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Letters

The deepest cut
There are numerous inaccurate claims in the article "Prime cut" [November 5]. Let me comment only on your statements that male circumcision may be "mutilating" infant boys, and allegedly has no health benefits.

Curious about the recent appearance of so many newspaper and magazine articles that denigrate circumcision, I have found in my own limited investigation that almost all of these articles were published at the instigation of anti-circumcision organizations such as NOCIRC and NOHARMM. In many recent articles, these groups were the only source of information on the alleged harm from circumcision. Some of their information is completely wrong: For example, they incorrectly claim that urinary tract infections are more prevalent in circumcised boys than non-circumcised, while the exact opposite is true! When there is disagreement about a medical procedure, the proper way to settle the matter is by means of unbiased examination of the facts. Most responsible medical authorities today are neutral or positive in recommending circumcision. Ultimately, the conflicting claims of opposing sides will be sorted out, and the biased and invalid information will be set aside.

These anti-circumcision organizations, which share many of the same individuals on their list of officers, are also active in flooding the Internet with material presenting only one side of the story.

There is at least one Internet source that is more balanced, medically accurate, and complete. Dr. Brian Morris [http://www.physiol.usyd.edu.au/brianm/circumcision.html] is an Australian biologist who has no religious or other motives (he is not Jewish, for example) and presents a very complete and timely bibliography of peer-reviewed professional medical journal studies and published articles. Review of such authoritative material will show you why several of the statements in your article are not accurate:

1. You give the impression that circumcision has no benefits and reduces sexual sensitivity in the adult man. You quote negative conclusions of a study published in the 1997 Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) as though it is the official view of the medical profession or the AMA.

First, many articles have been published in JAMA on both sides of this issue. None of these represents the official position of the American Medical Association on the subject. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Canadian Pediatric Society both have an officially neutral position on circumcision at the present time, but they have changed their official position from endorsing to remaining neutral regarding circumcision several times in past decades. Much medical evidence suggests overall benefits from male circumcision, including the lower UTI rate already mentioned, a lower occurrence of cancer of the uterus in the wives of circumcised men, a reported zero incidence of penile cancer (for males circumcised in infancy), and significantly lower incidence of various infections and abnormalities of the penis.

Second, the most significant number and type of penile nerve endings are in the glans and the frenum, which are not removed or significantly affected by male circumcision. Numerous reports, including several studies of men who were circumcised in their adult years and thus could compare sexual sensitivity before and after, indicate that circumcision either has no change or actually increases the sexual sensitivity of the male. This is attributed to the direct exposure of the glans to frictional contact rather than being covered by the foreskin.

The quotations from the 11th-century philosopher Moses Maimonides regarding this topic illustrate the 11th-century misunderstanding of physiology and anatomy, regardless of Maimonides' fame as a philosopher. Similarly, the incorrect beliefs of several 19th-century doctors who promoted circumcision in the false view that it would reduce masturbation are an amusing historical curiosity, but not a valid reason to abandon circumcision today.

2. Your article implicitly confuses male circumcision (removal of the foreskin) with female genital mutilation (FGM). FGM, as it is practiced in much of Africa, the Middle East, and southwest Asia today, is vastly different from male circumcision and should never be described by the word circumcision. FGM involves the intentional removal of all of the clitoris and the inner labia, for the expressed purpose of destroying all sexual sensitivity. In contrast, many physiologists state that the anatomically accurate analogous procedure to male circumcision, for a female, is the removal of the hymen membrane. Such removal of the hymen causes no significant change in sexual sensitivity, and occurs in the normal course of events for most sexually active females.

3. You refer to a few Jewish people who oppose circumcision, and try to give the impression that there are rumblings of dissent to circumcision. These same few Jewish people are repeatedly trotted out by NOCIRC et al. They do not indicate any growth of Jewish dissent regarding circumcision. In fact, all branches of Judaism strongly require circumcision of infant boys.

