Don’t Be Ridiculous, Not Circumcising Your Son Is Nothing Like Not Vaccinating Him

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The Mayo clinic came out with a new study this week, whose author, Brian J. Morris likens not circumcising your child to not vaccinating him. The American Academy Of Pediatric’s stand on this issue is still not one of pushing for routine circumcision, although they recognize that the benefits are good enough to make it available to those parents who want it for their children. I’m going to have to side with them. I’m not a doctor, but I can clearly see that the former statement is outrageous, while the latter is sensible.

Dr. Russel Saunders penned an essay for the Daily Beast today that addresses the many flaws with Dr. Morris’ study. Morris’ most inflammatory points are these: “Just as vaccination, failure to circumcise will put your son at serious risk of adverse medical conditions and he could indeed die from some of them. What’s more he will harm others, from sexually transmitted infections which include oncogenic HPV types that cause cervical cancer, a potentially lethal cancer.”

Morris also claims, “Denial of infant male circumcision is denial of his rights to good health, something that all responsible parents should consider carefully.”

Since I am not a doctor, I am going to defer to Dr. Saunders very sensible points here:

With regard to life-threatening health conditions that may be prevented by circumcision, HIV infections are at the top of the list. There have been studies that demonstrated a clear preventive benefit for circumcised males. However, all such studies I have seen have been conducted on men in Africa, where epidemic HIV among heterosexual men is part of an ongoing health crisis.

It’s always problematic when people cite resources like the World Health Organization, because those people generally tend to neglect the fine print on these studies – mainly that they don’t only involve subjects from first world countries. Dr. Saunders explains, “Generalizing those data to the United States, which has vastly different HIV prevalence and where sexual mores are significantly different than in places like Kenya, is intellectually problematic at best. The two populations are not similar enough to draw conclusions for both.”

Dr. Morris likens circumcision to vaccination by comparing the risk to others caused by refusing either intervention. But this comparison doesn’t withstand scrutiny. Most of the health risks borne by uncircumcised men fall solely on them, rather than the population at large.

It’s more than outrageous to liken catching an airborne disease or destroying herd immunity to having a higher risk for urinary tract infections or very rare cancers.

Dr. Morris mentions life-threatening illness caused by oncogenic (cancer-causing) HPV infection, but circumcision would only lower risk of transmission on an individual-by-individual basis, and only those engaged in an activity known to entail risk of infection. Contrast that with an unvaccinated individual who can expose everyone who went shopping at the same store within a two-hour window to a possibly deadly infection.

I’m not quite sure who Brian Morris is, or why the issue of circumcision has been turned on it’s head this week because of his inflammatory claims. But I would be more comfortable likening this man’s outrageous speak to that of anti-vaxxers, not the reverse.

But when Dr. Morris says that to deny an infant male circumcision is to deny him his rights to good health, he grossly overstates his case.

I think this is really irresponsible. Or do we all actually believe that every other first world country has this all backwards? Clearly there are benefits – and parents who have to make this very hard decision need to weigh those. But to imply that those parents who don’t agree with his case are denying their children the right to good health is absurd. As sensible proponents of “parental choice,” we get all up-in-arms when someone claims we are mutilating our child if we have him circumcised. Why aren’t we just as offended when someone claims we are denying him sound health if we don’t?

“For parents who choose not to circumcise their sons, I see no reason to counsel them otherwise, and nothing in this new study says anything to change my mind.”

(photo: Nguyen Thai/ Shutterstock)