Doctors say ‘The benefits of circumcision outweigh the risks’

A leading US organisation of paediatricians says the medical benefits of male circumcision outweigh the risks, but they're not enough to recommend the controversial procedure be performed on all baby boys.

"There are modest benefits and modest risks," said Dr. Andrew Freedman, a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics task force that issued the new guidelines. "We recognise that the topic cuts across many paradigms in your life – cultural, religious, ethnic, family tradition, aesthetic. We're not in a position to make recommendations on those paradigms."

The new guidelines, published online yesterday (27 August 2012)  and in the September print issue of the journal Pediatrics, offer stronger evidence about the benefits of circumcision, especially in terms of preventing the transmission of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, Freedman said.

The guidelines also say that circumcision lowers the risk of urinary tract infections in infants, genital herpes, human papilloma virus, cervical cancer in women and penile cancer.

Still, "the degree of benefit is modest enough that you don't have to say everyone has to do it," Freedman said. "It's not like wearing a seatbelt vs. not wearing a seat belt."

Risks include significant bleeding, which occurs in about one in 500 boys, he said. As for loss of sexual sensation during adulthood because of the loss of nerve endings on the foreskin, Freedman said it's a poorly studied issue.

"There are lots of people who are unhappy" about a lack of sexual sensation, he said, but "millions of men are perfectly happy. From a scientific standpoint, we really don't have a good handle on it."

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Circumcision decisions should be left to parents after weighing up-to-date advice from their doctor and their own preferences and beliefs, the task force concluded.

In the last 30 years, circumcision rates have dropped in Australia – from around 90 per cent of baby boys circumcised, to just 15 per cent today.

A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine also stated that women have an increased risk of cervical cancer if their partners are not circumcised. As it seems uncircumcised men are more likely to transmit human papilloma virus (HPV) and, worldwide, HPV is the cause of 99 per cent of cervical cancers in women.

On an episode of Channel Ten's Can of Worms last night, the question Is It OK to circumcise your son to match his dad was asked. The outcome – as of this morning – was 60.19% of respondants said no with 39.81% saying yes.

Some of the shows forum comments included:

Why should anyone be allowed to choose to mutilate a boy's body? What about his fundamental human rights? – KevChaney

Female circumcision (female genital mutilation) is illegal and seen by the UN as a violation of human rights. So why is it ok for boys to be circumcised??? – Pete Nicolai

Of course it is fine for sons to be circumcised to match their father. Parents do what they believe is best for their child and if that includes circumcising him then who is anyone else to say that is wrong. I'll be circumcising my son – Steve Thompson

Did you have your son circumcised? Would you?

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