Since Intact America’s founding in 2008, our organization’s stated goal has been to “change the way America thinks about circumcision.”
Our Vision statement says:
Intact America envisions a world where children are free
from medically unnecessary surgeries carried out on them without their consent
in the name of culture, religion, profit, parental preference, or false benefit.
The genital cutting of any child in the absence of life-threatening or seriously health-threatening pathology violates not only that child’s body, but also his/her/their autonomy over their own sexual future. This position is immutable. No parent or guardian has the right to waive a child’s right to be protected from any type of tortious interference, or physical or sexual assault, with regard to genital cutting. The right that governs is that of the child.
Intact America was founded in 2008 by a coalition of individuals and intactivist organizations who wished to see the intactivist movement grow into a mainstream human rights cause. The new organization, as well as its founders, were guided by widely-accepted secular bioethical principles adopted in Western human rights and political discourse in response to atrocities committed against persons of many religions, races, and cultures during World War II. Our position is also supported by common law and the objective fact that having normal genitals, including a foreskin, is not a condition requiring surgical intervention. Furthermore, intactivism places no inherent value in following a particular common or traditional practice nor in capitulating to the current (but always-evolving) status quo, if those traditions and practices compromise the physical integrity and sexual wellbeing of children and the adults they will become.
Thus, neither religion nor “culture” should ever be invoked to support child genital cutting. At the same time, opposition to child genital cutting is not rooted in anti-religious sentiments. To tie ourselves up in such accusations is to lose focus on the true intent of the intactivist movement, as expressed in the fundamental goal and vision of Intact America, restated from above: a world where children are free from medically unnecessary surgeries carried out on them without their consent.
As a human rights organization that respects all persons regardless of their race, religious or cultural affiliation, it is also our duty to refute expressions of bigotry when expressed by people outside or within the intactivist movement. To leave no doubt, in 2022 Intact America’s adopted a new position statement against bigotry and hate speech:
Intact America rejects all forms of ethnic, racial, and religious stereotypes and bigotry. We condemn any form of hate speech based on ethnicity, race, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or irreligion. The incorporation of anti-Semitic or anti-Muslim expressions into criticism of male (or female) circumcision only serves to undermine our movement and potentially derail our work to protect all children from genital cutting.
I fervently believe that adherence to the logic and principles outlined above will ensure our success in protecting future children and the adults they will become.
We cannot deny that the increasing violence being perpetrated in America today is carried out by boys and men. “Mental illness” is invoked as an explanation, and “more mental health services” are proposed as a solution. Bigotry and hate – perhaps even more complex than mental illness – are also cited as “motives” for many mass shootings and individual crimes against particular racial or ethnic groups.
We shake our heads and ask, “What is making these guys so angry?”
We posit answers like “broken homes,” “bad parenting,” “lack of opportunity,” social and economic disadvantage when compared to other groups or races or cultures… or we throw our hands up in the air and label the killers as “cowards” or “just plain evil.”
Maybe it’s time for us to look at the deepest roots of this violence. Why are boys and men committing mindless mass murder against people they don’t even know, and taking their own lives at unprecedented rates? Where does this all come from? How far back does it go?
For nearly eight decades, American doctors have been engaged in the routine sexual maiming of American boys, carried out (to emphasize the obvious) without boys’ consent, and without regard for their future wellbeing.
Furthermore, until recently, circumcision has been practiced with no pain relief for the child, despite the fact that it is mostly occurs in a medical setting where pain management is given for other surgeries. Even now, though the use of local anesthetic has become more common, it’s not obligatory or particularly effective. And even after the physical wound has healed, the boy must live with scars on his penis and his psyche, and dismissal of his concerns by the same establishment that violated his rights and his body.
The roots of this astonishing lack of compassion for the youngest and most vulnerable members of our society include extreme ignorance and denial (e.g., the assertion that “babies don’t feel pain”), greed (“I can do more circumcisions, more quickly, if I don’t have to wait for anesthetic to take effect”), and mindless disregard, if not contempt, for future physical and psychological consequences (“it’s harmless,” and “anyway, he won’t remember”).
