While a new measure to ban male circumcision is taking shape this month in San Francisco, the American Academy of Pediatrics is poised to issue their new policy, which is expected to turn from a neutral position to one advocating for the procedure. A procedure that is already on the decline.
A study conducted last year found that fewer than half of American baby boys are being circumcised. In fact, the circumcision rate dropped from 56% in 2006 to 32.5% in 2009, a significant decrease especially considering the U.S. currently has one of the highest circumcision rates in the developed world with 80% of men circumcised. Until fairly recently the rate remained high with two-thirds of boys circumcised throughout the 80’s and early 90’s. But the data is not definitive as it does not include procedures done outside hospitals (like those at Jewish religious ceremonies) or those not covered by insurance.
The statistics were originally compiled to determine the rate of complications from the procedure rather than to measure the circumcision rate, but last summer a researcher for the Center for Disease Control (CDC) presented the data at the International AIDS Conference in Vienna, and word spread.
Opponents of male circumcision hail the findings as a triumph over what they consider to be genital mutilation. One such opponent, San Francisco resident Lloyd Schofield, has gone as far as to attempt to to make circumcision on males below the age of 18 illegal. The measure may appear on the ballot if Schofield can get the 7,138 signatures he needs by April 26. He asserts it’s a human rights issue given the city has already declared female circumcision illegal.
The World Health Organization, meanwhile, endorsed male circumcision in 2007 as an significant measure to reduce the risk of transmitting AIDS. The diminished risk, however, only pertains when referring to heterosexual sex and only appears to help shield the man from getting infected. (There is no evidence that circumcision helps prevent a woman from contracting aids from an infected male partner). Circumcision also does not seem to protect those at greatest risk, men who engage in sex with men.
So is it barbaric mutilation, a necessary health precaution or a sacrosanct religious ritual?