Last month, I spent three days at the Intact America exhibit booth during the annual convention of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Together with my colleagues Marilyn Milos, Dan Bollinger and Amy Callan, we spoke to many, many doctors. By far, the greatest endorsement of our work came from foreign pediatricians who were nearly universally opposed to circumcising babies. I often tell doctors from the U.S. that their colleagues in Europe and Latin America do not cut babies, a fact too many find surprising.

Each year I attend, at least one conversation stands out as particularly rewarding or particularly upsetting. This year, on day two, a man who appeared to be in his early 50’s approached our booth, which was decorated with an 8 ft. banner listing “10 Reasons Why You Should Stop Circumcising Baby Boys.”

Georganne Chapin at the 2011 American Academy of Pediatrics conference in Boston

Georganne Chapin at the 2011 American Academy of Pediatrics conference in Boston

“Hi,” he said. “I came here because I’m open-minded and I want to learn.”

He went on to tell me that, in the course of his career, he’d circumcised somewhere between 5,000 and 6,000 babies, but that his own 24-year-old son wasn’t circumcised.

I was stunned. When I asked him how much money he’d thought he’d made from all those circumcisions, looking hurt he said, “I have to tell you, I’m feeling attacked.”

He tried to explain that he performs circumcisions because he’s developed a reputation for being efficient and good at it, and that all the other doctors send him their patients.

Recovering my poise somewhat, I asked the doctor why he’d left his own son intact. His reply was vague, something about the AAP’s position on circumcision at the time his son was born, the implication being that the AAP’s position had been sufficiently unsupportive of the procedure for him to decide not to circumcise his own son.

I asked him what he told the parents of the babies he circumcises. “I don’t need to tell them anything,” he said. “They come to me with their minds made up.” Did he tell them his own son is intact? No, that would violate his son’s privacy, he told me.

I finally said, “Your son is intact, and you were concerned enough to come to speak with us. The AAP still doesn’t recommend circumcision, so why don’t you stop? Our campaign this year is Put Down The Knife! You could simply stop.”

“It’s very complicated,” he answered. “I don’t think I could just stop.”

He’s right. In the absence of an external ban, or an unequivocal change in position by the feet-shuffling AAP, it is “complicated” and requires great bravery for a committed circumciser to stop.

In my next post on this topic I will explore the immense, but not insurmountable challenges the entire medical profession must face at the prospect of Putting Down The Knife! and ending the practice of circumcision.

by Georganne Chapin