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Donald then concluded that when a child is found suffering from genital irritation, it was best to have circumcision performed on him "during the first year of life, so that to a degree at least danger of future moral contamination may be avoided."
The obvious and well-documented benefits of circumcision led to a sudden increase in its popularity and by 1889, it was getting circumcised was in fashion. Circumcision gained even greater support when it was presented not as a cure but also as a prophylactic. Since the benefits were well-known and circumcision was widely advocated, people decided that it was better to get their children circumcised as soon as it was possible. Thus, instead of waiting for diseases to develop or other signs of discomfort to emerge, it was thought best to have circumcision done before it was too late and thus neonatal circumcision became popular. By 1910 and in the early decades of the 20th century, it was noted that "the uncircumcised male, particularly one born in an urban area, indeed, is becoming a rarity in our society."
Circumcision is a popular practice and many still have faith in its medical benefits. But opponents of this practice are now growing more vocal maintaining that the procedure doesn't really merit as much attention or credit as a cure for some genital diseases or other medical problems. While even today, 60% of all boys are circumcised in the United States but the rate is slowing dropping with more studies discrediting old claims about various benefits of circumcision. Among Muslims and Jews, the practice is still common with Muslims treating it as a religious obligation and do not in any case accept researches opposing circumcision. In Britain however, rate of circumcision is very low, falling around 5 to 6%.
Anti-circumcision movement gained momentum with various studies publicizing its alleged demerits. American Academy of Pediatrics played a key role in changing people's attitude towards circumcision when in 1971 and again in 1975, it claimed that "there is no absolute medical indication for routine circumcision of the newborn," and maintained that proper hygienic practices could offer the same advantages. But the Academy received a rude shock when it was found in 1989 that there existed a correlation between urinary tract infections and absence of circumcision. A decade later, the Academy adopted its stance of 1970s once again but this time, more tactfully, claimed that there was no need for circumcision to become a "routine" procedure and anesthesia would have to be used when circumcising boys.
The campaign against routine neonatal circumcision is rather different in nature when compared with researches and studies that first promoted the practice. The campaigners were a whole different breed namely physicians who were genuinely interested in promoting a practice that could prove remedial and beneficial to majority of males. However this new group that is opposing circumcision is driven by social anxieties and do not necessarily know a great deal about medical benefits or the lack of the same thereof. They are actively suggesting that circumcision is a painful practice that may or may not have any medical benefits. They are also motivated by gender issues since only males are subjected to circumcision. Somehow this practice hurts the traditional image of man as the stronger sex.
The campaign actually lacks good medical support and appears to be grounded in social issues of gender and human rights. They claim that a child might undergo emotional and physical trauma when circumcised and this may impact his adult life.Apart from this, they also appear to have gender related concerns and anti-circumcision is largely seen as a "men's movement."
Circumcision is one practice that despite opposition is not likely to disappear altogether. The reason being that for many people including Muslims and Jews, circumcision has religious and cultural significance and it is not very easy to uproot this practice from these societies. Muslim countries around the world firmly believe in circumcision and wouldn't ever buy any research claiming its demerits. They see it as a sign of affiliation with their religion and are not convinced by poorly supported notions of childhood trauma or gender disparities etc. For this reason, uprooting this practice is almost impossible as one writer observes, "entrenched tradition of custom is probably the greatest obstacle faced by those who would decrease the number of circumcisions done in this country."
From research on the subject, we can safely conclude that Americans are not willing to accept claims made by anti-circumcision quarters, not at least in their entirety. They may help reduce the status of circumcision from something normative to something voluntary and optional but rejecting the practice altogether is not likely. Jews and Muslim will be consistently working in its practice and as long as they cherish it as a religious obligation, circumcision is not likely to disappear. It appears that people are more willing to adopt a neutral stance on the subject instead of rejecting it completely like some anti-circumcision campaigners would want. However the anti-circumcision campaign has had at least one productive outcome i.e. use of anesthesia. The outdated claims that infants did not feel pain are no longer accepted and use of anesthesia is mandatory during circumcision. A physician not adhering to the guidelines of the Academy is likely to face serious malpractice charges. Apart from this, circumcision opponents have also managed to turn it into less of a norm than it used to be once. But still 60% of all male children are circumcised in the United States and this indicates that the practice is deeply rooted in the social and cultural fabric of the country.
David L. Gollaher, Circumcision: A History of the World's Most Controversial Surgery 127 (2000).
George W. Kaplan, Circumcision -- An Overview, 7 Current Probs. In Pediatrics 1, 3 (1977).
A id. At 91, 102-04
Johnson v. Colp., 300 N.W. 791, 792 (Minn. 1941)
Absalom Shigwedha, Namibia: Traditional Methods of Circumcision Raise Controversy, Inter-Press Service, Feb. 12, 1997
David L. Gollaher, From Ritual to Science: The Medical Transformation of Circumcision in America, 28 J. Soc. Hist. 5, 6 (1994) id. At 6-7.
George M. Beard, Circumcision as a Cure for Nervous Symptoms, 4 Philadelphia Med. Bull. 248, 248-49 (1882).
Jonathan Hutchinson, On Circumcision as Preventive of Masturbation, 2 Archives of Surgery 267, 268 (1890-91).
Id. At 268.
W.M. Donald, Circumcision as a Therapeutic Measure, 16 Med. Age 292, 293 (1898).
Donald, at 293.
Abraham L. Wolbarst, Universal Circumcision as a Sanitary Measure, 62 JAMA 92, 92-97 (1914).
William H. Masters & Virginia E. Johnson, Human Sexual Response 17 (1966). 190.
N. Williams & L. Kapila, Complications of Circumcision, 80 Brit. J. Surgery 1231, 1231 (1993).
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