by Georganne Chapin
“Movements are composed of people — people who are living their lives and who look up and say, ‘This is not fair, this is not right.’ They may have been struggling alone, in isolation for some time. But when they come together, and there’s a movement … that’s when you see change….”
As I was preparing to write the introduction to the Intact America December newsletter, I heard these words, spoken by Attorney General Loretta Lynch in an interview on MSNBC. Lynch was reflecting on progress made in civil rights and human rights in the United States — particularly for LGBTQ people and African Americans — over past decades, and on what yet remains to be done. Her words gave me enormous hope.
As 2016 comes to a close, I reflect upon both the progress that Intact America and the intactivist movement have made, and — inevitably — upon the work still left to do to guarantee boys and the men they will become the right to be free from forced genital surgery, The right to keep the whole, intact bodies they are born with.
Another year gone by means we are one year closer to reaching the tipping point — the point at which a critical number of Americans will have come to believe that the foreskin is natural. And valuable. And that nobody but its natural owner has the right to cut a boy’s or man’s or anybody else’s genitals.
Here is more of what AG Lynch said, when asked about the progress toward human rights.
- “History is bigger than just the electoral wheel…. And human rights are bigger than any Administration.”
- “History encompasses all of the change and the progress we’ve made….”
- “[History] is on the side of marginalized people who speak up for themselves, people who feel isolated and left out who speak up for themselves.”
With regard to the passing of legislation guaranteeing equal rights, Lynch emphasized: “… [The] movements came first. And the movements are composed of people — people who are living their lives and who look up and say, “This is not fair, this is not right.” They may have been struggling alone, in isolation for some time. But when they come together, and there’s a movement … that’s when you see change…”
Big change is in the air.
I am so thankful that people have come together to speak out and create this extraordinary movement. And I feel extraordinarily privileged to be a part of it. I wish all of you a happy holiday season, and offer you the gifts of hope, optimism, and confidence in our ability to change the way America thinks about circumcision.
Together, we will win.
by Georganne Chapin and David Grant
Sunday, June 26, Intact America will be rocking an awesome float at NYC Pride. As representatives of a movement that fights for boys’ rights to keep the bodies they were born with, we are proud to join with and be embraced by the LGBTQ community – a community that has fought for decades for the basic human right of ALL people to be who they are.
Circumcision is still a topic that too many Americans turn away from. Intact (or, as some still say, “uncircumcised”) penises are even more frightening. But, thanks to the intactivist movement, THIS IS CHANGING! For years, decades even, people working against the genital cutting of baby boys have been denied participation in baby fairs, children’s rights groups, even organizations that work to end female genital mutilation. But the LGBTQ community has welcomed us, because they understand what it’s like to be stigmatized, what it’s like to have one’s voice silenced or ignored for taking people out of their comfort zones, and what happens when you ask people to question what they’ve been taught (brainwashed?) into thinking is “normal.”
Intactivists have been welcomed in the NYC Pride March since we first asked to be included in 2006. It’s great, because unlike our protests against infant genital cutting, at Pride we can throw a big, informative party for the foreskin, and celebrate the right of every child – male, female or intersex – to keep and enjoy the whole body that nature gave them.
Pride 2015 was the first time that Intact America marched with a float. Decked with “Foreskin Pride” banners, music blasting, we were accompanied by intactivists from all walks of life and of all ages (little kids know right away, unfiltered, that cutting off part of a baby’s penis is NOT ok).
Even before we stepped off, other marchers and spectators came by to talk, to hear our message, and to tell us how happy they were to see somebody taking circumcision OUT OF THE CLOSET!! As we proceeded down Fifth Avenue and into Greenwich Village, we created quite a stir – remarkable, for an event already known to be outrageous. Jaws dropped as people along the parade route saw our #ForeskinPride banners and our “His Body His Rights” and “You Want to Cut Off What?!?” signs, and realized what we were championing. Intactivists who had marched in previous years felt a definite difference – more real curiosity, more openness, more acceptance, more LOVE from the crowd. And besides adding to the celebration, our volunteers gave away lots of fun stuff.
This year, we’ve got some new “schwag,” new messaging, and a lot of new graphics. Here’s our Pleasure Dude, debunking the myth of the foreskin causing health problems and telling the real story!
If you’re in or around New York City on Sunday, June 26, join us! We’ll be lining up on East 39th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues at 2 pm. Or give us a shout-out on the parade route. Help us celebrate #ForeskinPride, and everybody’s right to be whole, out, and proud!
And check out this year’s new handout – our 3″ x 5″ Faux Foreskin cards.
