Through the years, circumcision of male infants occurs worldwide for a variety of reasons. The reasons range from; religious, medical, cultural and even personal preferences. Though it is a widely practiced ritual, recent debates have seen debates rise over its importance and necessity according to the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (2010), arguments arise on the ethical, and human rights issues, and health benefits of infant male circumcision. Circumcision is a safe procedure; however, in some cases, there may be minor or major complications. The process involves the surgical removal of the foreskin of the penis. Before the process, anesthetic cream is applied; this blocks the pain. Some anesthetic is injected into the base of the penis. A scalpel then removes the foreskin (WSNM, 2014).
It is a procedure that has occurred for thousands of years. It may have been a hygienic measure among communities living in dry and dusty areas; it then developed into a cultural and religious practice. Other perspectives associate its origin wit Biblical and Torah origins of God’s instructions to Abraham and his descendants. There is a decline in the boys undergoing the procedure. Recent years have seen the rise of discussions and controversies over the necessity of circumcision. While some view it as a medically beneficial procedure, others consider it an unnecessary violation of human rights. In order to understand the concept of circumcision, we must address it from a variety of angles. The paper comprehensively addresses circumcision in regard to several perspectives concerning its; beliefs and myths, cultural, social, religious and medical influences, advantages, disadvantages and overall worldwide views.
Beliefs associated with circumcision
People worldwide have various beliefs about the practice of circumcision; some are true whereas others are completely false. It is crucial to distinguish facts from myths, in regard to circumcision. First and foremost, many believe that the circumcision of baby boys is a safe and harmless procedure; this is a false perception. Though the procedure occurs in a controlled and medically-approved environment, the risks are still present. The removal of the foreskin from the baby’s penis causes pain. It also creates health risks that may develop into severe complications. Risks associated with the procedure include; hemorrhage, infection, scarring, loss of part of or all of the penis, difficulty in urination and death. Despite improved clinical settings, the risks are still present (Intact America, 2009).
Subsequently, many think circumcision is just a little snip of the foreskin. It involves a complex procedure of separating the foreskin from the glans penis, slitting the foreskin, and cutting it off. The procedure is not a necessary medical procedure as most people tend to believe. There is also a belief that the baby is too young to feel pain; it is painful and babies are equally sensitive to the pain. The use of analgesics reduces but does not eliminate the pain. Even after the procedure, the pain goes on for about ten days.
People believe that if not circumcised, they will be ridiculed; in the modern world, there are many groups that do not engage in circumcision. Thus, one should not circumcise his son under the pressure of conformity. Though circumcision is often associated with cultural and religious predispositions, opposing the practice does not signify disobedience or disregard for beliefs. Many view rejection of circumcision as religious or cultural bigotry. It is wrong; a person can still follow cultural and religious beliefs without undergoing the procedure; it should be a personal choice. Those who view circumcision as an alteration of the body, and violation of human rights, also have the right to receive protection from bodily harm.
There is a notion that circumcision prevents HIV spread; it is a false notion experienced worldwide. Circumcision merely reduces the risks of contracting sexually transmitted diseases; this includes HIV. It does not eliminate the risks; thus, even when one is circumcised, one can still contract HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. Only abstinence or the use of condoms, in sexual relations, can prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases (Intact America, 2009).
Reasons for circumcision
As discussed earlier, the circumcision of infant males occurs for a variety of reasons; among these is religious practices in various religions worldwide. Religions associated with the practice include; Judaism, Islam and Christianity. Religiously, it symbolizes the group’s faith in God by following His instructions. It is also done for the promotion of hygiene and health. In Judaism, it is based on the command by God to Abraham; He instructed that every male child must undergo circumcision. The brit milah or circumcision covenant occurs on the eighth day after birth; this is according to Leviticus. In Islam, some regard the practice as obligatory, whereas, others practice it as a recommended act of hygiene. It has no mention in the Quran, but Prophet Muhammad talked about it. Christians practice circumcision in reference to the Old Testament covenant between God and Abraham; it is in Genesis 17: 10-14 (WHO & UNAIDS, 2007).
Circumcision also occurs as a rite of passage into adulthood; this is a cultural aspect followed by various communities worldwide. For instance, in ancient Egypt, bodily alteration and circumcision marked the passage from youth to adulthood. Among several African communities, it is viewed as a rite of passage; however, it occurs mostly when the boy reaches puberty age. Other groups such as the Mayans, Australasians and Aztecs practiced the rituals for thousands of years. It also occurred as a test of endurance and bravery in readiness for adult roles. It is a three stage process involving; separation from society, undergoing the transformation, and returning to the society as anew person. It occurs as a way of maintaining traditions followed by the forefathers (WHO & UNAIDS, 2007).
- Personal preference
There is also a personal and social perspective on the decision of circumcision. The urge to conform may lead a person to choose circumcision for his/her young child. They do not want their children to be different or ridiculed by their peers when they grow up (WHO & UNAIDS, 2007). It is a trend evident in various parts of the world such as; Philippines, Ghana, the Republic of Korea, and so on. Some of the reasons for viewing circumcision as a personal preference include; social acceptance, improved hygiene, enhanced sexual enjoyment, female preference, and prevention of infections. Thus, the desire to belong and be associated with a group contributes to choices in circumcision.
