The United States is now the epicenter of the global coronavirus pandemic, and our medical resources are stretched thin. There is a shortage of health care professionals to care for the thousands of terribly ill COVID-19 patients who have flooded our hospitals, which is why the U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams asked health care providers to cancel or postpone all adult elective procedures to avoid overwhelming hospital systems. The Surgeon General warned that every elective surgery could spread this deadly virus within a facility. Unfortunately, though not surprisingly, after a few weeks’ realization that the pandemic is going to be with us for a long time, hospitals are resuming elective surgeries, with little discussion about the principles or priorities that underlay the Surgeon General’s recommendations.
That said, his guidance did not go far enough. In particular, it failed to address the fact that many elective procedures for minors could and should also be evaluated as to their need. A glaring example of a surgery that is not just a non-priority during a pandemic but utterly useless at any time is – ironically – also the most commonly performed pediatric surgery in America. Newborn circumcision treats no illness and could be completely abandoned with only positive benefits for children and for the nation’s health overall. Of course, this procedure is sold by physicians and nurses to parents, who “elect” to cut their baby boy’s genitals, and the patient is given no choice; if he were, I suspect he’d opt to forgo the surgery and remain intact. (One of my favorite bumper stickers of all times says: 10 Out of 10 Babies Say NO to Circumcision!)
Boys who are circumcised spend, on average, an extra six hours in the hospital, increasing the risk that they and their mothers will be exposed to COVID-19 and other infections. It is just appalling to me that doctors and hospitals engage in cutting the genitals of infants, even when the risks associated with the pandemic are so apparent.
Yet, it’s clear from the reports I have seen that doctors and nurses continue to press parents to circumcise their newborn boys, and that it even extends to cases where the mother is COVID-19-positive! In early April, the American Academy of Pediatrics published its “Initial Guidance: Management of Infants Born to Mothers with COVID-19,” which specifically states, “Well newborns should receive all indicated care, including circumcision if requested.”
What the guidance does not say, but should, is that the American Academy of Pediatrics itself has always stated that there is not sufficient scientific evidence to recommend routine newborn circumcision. To that, we add that circumcision is a harmful intervention that no professional medical society recommends, that it is performed on patients who are not sick, and that it robs babies of an essential erogenous part of their natural penis.
Intact America has launched a petition drive to demand that the Surgeon General tell hospitals to stop performing male child circumcisions at this critical time. Nationwide, doctors perform 3,000 newborn circumcisions each day, or more than one million unnecessary surgeries every year. Each day, the procedure consumes 6,000 surgical masks, 6,000 pairs of protective gloves, and other supplies that could be better used to protect frontline health care workers from COVID-19 and to treat sick patients.
We have also contacted nearly 20,000 administrators and clinicians from thousands of hospitals around the country requesting that they stop all newborn circumcisions. Health care professionals need to understand that cutting newborn genitals both wastes precious resources and increases the risk of exposure to COVID-19 by babies and their mothers.
COVID-19 has brought pain and suffering to millions in the United States, and the U.S. health care system will be forever changed by this pandemic. One would hope that both experts and the general public will begin to accept that it’s necessary to prioritize our overall use of medical resources to ensure that supplies, equipment and personnel are available – and equitably accessible – for when they are truly needed. Fortunately, more and more Americans are ready to accept the wisdom that intactivists have advocated for years: suspend routine newborn circumcisions and keep all children whole, as nature intended.
We can use this pandemic as an impetus to stop cutting boys’ genitals—just as we refuse to allow cutting the genitals of girls. We can break the circumcision habit, and thus move closer to a consensus that keeping a boy intact (“uncircumcised”) is the normal and desirable thing to do. In his book, “The Tipping Point,” Malcolm Gladwell, explains the concept: “The tipping point is that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.”
We look forward to watching the flames. Help us by signing our petition today.