This month, two important pieces appeared in Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). The first is by a group of Danish researchers who found in a large study in Denmark — a society where the foreskin is treated as a valuable body part — that only four out of a thousand intact boys might require circumcision later in childhood. The second is a commentary by Dr. Andrew Freedman, a pediatric urologist who was a member of the AAP’s 2012 Task Force on Circumcision.
Dr. Freedman acknowledges the widespread criticism of American doctors’ routine removal of boys’ foreskins, by physicians and ethicists abroad and by “anticircumcision activists.” Remarkably, he admits that the medical reasons for circumcision are not compelling, and says that parents are the ones who should make this permanent, most intimate decision for their infant sons, based on their own (the parents’) “religion, culture, aesthetic preference, familial identity, and personal experience.” He says the AAP subscribes to the “best interest of the child” ethical principle, despite the fact that this standard is not applicable when there is no medical problem requiring intervention of any kind.
Also remarkably, Freedman addresses “anticircumcision activists” directly, with this advice: “[R]ather than directing an angry focus on the negative and the courts, your efforts would be better spent to educate and promote the prepuce positively, to win in the court of public opinion, and to change the culture, so as to make having a foreskin the ‘popular thing to do’.” (“The courts” presumably refers to the 2011 San Francisco ballot initiative that would have banned medically unnecessary circumcision of children; the initiative was thwarted by opposition from religious groups and the American Civil Liberties Union.)
We’re way ahead of you, Dr. Freedman! That’s what Intact America is doing — promoting the prepuce positively! And we’re making progress. We just wish that the AAP wouldn’t make our work so difficult, by continuing to promote circumcision as though it were a medically useful and legitimate procedure, and by advocating for Medicaid and private insurance to pay for this cosmetic surgery.
All that said, we’re happy to know that our movement is on the AAP’s radar.
By Georganne Chapin
The media overlooked an important story late last month that should dramatically change how doctors and hospitals treat newborn babies. On January 25, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) announced a study updating its recommendations on avoiding, minimizing, or treating pain in infants. The AAP statement cites research showing that many “routine” interventions are extremely painful and that there are both short- and long-term consequences of babies’ exposure to painful stimuli.
Now that the AAP is asking health facilities to implement “a pain-prevention program … minimizing the number of painful procedures performed” on newborns, we need to ask again why doctors continue to circumcise nearly a million baby boys a year in the United States. Unlike other painful stimuli the AAP cites, including heel punctures or IV insertion, circumcision is a protracted surgery that does not diagnose or treat any illness, but rather subjects tiny boys to extreme pain for a medically unnecessary procedure.
Until recently, circumcisions have been carried out with no pain relief at all. Instead, practitioners used only physical restraints. Even today, it’s estimated that as many as half of circumcising doctors do not employ analgesia, and that the methods used the rest of the time are only partially effective, if not outright dangerous. (“EMLA,” a topical anesthetic cream widely used in U.S. hospitals, is specifically contraindicated for use “on the genitals of children” in the United Kingdom.
Unfortunately, as the AAP statement acknowledges, it’s nearly impossible to manage pain in infants, given their small size and vulnerability to chemical interventions – even the questionably effective and widely used sugar pacifiers. Implicit throughout the AAP statement is the fact that the safer the analgesic, the less effective it is in eliminating pain.
The next step
Now that the AAP has gone on record to affirm that babies feel and suffer the consequences of pain, and should not be subjected to painful procedures if they can be avoided, the logical next step is for the AAP to call unequivocally for doctors to stop circumcising babies. In its 86-year history, the AAP has never recommended circumcision and has always held that it’s not medically necessary. But, recently, as more and more parents opt out of the procedure for their boys, the trade association’s enthusiasm for circumcision has only increased. In 2012, while admitting that the complications and risks of infant circumcision have never been studied systematically, the AAP took the regrettable position that the operation’s benefits outweigh the risks.
Medical experts from around the world disagree. In response to the AAP’s 2012 statement, a large group of European physicians and ethicists wrote, “Cultural bias reflecting the normality of nontherapeutic male circumcision in the United States seems obvious, and the report’s conclusions are different from those reached by physicians in other parts of the Western world… [Their claims of] health benefits… are questionable, weak, and likely to have little public health relevance in a Western context.”
Notably, far fewer than 10% of adult men in Europe are circumcised, compared to 75% of the adult male population in the United States.
Now we have a systematic study about the short- and long-term risks of pain inflicted upon infants. This is all we need to know in order for the AAP to stand up and say to its members: “Removing a boy’s foreskin is not medically necessary, it is painful, and the pain may compromise his neurological development for years hence. The AAP recommends that the circumcision of male infants cease.”
