Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Apparently, We Really Do Think with Our Penises

Alright, that title is a little glib, but it's not completely inaccurate.

It's a lonely battle to fight against circumcision.  You're fighting against rarely challenged "tradition", religious beliefs and, sometimes, intentionally deceitful releases from the CDC.

Anyway, some doctors and health practitioners decided to study the effects of circumcision on a boy's brain.  At peaceful parenting, Dr. Momma posts the results as told by Dr. Paul D. Tinari, Ph.D.  Here's what he has to say (warning, the post has graphic images of circumcision):
As a graduate student working in the Dept. of Epidemiology, I was approached by a group of nurses who were attempting to organize a protest against male infant circumcision in Kinston General Hospital. They said that their observations indicated that babies undergoing the procedure were subjected to significant and inhumane levels of pain that subsequently adversely affected their behaviours. They said that they needed some scientific support for their position. It was my idea to use fMRI and/or PET scanning to directly observe the effects of circumcision on the infant brain.
A neurologist who saw the results to postulated that the data indicated that circumcision affected most intensely the portions of the victim's brain associated with reasoning, perception and emotions. Follow up tests on the infant one day, one week and one month after the surgery indicated that the child's brain never returned to its baseline configuration. In other words, the evidence generated by this research indicated that the brain of the circumcised infant was permanently changed by the surgery.

Our problems began when we attempted to publish our findings in the open medical literature. All of the participants in the research including myself were called before the hospital discipline committee and were severely reprimanded. We were told that while male circumcision was legal under all circumstances in Canada, any attempt to study the adverse effects of circumcision was strictly prohibited by the ethical regulations. Not only could we not publish the results of our research, but we also had to destroy all of our results. If we refused to comply, we were all threatened with immediate dismissal and legal action.

I would encourage anyone with access to fMRI and /or PET scanning machines to repeat our research as described above, confirm our results, and then publish the results in the open literature.
Okay, there is a fairly significant problem with their study; they only have one subject.  One set of MRI results does not data make.  Nonetheless, this does not excuse the behaviour of the hospital administration as they try to suppress this information.  If anything, the findings demand publication, if only to invite refutation.

But we will have none of that.

In general, people do not seem to want to have circumcision challenged.  They don't want to know that their religious practice damages infants; men who have been circumcised do not want to think that there is anything "wrong" with their members; and no one wants to think that they are inflicting pain and permanent (or just temporary) damage on their children for frivolous or misguided reasons.

Nonetheless, doctors are scientists, or they are supposed to be.  The unseemliness of a topic or the potentially horrifying revelations are no reason to reject knowledge and blindly accept (and advocate) a procedure that physically alters (read: mutilates) otherwise healthy and helpless infants.

This is a topic that needs to be explored.  We need to know what we are doing to these boys.  We already know that circumcision offers no health benefits to the average North American male, now we need to learn the ramifications of this cosmetic procedure.

Or we could just stop routinely and mindlessly mutilating little boys.


  1. Frankly, I do not care one way of the other. I am fine letting parents decide. I do not see the parental decision to circumcise their boys any different than their decision to innoculate their boys from perceived threats of disease or even to feed them candy.

    However, Jon, I will give you something you never considered: the desired benefits from circumcision may not be only health. The parents may want to foster a religious identity.

  2. Charles,

    Maybe you are fine letting parents decide, but many many men are NOT fine that this was done to them.

    This "decision" is nothing like other parental decisions in that there is no benefit to be gleaned. It is done purely to suit the parents preferences (although some people hide behind the idea of medical benefits), and is never in the best interest of the child.

    The religious identity idea is tricky. First of all, once a child is an adult, he or she is going to decide what religion they want to be. Most people ultimately do not subscribe to the same religion as their parents. Also, it is silly to think that cutting off a part of a child's body is going to in any way make them love their parents's religion.

    How many Jews out there were circumcised and yet have no desire to practice Jewish customs, or feel no connection to Judaism? I dare say quite a few. Likewise, I KNOW there are many Jews who were not circumcised who feel a very deep connection to Judaism.

    One also has to wonder about the significance of a ritual that you only have to do once, and you do it to somebody else. Seems a lot easier than doing any of the other commandments! Hmm.

  3. Charles: "I do not see the parental decision to circumcise their boys any different than their decision to innoculate their boys from perceived threats of disease or even to feed them candy."
    Sounds like your Discriminatron™ is turned right down. There is NO other decision like the one to cut healthy, functional, erogenous, non-renewable tissue off their sons, and it would be illegal for anyone to cut such tissue off their daughters - or of course, to circumcise an adult man without his consent. Why is the neonatal male foreskin alone fair game? It is not a decision that is even offered outside the US, the Muslim world, Israel, the Philippines and South Korea - the rest of the English-speaking world tried it, found it did no good, and has almost given it up. The rest of the developed world has never done it.

    It does not compare with inoculation basically because it doesn't work. It may reduce the incidence of some rare diseases by some measurable amount, but not enough to make it worth while doing, compared with much more effective preventions, or treatment of the rare cases as and when they occur.

    "to foster a religious identity"? You mean a man looks at his willy and says "Hey, that means I must be a Muslim - or maybe a Jew, or the son of a Jehovah's Witness who was brain-damaged in a car accident?" Excuse me if that sounds flippant, but it just underlines the absurdity of trying to foster a religious identity in someone else by cutting part of their genitals off - especially when a religious circumcision looks just the same as a medical one.

  4. Ok, I'll give you results of a study that uses significantly more subjects than the one you cited.

    A family with 7 children, 4 of them boys. None circumcised at birth. Over the years as the boys reach puberty the infections had become so numerous and painful that each one has had to be circumcised. A very painful and embarrassing procedure for a 13 year old.

    Another family with 6 children, 3 of them boys. All boys circumcised at birth. None have experienced any medical issues relating to the genital area.

    Happen to know these 2 families very very well.

    Could the infections have been prevented? Perhaps, with proper hygiene techniques. But do little boys always wash under the foreskin? Don't think so. In fact many adults are too inconvenienced to even bother to wash their hands after using the bathroom. Something I've witnessed far too often.

    So whats the point here? There is a health benefit to circumcision. It should be up to the parents to decide this procedure without any interference from the state or fear mongers who have an agenda to control and engineer social behaviour.

  5. Charles - Good point. After I posted this I knew that I may not have been clear. I am not calling for the criminalizing of circumcision, nor am I suggesting that people of faith don't make such a decision after thoughtful and prayerful consideration. However, I think these parents deserve all the information they can get when making such a decision.

    James - Well, your example doesn't really address the issue of the effects of circumcision on brain function, nor do I consider examples of seven children significantly more than one. Nonetheless, I agree with the thrust of your post. All information should be on the table so that people can make informed decisions.

    In that spirit, I would suggest people check out:


    There's more out there, but this isn't a bad start.

  6. Jon, glad I found you. I agree that circumcision needs to be questioned. Will I see you in DC at GIAW this year?