Decision

by Marian Thompson
Founder and Past President of La Leche League International

Reprinted from page 8 of “the People’s Doctor-A Medical Newsletter for Consumers” by Robert S. Mendelsohn, M.D.
P.O. Box 982, Evanston, Illinois 60204, Vol. 4, No. 12

“If our two sons had been born under any other circumstances, they probably would have been circumcised. But to begin with, our family doctor opposed circumcision – a rather unusual position for a doctor to take in the late 1950’s when our eldest son was born. Dr. W. would not even perform the operation unless medically indicated, and his opinion carried a lot of weight with us. Then too, our sons were born at home, and the whole idea of submitting them to the violence of surgery without anesthesia and all the possible complications of surgery went against everything we were trying to accomplish by having our babies at home, particularly when that surgery seemed to serve no real purpose. So we decided against circumcision, and we felt it was the right decision. We did have some concerns, however, about the effect being “different” might have on our sons as they grew up.

In those days, almost nothing appeared in print on the pros and cons of circumcision. In fact, many people, unaware that the United States is the only developed country where newborns are routinely circumcised for non-religious reasons, didn’t know they had a choice. Some of our friends thought we might be breaking the law. Even in 1978, when the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists adopted the position taken several years earlier by the American Academy of Pediatricians that “there is no absolute medical indication for routine circumcision of the newborn,” few heard about it. Indeed, during the following year, 85 per cent of male newborns in the United States- nearly 1,500,000 babies were circumcised. (By way of contrast, in Norway where this surgery is performed only when indicated, the rate is 0.02 per cent.)

When a writer for the Village Voice interviewed 10 per cent of Manhattan obstetricians, more than half said they believed circumcision was unnecessary. Nevertheless, they performed the operation on more than 90 per cent of the males they delivered, indicating that the parents’ desire for the surgery was so strong it would have been useless to try and convince them otherwise. But when mothers were interviewed, two out of three stated that if the doctor had suggested their child not be circumcised, they would have accepted his opinion! Today, you don’t have to wait for your doctor to bring up the subject. Change wording to: Today a vast amount of information on circumcision is available to the public on line and elsewhere. Rates of circumcision in the United States have been steadily declining so today few intact American males should have reason to feel “different.”

Still, what about the effect on a boy of being different? To quote a young man we know very well who has been through it, “Don’t worry about it!”.

( Note: Wallerstein’s book was printed in 1980.)


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