In my experience, the more you know about circumcision, the more you oppose it. One important fact is that the foreskin is not “extra skin,” but a natural, necessary part of the male anatomy that protects the head of the penis, provides natural lubrication, and enhances sexual pleasure for men and their partners. In 2011, a study published in the International Journal of Men’s Health found that circumcised men have a 4.5 times greater chance of suffering from erectile dysfunction than intact men.
As an activist, bioethicist, attorney and, most importantly, a mother, I feel a glimmer of hope when I read the AAP’s new policy statement. I see a medical organization increasingly boxed into a corner as it tries to escape the inevitable: infant circumcision is not medically necessary, it is unethical, and it has no place in legitimate medical practice. The organization, which pledges its commitment to “the optimal physical, mental, and social health and well-being for all infants, children, adolescents, and young adults,” thus has no legitimate path other than to tell its physician members to stop circumcising baby boys.
February 13, 2016
Let’s stop arguing about circumcision and begin teaching about it instead.
I floated this idea in “Changing Opinions Over the Changing Table,” a Huffington Post article published Christmas Eve (read the article here), and it seems a lot of people liked this approach. The article received 31 positive comments, 1,800 Facebook likes, 278 shares, and 100 pins on Pinterest.
So, we have to do something to educate relatives, friends, and pediatricians who continue to challenge mothers who want to protect their baby boys by leaving them intact. So, when challenged, I’m asking mothers to turn it into a teachable moment.
To quote the article:
“I know you would like to say, ‘How dare you tell me to butcher my baby! You don’t know anything!’
“But what if you said instead, ‘You know, I was pretty clueless about circumcision in the past, because it’s been the so-called normal thing to do in America. But I decided to get educated, and I’m so happy I did. Do you want to hear what I learned?’
One reader commented, “Thank you Huffington Post for having the guts to keep writing about this issue! Great suggestions, and reminder that at one time most of us ‘intactivists’ took for granted that circumcision was normal and necessary.”
Note: The following essay appeared on the op-ed page of the (Palm Beach, Florida) Sun-Sentinel on March 28, 2015. This version has been edited slightly for timeliness and for the audience of this blog.
The headlines have subsided, but Florida mother Heather Hironimus is in now in her seventh week of hiding to protect her son from his father, who wants to cut off the boy’s foreskin. A Palm Beach County judge has ordered her arrest. As Heather sat in captivity, just recently scores of intactivists gathered in Washington, DC to protest the removal of boys’ normal, healthy foreskins by U.S. physicians. A practice for decades accepted as the regular American thing to do has emerged as a landmark human rights concern.
Widely decried by physicians and ethicists throughout European and Commonwealth countries, circumcision is falling out of favor here as parents learn the facts. Meanwhile, as Denmark and other Scandinavian countries are considering whether to outlaw the surgery on minors altogether, U.S. physician organizations are redoubling their efforts to get the government to pay for it.
Adding to the mix are the ever-more-vehement voices of American men expressing outrage at having been robbed of their normal sexual anatomy – and their freedom of choice – when they were too young to consent.
Incongruously, the judge who ordered Heather’s arrest has said that, once jailed, she will stay there until she signs a consent form for her son’s unnecessary surgery.
The human rights movement against infant and child circumcision relies largely on the principle of informed consent. Arising from revelations of horrific medical experiments inflicted by Nazi doctors on concentration camp prisoners during World War II, this principle requires that before any medical procedure can be administered, the patient must understand its risks and benefits, be told of less invasive alternatives (including doing nothing), and freely agree to it. For children, parents may give “proxy” consent – but only if treatment is medically necessary.
In addition to the fact that “consent” cannot be compelled, “routine” circumcision fails these tests. The foreskin is not a birth defect; it’s a normal body part, and it plays protective and pleasure-enhancing roles. Most of the world’s men are intact, and suffer no ill effects. In fact, despite fear-mongering by a medical establishment that peddles this infant surgery to two million American parents a year, European nations, with circumcision rates near zero, have the same or lower rates of urinary tract infections and sexually transmitted diseases (including HIV) as the United States, where most men have been circumcised.
Heather Hironimus became informed and declined to consent to her son’s surgery, because it’s not needed, it’s painful, and it will put him at risk for bleeding, infection and other complications. Her reasons are backed up by the opinion of a respected urologist who examined the boy and testified that there’s nothing wrong with him.
If Heather’s child were a girl, she would be protected by federal and state law from anybody tampering with her genitals. Heather in Florida and those who come back to Washington to demonstrate every year are asking for the same justice for American boys.
April 5, 2015