April 7, 2005

Letters to the Editor

Katie Pomerantz did an excellent job of news reporting and fact-finding to put together the story that ran on April 5, ("Anti-circumcision activist on campus discusses his past"). I write only to add another angle that she, as a student in the College, could only add if she had given birth here at University of Chicago hospitals. That is the actual conversation between physician and mother (and father, if present) concerning the circumcision of the newborn.

The first thing that became apparent to me is that the jurisdiction of this operation is not in the hands of the pediatricians who look after the care of the newborn but rather the obstetricians that care for the mother and the perinatal (the time around delivery) course. The conversation usually occurs on the second or third morning after birth as the obstetricians make their rounds to ensure that the mother is recovering well from the birth. During my experience on the Obstetrics portion of my rotations, I accompanied a physician doing her training in Obstetrics/Gynecology as she visited the women with children who were candidates for the operation—namely, healthy males in the newborn nursery.

The physician explained that the procedure is completely an elective one and, as stated often in the article by Katie, the procedure has no definitive evidence for contributing to proper hygiene either way. The physician goes on to say that like any surgical procedure, it involves risks such as disfigurement, loss of sensation, inability to attain or maintain an erection later in life, and bleeding. Finally, she states that there are cultural and social reasons that some people get this done for their newborn boy but repeats that there are no health benefits.

I hope this clarifies the question of what really happens in the hospital for those that cared.

Yousef Turshani

University of Chicago

Thank you, Katie Pomerantz, for your excellent article regarding the activism of Daniel Strandjord and the questionable ethics of circumcision. This is an important issue that receives far less coverage than it deserves. It's interesting that Dr. Lantos defines

the reasoning supporting circumcision as "the ethics of individuality and the meaning of ritual." I see both medical and religious circumcision as barbaric, archaic blood ritual. From a standpoint of individual ethics, I feel the individual's right to keep all of his

body parts greatly supercedes parents' desires to subject their children to unnecessary surgery.

Edward Stamas

Oakland, CA

Thank you for devoting space in your last issue to Daniel Strandjord and his courageous personal campaign to educate the community on the University of Chicago Hospitals' indefensible approach to ritual infant circumcision. The University of Chicago Hospitals are certainly aware of the fact that circumcision is completely unnecessary, extremely traumatic for the victim, and highly disruptive to parent-child bonding. As Strandjord's placard states, The Forefront of Medicine should know: the foreskin is not a birth defect.

I have birthed two boys at the U of C. Fresh out of college with an unplanned pregnancy in 2000, I was more concerned with moving, finding a job, and expediting my shotgun wedding than with researching medical procedures. When the nurse brought me the circumcision consent form. I asked her for her advice and got nothing but a weak, "It's your choice." My well meaning but uninformed family assured me that it was just a little snip and that it was healthier and cleaner, so I signed the form. When my baby was returned to me, he was a different baby and would not wake up or nurse for over 24 hours. The wound was also larger and bloodier than I had expected. When I voiced my concerns to the head pediatrician, Dr. Herschell, she shot me a look full of contempt and said, well, circumcision is major surgery. Then, turning to the gaggle of medical students accompanying her on the rounds, she announced disdainfully, "If parents knew what it did to their poor children, they wouldn't have it done." They left me collapsing in tears.

After doing some research on circumcision, I vowed never to cut another baby, and left my second son intact. But I still burn with anger over my firstborn's mutilation. The head pediatrician at U of C disclosed that she knew full well that circumcision is unnecessary, traumatic, and unethical. Why was I, a young first-time mother, not informed by a medical doctor of the horrific details or the shady history of the procedure before being presented with the consent form? Why was I not told that the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics both discourage routine infant circumcision? Why was I not told of the important hygienic and sexual functions of the foreskin? Is it because some resident can earn $600 in one hour slicing up six screaming newborns? Is it to protect the egos of adult circumcised men or old-fashioned physicians? Do they deserve more protection than a helpless infant? The University of Chicago Hospitals should implement an aggressive campaign to discourage new parents from this barbarous practice. Just as breastfeeding is encouraged as a matter of policy at U of C Hospitals, so ritual infant circumcision should be officially discouraged if not banned.

Erin Neese

(773) 288-6837

I thoroughly enjoyed reading the captioned anti-circumcision story! My eldest son was born at Rush Presbyterian St. Luke's Hospital in Chicago in 1990, and I said no to his being circumcised. Two more sons followed who were also not circumcised.

The time to end circumcision is NOW!

Carolyn Reinhold

Collins, Iowa

Kudos to Katie Pomerantz for her informative article on anti-circumcision activist Daniel Strandjord. The article highlights how out-of-step American doctors are with their colleagues in other developed nations, where cosmetic surgery on newborns' genitals is viewed as a barbaric throwback to an unenlightened era. Routine infant circumcision belongs in the same category of medical practice as using leeches to remove excess humours from the blood, or drilling holes in the skull to release evil spirits. U.S. doctors who would never dream of offering to circumcise baby girls routinely circumcise baby boys without informing their parents that this unnecessary procedure removes the most sensitive part of the penis and interferes with normal sexual functioning.

In an otherwise excellent article, Ms. Pomerantz makes one glaring misstatement when she writes that Mr. Strandjord "has chosen to save not the whales or the children, but the foreskin." Foreskins are attached to children. Mr. Strandjord is courageously advocating for the human rights of baby boys to genital integrity and self-determination. If only the University of Chicago Hospital—and all other hospitals in this country—would acknowledge that baby boys and girls are entitled to equal protection!

Jane McClintock

Bethesda, MD