Back to the myth busting. So far we have seen that 1. Medical Professions do not advocate routine circumcision for newborns, 2. Circumcision is painful in the extreme and 3. It is dangerous to administer anaesthetic to very young babies.
The next myth is that circumcision is just a tiny snip and that there are no risks attached.
On the contrary, there are many risks of circumcision - these include infection, bleeding, scarring, excessive skin removal, damage to the glans and frenulum, loss of the penis and even death. The danger of this myth is that it is more risky to circumcise an infant than an adult, simply because a baby's penis is so very small, and is therefore difficult to operate upon, plus the fact that more skin is removed from an infant than from an adult. This means that excessive skin removal is quite common and this problem can result in painful erections, and also (contrary to popular belief) restrict the growth of the penis at puberty.
The latest figures I can find for complications caused by circumcision are for the USA, where the rate is given as between 3% and 9% - which doesn't sound like a lot, but actually means tens of thousands of boys suffer from complications because of this surgery. There are deaths even in such developed countries as Australia, The USA and Canada. I believe that even ONE baby suffering from complications is one too many, and that a procedure which is unnecessary, and has the risk of death attached should not be carried out.
The frightening thing, from my point of view, is that in many cases there are no figures for death or complications following circumcision. Many complications are not followed up at the point where the procedure was done, and therefore are not reported.
I checked some statistics at the webcite Circinfo.org, and was appalled to see the following, just from Australia:
1919 Tuberculosis contracted during circumcision
1943 Gangrene following circumcision
1953 "Begg noted that figures for deaths from circumcision were not available, but reported Gairdner's observation (1949) of 16 deaths annually in England and Wales for period 1942-1947 and commented "There was every reason to believe that a proportionate mortality would prevail in Australia".
1965 "Dr R Southby mentioned two neonatal deaths which had resulted from infection after circumcision in the last year, and other instances of surgical complications leading to litigation"
1966 Two deaths from haemorrhage.
1967 Commonwealth Statistician report of one death in 1963 and one in 1964. Statistician commented "Figures of deaths from complications of circumcision for other reasons (other than ritual or preventive) are not available."
1969 Official statistics reported two deaths from 1959 to 1969 but "There is probably no adequate record of morbidity (death)"
1977 Death from meningitis
1993 Death from anaesthetic overdose, Brisbane
And for the complications arising, we have dozens, including tuberculosis following circumcision, septicaemia and also pneumonia in one baby, staphlycoccus in another. Infection leading to loss of a third of the penis. In 1970 as report of complications at 15.5%.
A letter from A. Clements, MJA in 1972 "Examining large numbers of children at school medical inspections over the last few years I am appalled at the phallic mutilations exhibited by many of these children, some of whom have even been subjected to a subsequent 'tidying up' procedure after being bady mauled in infancy".
Other complications include cases of meningitis, including one fatal, one mildly 'retarded' and one seriously 'retarded'; two Sydney babies suffered severe blood oxygen deprivation after the administration of prilocaine anaesthetic.
And just in case you are thinking this is all past news, and these things don't happen in this modern world, think again! In 1997 a baby almost bled to death after circumcision, 2006 a doctor was deregistered for ten years by NSW Medical Board for misconduct..including an excessive incidence of circumcision complications. And in 2010 a Melbourne doctor was suspended for three months (only) after "incompetent circumcision" - using a Plastibell device, resulting in severe injury to the penis and the need for plastic surgery, on a 2 year old boy.
And we have an "enviable record"?
Other complications include: meatal stenosis, which is a narrowing of the urethra, this can interfere with urination. It may require further surgery to remedy. Adhesions, where the remnants of the foreskin try to heal attached to the head of the penis, in an area where they are not supposed to grow. These adhesions are treated by doctors ripping them open, with no anaesthetic. Buried penis, where the penis is trapped or buried because too much skin has been removed, forcing the penis inside the body. Infection is also a serious risk with the prevalence of the modern drug resistant bacteria which can be picked up in the hospitals.
Regarding the myth that circumcision is necessary to prevent Urinary Tract Infections in infants:
This is a no-brainer, as research for this claim was based on one study, of babies born in one hospital in 1985. According to Psychology Today, the study had "many problems, including that it didn't accurately count whether or not the babies were circumcisied, whether they were premature and thus more susceptible to infection in general, whether they were breastfed, whether their foreskins had been forcibly retracted". This last can introduce bacteria and lead to infection. Since this 'research' there have been many further studies, some showing either no decrease in UTI's from circumcision, some showing an actual increase. The generally accepted figures state that around 0.188% of circumcised babies and 0.702% of intact babies develop a UTI. Such a slight difference as this hardly matters. The incidence for girls of UTI's is around 5%. Also immediate breastfeeding apparently protects male and female babies from UTI's.
Tomorrow I will look at the last of the myths I will cover, that of STDs and HIV - I think you will be quite surprised by the most recent findings. I will also look at the long term and psychological implications of circumcision. They aren't pretty in a lot of cases.