In a truly horrifying story, a two-week old baby boy died in Brooklyn at Maimonides Hospital last fall after contracting herpes through an Orthodox religious circumcision ritual. The official cause of death recently released from the boy’s death last year has been ruled as “disseminated herpes simplex virus Type 1, complicating ritual circumcision with oral suction.”
The Orthodox ritual, known as metzizah b’ peh, has the rabbi (or mohel) “remove blood from the wound with his mouth” (emphasis mine) during a bris.
The NY Daily News reports that the practice is one “city health officials have criticized, saying it carries ‘inherent risks’ for babies. It’s also not the first time a death has occurred. Back in 2004 in Rockland County, there was a public outcry after three infants circumcised by Rabbi Yitzchok Fischer contracted herpes from the same religious practice. One case was fatal. Other babies have died while still others have lived but suffered brain damage.
My question is, how is this practice even legal? Surely a grown adult male having oral contact with a baby is a crime, even if the parents say it’s OK. Whether the claim is a religious request or not, the physical action itself is unnatural on so many levels. Imagine, if you will, that exact scenario happening in any other situation and it not being considered a crime. People need to stop hiding behind religion to perform immoral and unhealthy practices.
In addition, it’s common sense that placing your mouth on a fresh, opened wound is unhealthy for any baby, on any body part, let alone a newborn’s penis (especially when a portion of it was just snipped off). Whether you are pro-circumcision or against it is an entirely different story. While I would not cut off any of my son’s body parts, I would not consider a hospital circumcision to be in a category even remotely close to having a Rabbi snip a baby’s penis in a crowded living room and then suck the blood out with his mouth.
Here is what the New York City Department of Health has to say about it:
Oral herpes spreads easily through saliva, especially when saliva touches a cut or break in the skin, such as during metzitzah b’peh.Most people with oral herpes don’t know they are infected and don’t have symptoms. Even without symptoms, however, people can spread the infection.
Because the immune system of newborns is not developed enough to fight serious infection, herpes infections pose grave risks to infants.
How are mothers even allowing this in 2012? The shock factor of the actual procedure is only made worse by the babies contracting transmittable diseases, and in this case, a disease that lead to the baby’s death. Surely, if a mother feels the need to circumcise her son for religious reasons, she does not need to select a Rabbi who incorporates metzizah b’ peh into the bris. Apparently, a sterile glass tube, or pipette has been created specifically for this use. Instead of direct oral contact between the rabbi and the newborn’s penis, the sterile tube can be used instead to suck out the blood. Still disturbing in my opinion, but far less dangerous, medically speaking.
I’m all for people marking their child’s birth with a religious celebration, but when it compromises a baby’s life, there is no religion in the world that is worth that.
And hey, here’s a wild thought, how about leaving the baby boy alone and not putting his life in danger under the guise of religion?