“The old dictum that ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ seems to make good sense… Submitting your son to the procedure to prevent urinary tract infections makes only a little more sense than buying insurance against being gored by a unicorn…”
Alleged Medical Benefits
Except in rare cases, all human beings, male, female, and intersex, are born with a foreskin, or prepuce. In girls it covers the glans (head) of the clitoris; in boys it covers the glans of the penis. Since this is a normal, healthy anatomical structure, there are no medical indications for amputating or excising it in the newborn period, and rarely in infancy or childhood. This is the view of all child health authorities that have issued policy statements on this question. In the absence of any medical indication, the Council on Scientific Affairs of the American Medical Association (AMA) has properly described elective infant circumcision as a “non-therapeutic” procedure.
Circumcision of infants is a painful and stressful procedure that often leaves the boy exhausted, and unable to sleep properly [2,3] or to breastfeed. Thus, though a non-therapeutic circumcision is unnecessary in the first place, medical authorities state that elective circumcision should be performed only on healthy and medically stable infants.
The health benefits claimed are reduced risk of contracting certain uncommon and/or easily treatable diseases or conditions to which a boy may be exposed in later life, including:
- sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
- urinary tract infections (UTIs)
- cancer of the penis
- prostate cancer, and
- cervical cancer in female partners
These claims date originally from before the advent of evidence-based medicine, when doctors relied on the opinions of other clinicians to inform their practice, rather than on scientifically collected evidence (e.g.). We shall examine each of these claims in turn.
1. Council on Scientific Affairs. Report 10: Neonatal circumcision. Chicago: American Medical Association; 1999. Available at: web.archive.org/web/20041212215045/, www.ama-assn.org/ama/pub/category/13585.html
2. Anders TF, Chalemian RJ. The effects of circumcision on sleep-wake states in human neonates. Psychosom Med. 1974;36:174-9.
3. Emde RN, Harmon RJ, Metcalf D, Koenig KL, Wagonfeld S. Stress and neonatal sleep. Psychosom Med. 1971;33:491-7.
4. Howard CR, Howard FM, Weitzman ML. Acetaminophen analgesia in neonatal circumcision: the effect on pain. Pediatrics. 1994;93(4):641-6.
5. American Academy of Pediatrics Task Force on Circumcision. Male circumcision. Pediatrics. 2012;130(3):e756-85.
6. Wolbarst AL. Universal circumcision as a sanitary measure. JAMA. 1914;LXII(2):92-7.
Published June 2016, updated November 2019