INTACTIVIST OF THE MONTH: Dr. Robert Van Howe
One of Intact America's greatest strengths is the diverse and supportive intactivist community. Our "Intactivist of the Month" series highlights some of the most ardent opponents of infant and childhood circumcision, whose tireless efforts will ensure a future where all babies are kept intact.
MARCH 2012: Dr. Robert Van Howe, pediatrician and passionate advocate for children’s rights, is a Clinical Professor in the Department of Pediatrics and Human Development at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine. He also holds a Master's degree in statistics and public health. Dr. Van Howe is an expert on circumcision, speaks frequently on that topic, and has published numerous articles and studies, including last year's How the Circumcision Solution in Africa Will Increase HIV Infections, published in the Journal of Public Health in Africa (JPH).
"I became aware that circumcision was probably a bad idea when I had a roommate in college who was intact," Dr. Van Howe explains. "This was further cemented when it turned out that my best friend in medical school was also intact. Both of them told me that they thanked their parents every day (figuratively) for not having them circumcised." In medical school, he was taught that circumcision was "unnecessary mutilative surgery," a tenet to which Van Howe still holds fast. After years of extensive research into the medical literature, he says he still has not seen enough contrary evidence to undermine this position.
Dr. Van Howe is particularly passionate about debunking the myth that mass circumcisions in Africa will prevent the spread of HIV. He explains why in this radio interview with KPFT in Houston, Texas: "The study [done] in Africa was not done on children—it was done on adult men. There has been absolutely no evidence that circumcising a baby makes any difference on HIV infection rates. Otherwise in the United States, we would have a low HIV rate. And actually we have a rate of heterosexually transmitted HIV that's about three times higher than what it is in Europe, where circumcision is very rare." In a recent article, he explains that the circumcision solution in Africa is actually a wasteful distraction that takes resources away from more effective, less expensive, less invasive alternatives. "By diverting attention away from more effective interventions, circumcision programs will likely increase the number of HIV infections."
Since its founding, Dr. Van Howe has been a valued supporter of Intact America. "I think Intact America is essential in the education process that needs to take place in this country,” Van Howe says. “Physicians and parents have been spoon-fed circumcision propaganda for the past century, and it will take a concerted effort to undo the harm that has been done."
Says Georganne Chapin, “Bob Van Howe is a friend to Intact America, a humanitarian, and a friend to babies and families. His intelligence, willingness to spend the time to understand the scientific and ethical issues related to the removal of genital tissue from unconsenting individuals, and concern for the children who are his patients, all combine to make him the kind of physician all children—and people—deserve.”
In this video, Dr. Van Howe speaks at Intact America's inaugural press conference in 2009:
Visit our Intactivist of the Month Archive page to read about previous intactivists we've highlighted.