Circumcision has been on my radar in different ways during my training as a health lawyer/bioethicist. Mostly, the issues presented in the form of ethical controversy about female circumcision; is it a form of mutilation or suppression of women on cultural/religious grounds?; as a tensions between religion, culture and resources, and sometimes in the form of questions around legality. However, these encounters were theoretical, and mostly based on extreme examples, interesting but abstract. When I saw a neonatal male circumcision (infant male circumcision: IMC) in my rounds through the hospital as a clinical ethicist, thoughts about the topic of circumcision revived even though this was male circumcision.
Witnessing this IMC, I observed the medical procedure, I saw that there were no parents at the bedside and that the child hardly cried on the sugar drip. This clinical picture was not what I expected. I never expected circumcision as such a routine procedure, seemingly performed without ritual or cultural significance at the bedside. My cultural bias took over, wondering why such an invasive procedure would be performed on a young child without capacity to consent, even though I also witnessed that the child hardly noticed it. Asking the physician about the reasons for it, he referred to the AAP statements, suggestions about health benefits, and to the fact that it is very common in America and mostly done: ‘because this is what Dads looks like’, without much thought. Looking into the issue, I found acontemporary discussion regarding controversies about male circumcision, cultural biases and evidence based practices. I imagined and asked myself: how would I advise if I received a consult request about IMC? How should I conceive of right and wrong, also in the face of controversial evidence based studies? Especially since even the AAP encourages readers to “draw their own conclusions” (about the technical report and the primary resources). How can I assess this practice?
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