The circumcision debate – anyone who has a view on it is either completely against it or for it. Picture: Supplied.
WHEN a topic arouses such strong emotions, it can often be difficult for parents to find unbiased information sources.
Just mention the word “circumcision” and everyone dashes to their side of the barbed-wire fence. It’s one of those topics where there is little grey area – anyone who has a view on it is either completely against it or for it.
What’s more, each camp can cite huge amounts of research and reasons to support their polarised views.
This is all very well unless you are a parent-to-be and would like to get some unbiased information on whether this procedure is heinous mutilation or a procedure that prevents future disease and problems.
The number of Australian boys actually being snipped today is also open to debate. The Victorian Government’s Better Health website claims the current rate is less than 10 per cent, while circumcision advocate Professor Brian Morris says it is closer to between 17 and 32 per cent and rising. On his website Circinfo he suggests that in Brisbane alone, it is as high as 50 per cent.
The decision to circumcise baby boys is usually made for personal or religious reasons – the procedure is rarely performed for medical reasons.
Links with STIs
The information pamphlets, websites and interest groups for each camp are full of research which looks at health, hygiene, sexual pleasure and surgical risks.
The most recent and widely reported research focuses on whether circumcision offers more protection against sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
While this argument has been in circulation for a few years, it reared its head in 2010 when an article in the Medical Journal Of Australia claimed that male circumcision was a powerful intervention in the fight against HIV transmission.
At the time, the co-author of the article, Dr Alex Wodak, director of Alcohol and Drug Service at St Vincent’s Hospital, called for circumcision of baby boys to be seen as an element of the “safer sex package”.
“Condom use remains essential, with promotion of condom use plus circumcision of males being analogous to the use of seatbelts plus airbags for reducing the road toll,” he said.
Wodak then went on to cite figures from sub-Saharan Africa in which HIV rates were consistently lower in regions where circumcision was more prevalent among the population.
Dr Robert Darby, who strongly opposes non-therapeutic or routine circumcision for infant boys and runs the website Circumcision Information Australia, has this message for parents in regards to STIs: “Although many studies have claimed that circumcision can reduce an adult male’s risk of acquiring STIs, there is no convincing proof that the incidence of STI infection differs significantly between cut and uncut men.
“Studies that claim otherwise are usually done in poor and under-developed countries and do not take into account personal hygiene, complex social customs, education level, medical services, traditional sexual practices and genetic susceptibility to disease. Similar studies in industrialised nations, such as Australia, find that circumcision does not reduce the risk of STI transmission.
“Reducing the risk of STIs could never be a justification for circumcising infants or children, since they are not sexually active and thus not at risk. Promiscuity and failure to practise safe sex are far more serious risk factors for STIs than normal anatomy.”
An official position
Most medical bodies, organisations and institutes around the world do not recommend the routine or non-therapeutic circumcision of infant boys.
One of these is The Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP), which confirmed its position on circumcision last year.
It states, “After reviewing the currently available evidence, the RACP believes the frequency of diseases modifiable by circumcision, the level of protection offered by circumcision and the complication rates of circumcision do not warrant routine infant circumcision in Australia and New Zealand.”
The Children’s Hospital at Westmead goes on to say that elective circumcision is not available in public hospitals, and points out in its fact sheets for parents that “the risks of routine circumcision are believed to be greater than the potential benefits”.
“Circumcision may be done for cultural or religious reasons. It is rarely needed for medical reasons,” the hospital says.
Then, there’s the human rights argument: should parents be making decisions to perform procedures on their child that arguably have no medical basis or benefits?
Darby says no. “Only the owner of the penis has the right to decide if he would like its appearance, structure and function altered by circumcision or any other unnecessary procedure.”
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