And now, even as more and more boys are being protected from circumcision shortly after birth, they have become targets for another type of violation and act of physical violence – forcible foreskin retraction. Parents are increasingly reporting taking an intact son for medical appointments that have nothing to do with his genitals and being blindsided by a doctor or nurse intent on forcing back the boy’s foreskin, causing great pain and trauma.
Explanations for mass violence, as for all social phenomena, are necessarily complex, and we must resist the impulse to toss out overly-simplistic observations and solutions.
But we need to listen to the growing number of men speaking out about having been violated as babies when an essential (i.e., of its essence) part of their penis was forcibly severed. And we must ask ourselves whether the nearly ubiquitous violation of baby boys as a class of people and the assembly-line acts of violence carried out upon individual newborns might be responsible for at least some of the rage, pain and feelings of impotence that underlie the epidemic of mass killings we are witnessing today.
I will conclude with a quote from my dear friend and fellow intactivist Shelton Walden, who called me as I was writing this introduction:
“We need to treat each other well. We need to stop doing things that make people crazy.”
– Georganne Chapin
This essay was originally published on June 13, 2022, in the Intact America May/June newsletter.
It seems so clear, right? Cutting a boy’s genitals violates the U.S. Constitution, state and federal laws against sex-based discrimination, and statutes and regulations regarding the use of government funding for medically unnecessary services. It also meets definitions of assault and battery — because the child cannot consent — and the surgery serves no therapeutic purpose. And, as we know, both short- and long-term consequences are not uncommon, and some are severe.
So… Sue the bastards!! Right? Over recent months, I have reached out to personal injury attorneys from nearly a dozen states, including those with laws that most liberally favor malpractice cases. I told them that Intact America (as well as other intactivist organizations) are receiving more and more complaints from parents of boys with significant injuries that occurred either during circumcision, as a result of forcible foreskin retraction, or that appeared later. It was our hope, given the limited bandwidth (and resources) of our fellow intactivist who are lawyers, that we could identify a larger group of practitioners who would be willing to review and take on lawsuits from individuals wanting to sue.
Unfortunately, it’s not that simple My conversations were uniformly sobering. Here are some of the comments from the lawyers I spoke with:
- The standard for evaluating a case is whether any other doctor would have done the same thing. Circumcision is so common, it’s almost impossible to find a situation that’s so unusual as to make one stand out.
- If we think the dollar value of the recovery is under $250,000, we can’t even consider taking it on. The expenses of preparing a case include research, hiring experts, taking depositions… It can take up to two years. And even though most cases settle, it’s the night before trial, so you’ve already invested all this money.
- Circumcision is considered normal in this country. It’s unremarkable. And a certain number of complications is normal. So…, you rarely have the facts needed for a lawsuit. [This same attorney let me know he is personally opposed to circumcision.]
But what about bodily autonomy and the child’s consent? When I asked about cases involving aggressive “selling” of the procedure to parents, misleading claims as to its benefits, and lack of informed consent, the lawyers brushed these facts aside with the same explanation. Ultimately, if nearly every hospital is circumcising, and if the parent signs a consent form, then there is no cause of action egregious enough to mount a lawsuit.
So, what now? At this point, as painful as it is to hear this message, counting on the courts to punish the participants in the circumcision machine is wishful thinking.
This doesn’t mean, of course, that we need to sit still as American boys are systematically violated. No, in fact, we need to document every case that comes to us and help the parties who were harmed by filing complaints with the physicians themselves, the hospital or other facility where the event took place (I call this “the scene of the crime”) and the professional (mis)conduct board of the state where it occurred. This is a massive task, but if we are able to amass and track enough cases, physicians will find it increasingly uncomfortable to continue to violate children by cutting off their foreskins and the promiscuous promotion of circumcision will decline.
If you would like to volunteer to help Intact America with this project, please write to us at [email protected]. Tell us what state you live in, and what (if any) experience you have with legal issues, customer service, or other activities that would help you to help us do this work.
In advance, thank you.
On October 11, 2021, the New Yorker magazine published an essay by popular writer Gary Shteyngart, recounting how being circumcised when he was seven years old resulted in decades of misery and complications. On November 1, the magazine published three comments in response, mine, one from a rabbi, and one from a urologist. The post below is the follow-up letter I wrote to the urologist, Dr. Michael Mooreville.
