Circumcision: Parents Have Final Say

Circumcision: Parents Have Final Say

Circumcision is one of the most common surgical procedures performed in the world.

It involves removing the foreskin of the penis. The foreskin (or prepuce) is the part of the penis that covers the head (or glans) of it.

Its removal in newborn infant boys is common in the U.S. and some other parts of the world.

Since the decision to circumcise an infant involves more than just medical factors, it is a subject of intense debate.

In 2012, the American Academy of Pediatrics reversed its previously equivocal stance and stated:

“Evaluation of current evidence indicates that the health benefits of newborn male circumcision outweigh the risks; furthermore, the benefits of newborn male circumcision justify access to this procedure for families who choose it.”

This triggered a rebuttal from a group of northern European physicians (where circumcision is uncommon), which in turn led to a response from the AAP Task Force on Circumcision.

The truth is that the decision to circumcise a newborn is only partially a medical decision.

Religion enters into the decision: Jews and Muslims usually circumcise their baby boys throughout the world and Christians and Hindus generally do not (for example).

Culturally, some groups of Africans circumcise their boys.

Socially, parents of boys may decide whether to get them circumcised depending on whether the father or most men in a community have had it done.

A father who has had a bad experience with his foreskin growing up or as an adult may decide to have his son circumcised.

From a medical standpoint, there are reasons to have a boy circumcised such as a decrease in urinary tract infections and decreased risk of contracting HIV through heterosexual sex.

Some sexually transmitted infections are less likely to be caught, and penile cancer is less of a possibility.

On the con side, there are rare complications of the surgery itself. These can include infection, hemorrhages, partial amputations and urethral meatal (opening) strictures.

Because the foreskin contains nerve endings, it is possible that intercourse may feel different for a circumcised male (granted, it would be hard to know for sure).

In the end, a newborn male’s parents are thought to be the best decision-makers for him when it comes to whether to get him circumcised.

It is our job as healthcare providers to give parents information they need to make an informed decision.

Dr. Charles Ison is a University of Kentucky graduate who has practiced in his hometown of Lexington since 1993. He is a partner in Pediatric and Adolescent Associates.