4. Pain is the main objection of NOCIRC and other circumcision opponents. While no one claims that circumcision is free of pain unless an anesthetic is used, the claims of NOCIRC and some others that it is the worst level of pain known to mankind are highly questionable. You cite some rather controversial studies. In fact, there is no scientific agreement on a standard way to measure pain, particularly in infants. Let me try to briefly summarize a complex topic on which many, many acrimonious and highly emotional statements have already been made: There are numerous contradictory results in the literature to your cited reports, indicating that the pain of circumcision is relatively small and temporary. More depends on the method of circumcision and the use of anesthetics and other factors.

 

You owe your readers a more balanced and complete description of the subject than was presented in this article.

Richard Levine, Sc.D., P.E.
Via e-mail

Editor's note: Jimmy Fowler's article was in no way "instigated" by the anti-circumcision organizations.

Well done! Bravo! I felt like vomiting through the piece, but I was pulled through by the excellent writing. I am an intactivist, but when I was pregnant with my son, I sure wanted to have him cut. It was all I knew, and I come from a family of gentile cutters. Wasn't circumcising just the same as cutting the cord? I wanted the best for my son! My doctor told me it was medically unnecessary, but that didn't dissuade me. I didn't know what all the fuss was about. It seemed like another politically correct movement that was infringing on my rights--like anti-abortionists.

I also didn't know anything about the value of an intact penis, and it sure isn't the kind of information that is available in any parenting books. It was my research on the Internet that helped me come around. One afternoon I sat down and surfed the 'net and finally learned about what my son could lose and what it would have done to him. I realized that as much as I said I loved my soon-to-be-born baby, I wasn't respecting him. It shook me to the core, and I sat there at that computer screen shaking and in tears. I was angry that the great American media with all the talk about investigative reporting wasn't exposing this issue. It wasn't enough for me to back down when my doctor told me it was unnecessary, because my ignorance was vast!

Laurel Troy
Via e-mail

To avoid a conflict of interest, it would be fair for the author of this week's article on circumcision to disclose whether he is circumcised himself. While the article appeared to be shameless marketeering by the person featured, nonetheless you did not point out the health issues shown in scientific studies to be associated with not being circumcised.

Opponents say these can be lessened by proper hygiene--to wash under the foreskin daily when bathing--but medically, I can say few remember doing this when partying, drinking, and boisterous behavior lead to the exposures that cause these risks.

Dr. Thomas L. Kurt
Dallas

A prosperous clergyman is only a court jester in the serious debate over routine infant circumcision. Americans are the last advanced people still practicing circumcision--fortunately, only 60 percent of them do these days. However, with the lack of medical merit demonstrated, it appears the non-Jewish majority does so for no other reason than appearance.

Healthy infants are permanently deprived of part of their sexuality by what amounts to cosmetic surgery, with only vanity and profit as motives. Now, there's a theme for a story.

Michael Smith
Via e-mail

Rabbi Rovinsky says that "a sign [his euphemism for amputation] on the reproductive organ reminds Jewish men that we have choice, that we are not animals." Who had the choice? Certainly not the little boy. He was forcibly mutilated for life to pad Rovinsky's wallet. If Rovinsky had boasted he had mutilated 40,000 dogs, he would be prosecuted for animal cruelty. And he would then be clearly seen as the perverted animal he really is.

Gary Harryman
Via e-mail

The last casualty
Thank you for your recent article about my struggle to clear my name ["Caught in the crossfire," October 29]. I in no way tipped off the Branch Davidians about the ATF raid. Truth be known, I had no idea the ATF was going to raid the compound. I was simply covering a story I was assigned to. The issue at hand is how far the media can go in reporting.

Neither the Houston Chronicle reporter nor the WFAA reporter bothered to check the accuracy of the rumor they started. All I have wanted from the very beginning was for a jury of my peers to decide how damaging the reports were to me. Unfortunately, the courts have yet to allow me my day in court, and I may never get it. The current ruling by the Texas Supreme Court is bad law for Texas. As it stands, anyone giving an interview to a reporter becomes a limited-purpose public figure and therefore has no legitimate shot at legal recourse if they are libeled or slandered.

 

I would also like to compliment Ann Zimmerman on her thoroughness in researching this story. Had the initial reporters done a fraction of the research Zimmerman did, this whole thing would never have occurred.

Thank you again.
John McLemore
Via e-mail


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