Is Circumcision a Human Rights Issue?

by Dani Lasher

The Facts

All religious talk aside, medical literature does not support prophylactic circumcision. An intact American male has a 1 in 600 risk of developing penile cancer. By contrast, 1 in 8 women will develop breast cancer, but we aren’t amputating the breasts of newborn girls. Issues that increase one’s risk of penile cancer, such as Lichen Sclerosis and phimosis (a condition in which the foreskin can’t be retracted (pulled back) from around the tip of the penis), are more likely to occur in circumcised men, advancing the argument for not circumcising.

It doesn’t stop there.  Balanitis, adhesion, hemorrhage, erectile dysfunction, keloids, meatal stenosis, urethral fistula, and even a ruptured bladder are all found more commonly in circumcised boys.  Total estimates for these medical complications and more, between 1940 and 1990, exceeded $6.5 million.

The AAP policy statement on circumcision in 1971 emphasized there was no support for this elective surgery. In a similar statement issued again in 1975 found no support. In 1984, an AAP pamphlet highlighted the functions of the foreskin — information that was left out of future editions.  By 2012, the AAP touted circumcision as the choice mom and dad should make. Policy statements need to be reaffirmed every five years or they expire. The 2012 statement has never been reaffirmed. Was this done intentionally to allow the AAP to avoid liability for their previous recommendations?

When the risks outweigh the benefits, why is routine infant circumcision even an option?  Could there be a darker truth about why circumcision is promoted by the medical machine to help drive profit-driven businesses?

Removing Foreskin: Benefit the Baby or the Buyer?

From foreskin facials to the development of essential oils for companies such as doTerra, the foreskin trade is booming. The foreskin has more blood cells and nerve endings than almost any other skin on the body. Infant foreskins are used in insulin production, breathable bandages, and in the cosmetics industry. A 2009 Scientific American article noted:

The fibroblasts in Vavelta [skin creams] are isolated from the foreskins, given several months to grow and multiply in the lab, and then packaged into treatment vials that are shipped to a select group of U.K. physicians. Each vial costs approximately 750 pounds, or $1,000.

Using foreskins for skin creams is just the tip of the iceberg. Here are a few more examples:

Pushing Circumcision Over Unfounded Fears

While a  review funded by the CDC and Merck touts circumcision as a protective factor against human papillomavirus (HPV), other studies, such as this one, found that circumcision has only a marginal associated with an HPV infection (P=.03) Is this just another fear campaign designed to get parents to circumcise their infant boys in a vain attempt to “protect” from cancer decades later?

An International Journal of Men’s Health study reported that circumcised men “were 4.53 times more likely to use an erectile dysfunction drug.” In 2014, the global market for erectile dysfunction drugs was projected to reach $3.2 billion USD by 2022. Is circumcision another path to drive product sales for Big Pharma?

A 2006 article details the story of Dr. Paul Tinari, the first Canadian man to have a heath-care-funded foreskin restoration. Tinari estimated that between the surgery and the foreskin’s resale value, each foreskin is worth approximately $100,000 CND.  Should the child or his parents benefit from these revenues?  Does the thought of parents selling part of their son’s penis sound repulsive? Should it be legal?  If you don’t think circumcision is a big business, think again.

The Risks to the Individual

Why do physicians believe that baby boys do not experience pain during circumcision? How do we know that they don’t remember this horrific experience?  What does the medical literature say?

  • A Lancet study comparing infant pain scores during vaccination noted a significant increase in pain expression among circumcised babies compared to those who were intact.
  • Clinical Pediatrics study on circumcision noted, “The adrenal cortisol response to the surgery was not significantly reduced by the administration of lidocaine,” meaning, that even if the skin was numbed for the procedure, the infant still experienced significant stress, and perhaps pain.
  • A study published in the British Journal of Urology International notes among pediatric traumas to the penis, 67 percent result from circumcision.
  • The Transactional Analysis Journal reported that adult men experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following circumcision.

And finally, according to the British Journal of Surgery:

“Although hemorrhage and sepsis are the main causes of morbidity, the variety of complications following the surgery are enormous. The literature abounds with reports of morbidity and even death as a result of circumcision.”

The mind and body cannot be separated; what affects one impacts the other. The research on vasectomy and post-surgical depressive disorders is a classic example. How can we acknowledge that a surgical intervention on the reproductive organs of an adult, consenting male can cause psychological disorders and at the same time, brush off any concern for the future mental health of a non-consenting male infant?

Is Circumcision a Human Rights Issue?

It’s not just parents who are questioning the ethics of circumcision. Pediatric associations from more than a dozen European nations, alongside senior pediatricians in Canada, the Czech Republic, France, and Poland have recently expressed dismay for the lack of a renewed AAP policy statement:

“There is growing consensus among physicians, including those in the United States, that physicians should discourage parents from circumcising their healthy infant boys. Nontherapeutic circumcision of underage boys in Western societies has no compelling health benefits, causes postoperative pain, can have serious long-term consequences, constitutes a violation of the United Nations’ Declaration of the Rights of the Child, and conflicts with the Hippocratic oath:  primum non nocere: First, do no harm.”

Systemic Effects on Society

The circumcision of a baby girl is called female genital mutilation. In the United States, it is banned and is considered a crime. Why genital mutilation of one gender outlawed but genital mutilation of another gender not only allowed, but encouraged?

Concern over the possibility of psychologically damaged boys brings attention to the massive numbers of circumcised men who have been wronged. What are the subconscious effects of this birth trauma on males later in life? Is anyone doing research or even asking the question? Are these young men at greater risk of violent crime or marital conflict?  What are the effects that trickle down into the family unit?

The truth is, we don’t know.

Another article in the British Journal of Urology International, an extensive educational site for urologists, affirms that circumcision removes the most sensitive part of the male genitalia. The  International Journal of Epidemiology reports that male circumcision frequently impacts a female partner’s ability to reach orgasm, and may contribute to painful sex for his female partner.

Even if all routine infant circumcisions were stopped today, we’d likely see the effects of the procedure for generations to come due to the epigenetic imprinting of trauma in those who have endured it.

Why is our society intent on emasculating men? Are we causing the potential destruction of the male psyche? Why are seeds planted in the minds of boys that they are born defective? Why are we routinely performing surgery on a boy’s most delicate parts at an age that sends a message they can’t trust their parents? There is no way to paint this into a pretty picture. Circumcision without consent is not ethical and its long term mental and physical effects are unknown.

Certainly, aborted fetal cell lines used to develop vaccines are just as concerning and the foreskins used for commerce and cosmetics. The traumatic effect of stabbing infants with dozens of sharp needles during their first few months of life isn’t the only physical – and psychological harm – we are doing to little boys who have just arrived on earth.


Dani Lasher is a writer, motherhood coach, and health advocate living just outside of Washington, DC. While passionate about informed consent and women’s birthing choices, she’s also slightly obsessed with city living and cooking. You can catch up with Dani at her site, 


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