Dear Dr. Mooreville:
I am writing about your letter to the New Yorker, which appeared after my own among the responses to Gary Shteyngart’s essay about his decades of suffering because of a botched circumcision. Thank you, in advance, for taking the time to read my comments below.
First, you suggest that Shteyngart’s problems occurred because he was circumcised too late, and then say that it’s easier (somehow) for a physician to know how much foreskin to remove from a baby than from an older male. My decades of working to end unconsented-to, medically unnecessary circumcision suggest this is not true. Men who have spoken or written to me, or who have spoken out publicly about their circumcision-induced penile deformities, overwhelmingly were circumcised as newborns by doctors in American hospitals. Some of them have undergone one or more additional surgeries to correct cosmetic or functional problems; others, out of parental ignorance or shame, instead have learned to live with the harm just as Shteyngart did. In none of these cases did any of these surgeries result in a better, healthier penis than the penises of men who were fortunate enough to have grown up with their natural, unaltered genitalia. As a practicing American urologist, your caseload is likely similar to that of other urologists who have told me that more than one-quarter of their medical practice involves addressing circumcision-related damage, including meatal stenosis (which occurs nearly exclusively in circumcised males), skin bridges (such as Shteyngart’s), and degloved penile shafts.
Second, I am curious about your comment that amputating a baby’s foreskin will allow his penis to “grow into a fully mature look…” (emphasis mine). Are you suggesting that the penises of men with foreskins (comprising around 75% of the world’s males) are somehow “immature”; this makes no sense. How can a penis shorn of its natural protective covering, with its nerves, muscles and blood supply be superior to the natural, unaltered penis that evolved over hundreds of thousands of years? Frankly, I’m astonished that the New Yorker’s rigorous fact-checking protocol didn’t eliminate this nonsensical statement from your letter.
Finally, I wonder if there are other healthy body parts you would suggest removing from babies or children because they “can be the source of multiple (?) medical problems in older men” (or women). The appendix (1.1 cases of appendicitis per 1000)? Teeth (prone to infection-causing decay)? Breasts (1 case per 1000 of breast cancer among American women aged 40, increasing over time), while the rate of penile cancer (which occurs in both intact and circumcised men) in the United States is 1 per 100,000. I might add here that genital hygiene is not complicated. If a boy can learn to become a teacher or chef or woodworker or tennis player or truck driver or urologist, he should be able to learn how to wash his penis.
I hope you will think about my questions, and dare to think in a more common-sense way about a forced bodily alteration that does nothing to make American boys or men healthier than their counterparts in countries where males retain the genitals they are born with.
Georganne Chapin, MPhil, JD
At a time when human dignity is under assault in our nation and institutionally sponsored racial violence is escalating, I want to say that Intact America stands with those fighting for justice. I also want to talk about how racist myths and stigma have been used to justify male genital cutting — male circumcision — both historically and today, in the United States and overseas.
We know that male and female child genital cutting has been a tradition in some cultures for thousands of years. But as a medical practice, it started in English-speaking countries relatively recently. Nineteenth century Victorian-era doctors believed that sex was dirty, and that the male foreskin was the cause of much disease and of out-of-control sexuality. They thought that removing the foreskin would keep boys from masturbating. Doctors also cut off girls’ and women’s clitorises to tame their sexual impulses and to “cure” hysteria and other maladies. No group was exempt, and poor immigrants and others at the bottom of the social scale came to be targeted as needing to be cut in the name of sexual control and “hygiene.”
Black people, especially black men, were (and still are) sexualized in the American imagination, with myths abounding regarding their sexual appetite, dangerousness, and the size of their genitals. Not surprisingly, then, these myths became justifications for making black men a specific target for circumcision by a medical establishment enthusiastic to carry out the practice. (Black women have also been victimized by the medical system for decades, subjected to medical experimentation, sterilization and other abuses.)
In 1891, a prominent physician named Peter Remondino began calling for “the wholesale circumcision of the Negro race.” Remondino described black men’s foreskins as combining “the extra vitality and proliferation of the preputial tissue with the strong animal vitality of the negro,” and proposed foreskin removal as “an efficient remedy in preventing the predisposition to discriminate raping” — in other words, the rape of white women — “so inherent in that race.”
