Cutting to the Point on Circumcision
Weigh the Options
Vive la Difference continued...
The biggest reason for the change is mounting evidence that the
medical benefits aren't as compelling as once believed. In addition,
anticircumcision groups have turned up the heat on the debate. They claim the
practice is cruel and unnecessary and are spreading the word via web sites,
mailings, bumper stickers, T-shirts, and international conferences.
Circumcision rates are much lower in other parts of the world,
including most of Europe, Asia, and Latin America. Only 48% of boys in Canada,
24% in the United Kingdom, and 15% of boys worldwide are circumcised.
Probably the strongest cause for pause among parents, however,
came in March 1999 when the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy
statement saying it does not endorse routine circumcision.
"There are potential benefits as well as risks, but the
data wasn't sufficient for us to say every newborn male needs to be
circumcised," says Carole Lannon, MD, clinical associate professor of
pediatrics and internal medicine at the University of North Carolina, Chapel
Hill, and chairwoman of the task force on circumcision. "Each parent needs
to make that decision."
To Snip or Not to Snip
A circumcision is usually performed within 48 hours of birth by
an obstetrician or pediatrician in the hospital, or on the eighth day after
birth for the Jewish ritual, called brit milah or bris. The baby is restrained,
then the layer of tissue that covers the tip of the penis is surgically
removed. It should take no more than five minutes in skilled hands.
When weighing the pros and cons of circumcising your baby, the
most clear-cut medical benefits of circumcision are a four- to tenfold decrease
in the risk of urinary tract infections during the first year of life, and a
threefold reduction in the risk of penile cancer among adult men.
However, UTIs and cancer of the penis are rare. The risk of
developing a UTI in an uncircumcised male infant is no more than 1%, and
breastfeeding has been shown to protect against these infections among this
group, according to the AAP. Only 10 or fewer men per 1 million get cancer of
the penis each year worldwide.