Ever since Israel was founded, Jewish parents have had their sons circumcised at the age of 8 days, with very few exceptions. But voices are being heard against this “cruel” and “unnecessary” operation that allegedly undermines the boy’s rights. On the other side, some critics say this argument reflects self-hate. That’s why parents need reliable information to help them with their decision.
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Rebecca Steinfeld, a political scientist at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, has written in Haaretz: “ In the United States, it’s estimated that 100 boys die as a result of circumcisions every year.”
The source of this frightening “fact” is apparently Dan Bollinger, a prominent anti-circumcision activist who reached this figure using an unscientific method not supported by any responsible medical institution. In fact, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has put the figure at zero – out of more than 1 million circumcisions annually.
In 2012, after five years of research, discussions and a perusal of more than 1,000 medical articles, the American Academy of Pediatrics published a report on the circumcision of newborn boys. It concluded that “the health benefits of newborn male circumcision outweigh the risks” and that parents deserve objective information about the procedure.
In a 2010 statistical analysis, the Centers for Disease Control concluded that the circumcision of newborn boys increases life expectancy and saves on health spending. The CDC recommended that “health-care providers educate parents about the potential benefits and risks to ensure that parents have the information they need to make an informed decision.”
Similar conclusions were published in Australia in 2012 by a group of epidemiological researchers, and by two researchers from Johns Hopkins University in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Based on research results, the World Health Organization also supports and funds circumcision for men to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.
Benefits include the prevention of urinary tract infections and penile cancer, and the prevention of certain sexually transmitted infections including HIV. The complications are usually minimal, especially if the circumcision is performed at an early age by an experienced person. The infant’s suffering is also brief and less than that of an adult who undergoes the procedure.
This information, from reliable medical groups, should be presented to parents who are trying to decide whether to circumcise their sons. I have deliberately refrained from using religious, cultural or social arguments.
Prof. Emeritus Shimon Glick teaches at the Faculty of Health Sciences at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.