Remondino was not an outlier. He had been a surgeon in the Union Army during the Civil War and was the first president of the San Diego Board of Public Health. His articles were published in prominent medical journals of the times. His book, “The History of Circumcision from the Earliest Times to the Present,” was published in 1900 and can be found today on Amazon.
And lest you think that circumcising black men as a means of keeping their sexuality under control has died out, look no further than the anti-HIV efforts largely funded by U.S. foundations and carried out by “reputable” American academics to circumcise millions of men in sub-Saharan Africa. (Keep in mind that U.S. cemeteries are full of circumcised men who have died of AIDS since the epidemic started here in the 1980s.) These African campaigns exploit and put at risk whole populations of men who are viewed as so driven by their sexual impulses that they cannot be relied upon to practice safe sex, and also threaten the health of their sex partners.
Most American men alive today were tied down and their foreskins brutally severed when they were babies and unable to resist. The fact that perpetrators of violence may themselves have suffered violence in the past makes our work as human rights advocates both complicated and extremely important. We must break the cycle and fight injustice in every corner, under every rock, of our society.
You cannot compartmentalize justice — you can’t fight to protect babies’ bodies from being placed in four-point restraints and genitally mutilated, but stay silent when you see unresisting men or women held to the ground, kicked and beaten or suffocated to death. You cannot compartmentalize equality. You can’t fight to protect girls and women from genital cutting and rape, but turn the other way when boys and men are assaulted because our social mythology tells us that males (and even more so, black males), cannot be victims or — even worse — that they deserve it.
I am proud to lead Intact America and represent a movement that fights for human rights, personhood, dignity, liberty, and a life free from violence. I hope you will join me in fighting for freedom, exercising compassion, and demanding an end to all forms of injustice and inequality.
Intact America defends the right of every person to bodily autonomy. We deplore all forms of violence inflicted upon people because of their age, their race, their color, their language or culture, their country of origin, their sex or sexual orientation, their mental or physical disabilities, their religion, or any other personal characteristic that makes them convenient targets of oppression.
In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, the American College of Surgeons released an advisory recommending that that hospitals, health systems and surgeons “thoughtfully review all scheduled elective procedures with a plan to minimize, postpone, or cancel electively scheduled operations… or other invasive procedures.” In addition, the ACS called on facilities to “minimize use of essential items needed to care for patients,” among these “personal protective equipment” (e.g., sterile gloves and masks) and cleaning supplies.
Echoing the guidance from the ACS, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams warned that every elective surgery could spread coronavirus within the facility, [and] use up protective medical gear as public officials worry about shortages and burden a hospital workforce who “may be needed” to respond to COVID-19.
On March 16, the American College of Obstetricians (ACOG) joined several other medical societies in issuing a similar statement, endorsing the Surgeon General’s warning.
If we applied the advice of the ACS, ACOG and the Surgeon General every day — not just in times of crises or pandemics — the “routine,” elective genital cutting of children would simply end.
Just like in the United States, during the 1930s and ’40s circumcision took hold in Commonwealth countries. Then World War II caused economic collapse in England, leading to the creation of the British National Health Service — a system where every procedure and every treatment was scrutinized for its cost and potential benefit. That’s how male circumcision there went by the wayside. Cutting out the funding of the risky, harmful and unnecessary amputation of baby boys’ foreskins ended up benefitting British boys and men for the rest of their lives, while saving resources for people with true medical needs.
It’s estimated that more than a billion dollars are squandered each year in the United States on amputating baby boys’ foreskins and repairing the most immediately obvious functional and cosmetic blunders. (If you’re thinking “only a billion,” note that this sum could buy 31,400 high-acuity ventilators or pay for 378,000 ventilator-dependent patient days.) Long-term costs of circumcision, physical and psychological, are of course much greater.
Whether in times of abundance or of scarcity, no state Medicaid program and no private insurer should be spending taxpayer or premium dollars on gratuitous medical interventions. If there is any silver lining to the COVID-19 pandemic it will be relegation to history of the nation’s most common and utterly unnecessary pediatric surgery.