The Washington Post

‘Intactivists’ react to new AAP circumcision ploicy

In the days since the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a major new statement of support for circumcision, the response from opponents has reached a furious level. So angry are opponents to the procedure, sometimes called “intactivists,” that their response may be remembered as much as the pediatricians’ advice.

The AAP update of its formerly neutral stance concluded that new medical evidence suggests the procedure can be medically beneficial, especially in preventing future sexually transmitted diseases. It, however, stopped short of recommending the procedure, saying the decision should be left to individual parents.

Circumcision opponents protest in San Francisco last year (Eric Risberg/AP)

Ronald Goldman, executive director, of the Circumcision Resource Center, which is critical of the procedure, wrote to me after I posted an interview with one of the authors of the AAP statement.

“‘Potential medical benefits’ are not actual medical benefits,” he wrote. “Most people forget this important distinction. Most people do not look at the likelihood of these ‘potential medical benefits.’ They are debatable, insignificant, and inflated.”

Goldman also took issue with the AAP stance that circumcision procedures are safer when performed on infants. That, he said, “ totally ignores the infant’s trauma. He experiences circumcision as a violent act when he is helpless to resist. How would you feel being forcefully restrained and having any part of your genitals cut off?

“Where is the empathy for the infant? The statement clearly demonstrates the insensitivity of doctors to the infant’s experience. They tend to look at numbers and ignore feelings and psychological factors.”

Goldman’s outrage was echoed by dozens of readers who agreed that the AAP statement was at once illogical and inhumane.

“This statement goes directly against personal freedom for American men; they are being taken advantage of and mutilated when they are most vulnerable,” read a comment posted by “FactsnotFiction.”

“It is obvious that the AAP is grasping to find some justification for the procedure,” wrote “DesignerMom.”

Few addressed the issue of religious freedom or that faith is central to many parents who chose to circumcise. Many instead attacked what they called the insignificant or misleading medical evidence that the AAP relied upon.

AAP officials expected such a reaction.

“For individuals who have decided that circumcision is wrong, no amount or quality of data will put these questions to rest,” Douglas Diekema, who served on the AAP task force that wrote the report, told me last week when I asked him about potential pushback.

The controversy over whether circumcision is a human rights issue, a religious freedom issue or a matter of personal family choice has heated up considerably in the last year. (See here for an excellent recent backgrounder on the issue by The Post’s Michael Alison Chandler.)

Currently, just over half of American parents of infant boys choose to circumcise them. That’s a steep decline in the traditional popularity of the procedure in this country, but still a far greater percentage than in Europe.

It remains to be seen if rates will continue to decline and which will have more sway among new parents: the pediatricians group or the fierce reaction to their new advice.

What do you think?

How influential is the new AAP guidance?

Is circumcision a personal family issue or a matter for public debate?

Related Content:

Circumcision, the cut that divides


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