The National Organization of Circumcision Information Resource Centers of Michigan sponsored an event Sunday, titled “New Perspectives on Circumcision,” at the Michigan League in order to discuss the merits and pitfalls of the debated practice.
John Geisheker, executive director of the nonprofit Doctors Opposing Circumcision, and Robert Van Howe, professor and interim chair of Pediatrics at the Central Michigan University College of Medicine, spoke. The event addressed medical and ethical problems associated with circumcision, a surgical procedure that removes the foreskin around the tip of the penis most commonly performed on newborn males.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control released a set of guidelines last Tuesday that recommends doctors to discuss the option of circumcision with their patients. Jonathan Mermin, director of the National Center for HIV/AIDS at the CDC, stated that circumcision is beneficial for men’s health, especially for disease prevention.
“The first thing that’s important to know is male circumcision has been associated with a 50 to 60 percent reduction of HIV transmission as well as a reduction in sexually transmitted infections such as herpes, bacterial vaginosis and the human papilloma virus, which causes penile and cervical cancer,” Mermin told The New York Times on Tuesday.
During his Sunday talk, Van Howe rebutted CDC’s guidelines and said there is currently no scientific evidence that circumcision is beneficial, saying that he believes the studies used to support circumcision are biased and inaccurate.
“The studies are identical in their methodology and share the same sources of bias,” Van Howe said. “(The researchers) thought it was already proven that circumcision prevents HIV. So they determined what the results were going to be before the study.”
In addition, Van Howe said circumcision is unnecessary because there are better options to prevent HIV infections.
“We know that among other things that are out there, there are more effective, less expensive, and less invasive ways to prevent illness,” Van Howe said.
Geisheker added that circumcision may not only be unnecessary but may actually be harmful since surgeons are often not properly trained to perform the procedure.
“There is very little training for circumcision,” Geisheker said. “There is no training protocol. It’s very common that it is the very first surgery for the surgery residents.”
According to Geisheker, circumcision of newborns is also unethical because the newborn has no say in the decision.
“(Children) have to be protected until they are able to protect themselves. (Parents) should save decisions for the child that could be made in the future,” Geisheker said.
Rackham student Andrew Kohler, member of the University’s chapter of the National Organization of Circumcision Information Resource Centers, said he believes that circumcision violates one of the most fundamental human rights.
“I think the ownership of one’s own body is one of the most fundamental human rights,” Kohler said. “Especially in the nonconsensual genital modification, it is a serious violation.”
Van Howe said in spite of the evidence against circumcision, the practice remains common in the U.S. possibly because people have difficulty admitting that they have been circumcised.
“People have to first admit that they have been harmed,” Van Howe said. “And that is very difficult for guys to do. We also know that circumcision interferes with men talking about their feelings, and that makes it worse for circumcised men.”
Norm Cohen, director of NOCIRC Michigan, said raising awareness about circumcision is important for the university students since they may have to decide circumcising their children in the future.
“It is very important to make the right choice,” Cohen said.