The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) announced today that it has changed it’s official recommendation regarding the potential health benefits of circumcision. Whereas the organization has previously stated that this was a personal decision with no clear medical risks or benefits either way, it is now saying that the benefits of the procedure outweigh the risks.
“There is clear evidence that supports the health benefits of circumcision,” said Susan Blank, who led task force that put together the new policy.
Since 1999 when the AAP first issued a statement declaring no clear medical benefits to circumcision, the percentage of non-circumcised baby boys in America has risen to 56%. The organization is now hoping that more parents will consider circumcision and that it will be covered by insurance.
Here’s their logic, which I’m sure will draw criticism:
- UTI risks (though low) in baby boys drops 90% with circumcision
- Circumcised men are less likely to become infected with STIs.
“It drops the risk of heterosexual HIV acquisition by about 60 percent. It drops the risk of human papilloma virus (HPV), herpes virus and other infectious genital ulcers,” says Blank. It also reduces the spread of HPV to female sexual partners, which reduces cervical cancer.
“We’ve reviewed the data and, you know, we have gone through them with fine a tooth comb and the data are pretty convincing,” she says.
But Georgeanne Chapin of the anti-circumcision group Intact America is not buying it. She says the scientific evidence is questionable; the studies about HIV have only been done in Africa, where there are many confounding factors and AIDS is much more common among heterosexuals.
“They’re cherry-picking their evidence,” she says. “They act as though there’s this huge body of literature. It’s all the same couple of studies that have been regurgitated and re-programmed. Over the past 150 years, all kinds of medical benefits have been proposed as resulting from cutting off the foreskin, and they have all been dis-proven.”
When researching circumcision for the pregnancy and baby book I co-authored in 2007, we found very small risks and benefits for both circumcising and not circumcising. The likelihood of issues on both sides was so amazingly small we felt that the AAP’s stance was appropriate and that the many personal, cultural and religious factors seemed to be more of a factor than purely medical ones. New research has since emerged and I’m not familiar enough with it to comment on its value.
It will be interesting to see deeper, critical responses to this new recommendation. But it will suck to wade through the intense expressions of intolerance that so often accompany this debate.
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