The circumcision of male infants prevents them from acquiring a wide range of infections. According to the RACR (2010), some of the risks prevented through removal of the foreskin include; recurrent urinary tract infections, some sexually transmitted diseases, in adulthood, and the HIV virus. The medical reasons for choosing the procedure are conclusively discussed under the advantages of circumcising the male infant.
Advantages of circumcision
The decision of circumcising an infant involves the consideration of its benefits to the child. In most cases, it establishes; connectedness in social groupings and a decrease in health risks. According to research, most circumcised boys have a lowered risk of contracting urinary tract infections, in their first year of life (CYWHS, 2014). The risk for circumcised boys is about 1:500, whereas, for the uncircumcised boys it is 1:100. It presents circumcision as a viable option in ensuring the male infant’s health.
Subsequently, it prevents several infections from occurring under the foreskin. Such infections occur mostly in infancy and late childhood (WSNM, 2014). The area under the foreskin is a mucosal surface which acts as a repository for; secretions, shed cells and urinary residue. It is conducive for the growth of microorganisms such as bacteria. Thus, the presence of the foreskin increases the penis surface area and risks of infection. Its moist inner surface is a thin barrier which can be penetrated by bacteria and viruses. Its warm and mucosal nature makes it a conducive environment for the growth of microorganisms.
Circumcision also reduces the risk of contracting the HIV virus; according to CYWHS (2014), circumcised men have a low risk of getting sexually transmitted diseases; this includes HIV. Among the uncircumcised, the presence of a prepuce increases the chances of micro-trauma during sexual intercourse; this creates an entry point, into the blood, for infectious viruses and bacteria. However, it does not mean circumcision should be a substitute for sexual protection forms such as condoms; it merely reduces the risks.
Circumcision is known to prevent a rare cancer; cancer of the penis. The risk of the cancer among circumcised men is about 1:100,000, whereas, among the uncircumcised it is high. It is due to the ease of cleaning a penis without a foreskin; this improves hygiene (CBWCHC, 2009). Circumcised babies also experience low cases of penile complications such as; inflammation, irritation and infection. It also prevents phimosis; this is a condition characterized by the pulling back of the foreskin (WSNM, 2014).
Some people opt not to circumcise their infant boys due to a variety of reasons; some of the common reasons include; loss of choice, contravention of individual rights, loss of function, psychological and procedural complications. Though circumcision is a safe procedure, there are some risks associated with its surgical nature (CBWCHC, 2009). The child may experience excessive bleeding and require a transfusion.
Subsequently, the procedure leaves an open wound; failure to care for the healing wound well may result in infections. The infection may also affect other body parts, resulting in complicated medical issues. In some cases, circumcision results in the narrowing of the penis opening; this makes the child experience problems with urination. If the procedure is done wrong, mistakes such as partial amputation of the penis occur.
The surgical process may also result in the death of some of the remaining penile skin; it reduces sensitivity which will be a problem during future sexual activity. The removal of excessive skin may also cause painful intercourse in later life. In extreme cases, the procedure results in the child’s death. The foreskin is characterized by the presence of sensitive nerve endings; its removal decreases sensitivity to touch and sexual pleasure in the future. Circumcision is also painful for the child.
Ethical and human rights concerns
There are ethical and human rights concerns raised in regard to circumcision of male infants; many people consider it an unnecessary medical procedure children experience without their consent. The removal of a healthy part of the body without reason results in pain and exposes children to risks. In most cases, it is justified due to its medical benefits and reduced risks of penile infections. Critics view it as a practice that should only take place if the benefits outweigh the risks (Somerville, 2000). As discussed in WSNM (2014), the medical risks associated with circumcision are many. It also causes unnecessary pain for the infant; some of the procedures occur without adequate anesthesia. Experiencing traumatic pain when a boy is an infant increases pain sensitivity throughout life. Scientific research shows that a child’s reflex to pain and harm is high.
Circumcision is also considered a violation of fundamental human rights; every human has a right not to have the infliction of pain on them; this is when the pain is avoidable (Somerville, 2000). The parent’s decision over whether or not to circumcise their male infant overlooks his freedom of choice over his own body (Jacobs, 2013). Though the parent has a legal right in making decisions about the treatment of their child’s minor illnesses, their right to choose operation of a healthy baby is debatable. Doctors, on the other hand, have legalization of performing circumcision as long as they have required medical standards.
Circumcision has existed for thousands of years; it occurs for a variety of reasons including; religious, social, cultural and medical views. The process has several advantages in regard to the health of the male infant; however, concerns also emerge about its disadvantages and health risks. In recent years, controversial arguments emerge in regard to the ethical considerations and human rights perspective; opponents of the practice view it as lacking in both. Despite the opposition, circumcision remains a medically productive practice; it improves a child’s health through a reduction in infection risks, in childhood and later life. In order to reduce the risks involved in circumcision, the operation should occur in a safe and child-friendly environment. The use of a competent and trained practitioner ensures complications are handled appropriately, and the use of analgesia (RACP, 2010).
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