Note: The following essay appeared on the op-ed page of the (Palm Beach, Florida) Sun-Sentinel on March 28, 2015. This version has been edited slightly for timeliness and for the audience of this blog.
The headlines have subsided, but Florida mother Heather Hironimus is in now in her seventh week of hiding to protect her son from his father, who wants to cut off the boy’s foreskin. A Palm Beach County judge has ordered her arrest. As Heather sat in captivity, just recently scores of intactivists gathered in Washington, DC to protest the removal of boys’ normal, healthy foreskins by U.S. physicians. A practice for decades accepted as the regular American thing to do has emerged as a landmark human rights concern.
Widely decried by physicians and ethicists throughout European and Commonwealth countries, circumcision is falling out of favor here as parents learn the facts. Meanwhile, as Denmark and other Scandinavian countries are considering whether to outlaw the surgery on minors altogether, U.S. physician organizations are redoubling their efforts to get the government to pay for it.
Adding to the mix are the ever-more-vehement voices of American men expressing outrage at having been robbed of their normal sexual anatomy – and their freedom of choice – when they were too young to consent.
Incongruously, the judge who ordered Heather’s arrest has said that, once jailed, she will stay there until she signs a consent form for her son’s unnecessary surgery.
The human rights movement against infant and child circumcision relies largely on the principle of informed consent. Arising from revelations of horrific medical experiments inflicted by Nazi doctors on concentration camp prisoners during World War II, this principle requires that before any medical procedure can be administered, the patient must understand its risks and benefits, be told of less invasive alternatives (including doing nothing), and freely agree to it. For children, parents may give “proxy” consent – but only if treatment is medically necessary.
In addition to the fact that “consent” cannot be compelled, “routine” circumcision fails these tests. The foreskin is not a birth defect; it’s a normal body part, and it plays protective and pleasure-enhancing roles. Most of the world’s men are intact, and suffer no ill effects. In fact, despite fear-mongering by a medical establishment that peddles this infant surgery to two million American parents a year, European nations, with circumcision rates near zero, have the same or lower rates of urinary tract infections and sexually transmitted diseases (including HIV) as the United States, where most men have been circumcised.
Heather Hironimus became informed and declined to consent to her son’s surgery, because it’s not needed, it’s painful, and it will put him at risk for bleeding, infection and other complications. Her reasons are backed up by the opinion of a respected urologist who examined the boy and testified that there’s nothing wrong with him.
If Heather’s child were a girl, she would be protected by federal and state law from anybody tampering with her genitals. Heather in Florida and those who come back to Washington to demonstrate every year are asking for the same justice for American boys.
April 5, 2015