are two STRONG arguments that you left out. :)

    1) At this age, this boy will have to undergo a GENERAL ANESTHESIA (not just a local anesthesia) which carries a whole other host of potential health risks for the boy, including death. The reason for this GENERAL ANESTHESIA is because the procedure is so PAINFUL.

    2) Regarding HIV and other STDs, his potential exposure to these will not become a medical issue until the boy is SEXUALLY ACTIVE. When the boy/man becomes sexually active HE CAN MAKE THE DECISION HIMSELF to be circumcised, if he so chooses.

    His body, his choice.

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