The economics of circumcision are entirely unfamiliar to the average person. However, considering that this surgery is permanent and cannot be undone, wouldn’t you want to know who benefits from it? (Hint: it isn’t you or your child.)
Federal law prohibits the use of federal health care dollars for medically unnecessary services. Medicaid funding of routine infant circumcision clearly flies in the face of that prohibition, but the AAP has managed to obfuscate the practice’s purely cultural origins (I include religion in the broad category of culture) by its serial quest to find medical benefits. — Georganne Chapin, author of “This Penis Business” (Lucid House Publishing, 2024)
In this article, we’ll be diving deep into the financial side of circumcision, pulling back the curtain on its direct and indirect costs, its value within medical and cultural spheres, and the subtle economic currents that flow within this often controversial realm. Join us as we demystify the complex business of circumcision and who profits from it.
Medical Costs of Circumcision
The costs of circumcision go beyond the surgical procedure and include the use of anesthetics for pain management, post-surgical care, wound dressings, and follow-up appointments, all of which contribute significantly to the overall expenditure.
A prestigious obstetrician or urologist practicing in a fancy hospital in an affluent city can demand upwards of $2,500 to pry away, clamp, and cut off your baby’s foreskin. If you’re a middle-class parent in a middle-class town, you’ll probably find someone willing to do the same thing for $500 or less. In addition, hospitals add fees for the procedure room, nursing staff, supplies, and equipment (including single-use circumcision kits, gauze, and petroleum jelly for bandaging the baby’s fresh circumcision wound). These fees vary widely and are either hidden in a global bill or listed separately, the latter leaving a parent to wonder how on earth a travel-size tube of petroleum jelly and a small packet of gauze can cost more than a dinner out. I recently saw an online complaint from a mom who had been billed $600 by the doctor, $20 for “pharmacy,” $91 for supplies, and an additional fee of $2,200 by the hospital for her son’s circumcision.” — Georganne Chapin, author of This Penis Business (Lucid House Publishing, 2024)
However, it is crucial to consider the indirect costs as well. Complications from circumcision, which are vastly underreported, can necessitate further medical intervention, leading to additional expenses. Issues such as infections, excessive bleeding, or improper healing can inflate the overall financial burden. Therefore, although the upfront cost of circumcision may initially appear straightforward, it is important for individuals and families to be fully informed before making decisions.
Economic Incentives for Circumcision in Medical Institutions and Others
Circumcision has the potential to generate significant revenue for medical institutions, ranging from small clinics to large hospitals, even beyond the initial surgery and any post-surgery complications. Foreskin derivatives, often overlooked, play a profitable role in various industries, including cosmetics and medical research.
In 2013, television personality Oprah Winfrey began advertising the virtues of SkinMedica, an anti-wrinkle face cream made from human foreskin fibroblasts that promised to “rapidly restore the skin’s barrier and moisture balance.” SkinMedica claimed that it hasn’t bought a foreskin in twenty years—that just one “donated” foreskin is the gift that keeps on giving. — Georganne Chapin, author of “This Penis Business” (Lucid House Publishing, 2024)
Beyond the immediate financial benefits of circumcision, foreskin tissue has found its way into the world of high-end creams and treatments, thanks to its rich cellular content. However, there is a darker side to this story. Reports of illicit foreskin trafficking have surfaced, with the tissue being sold on black markets. Additionally, foreskin cells hold great value in medical research, particularly in regenerative studies, due to their unique properties.
Do parents know that they are agreeing to have their infant’s foreskin donated or sold for research or commercial benefit when they sign the informed consent in the hospital? Do we know what happens to the foreskins of infants who are circumcised as part of a religious ceremony?
Future Economic Predictions Around Circumcision
As societal norms, medical recommendations, and cultural values continue to evolve, the demand for circumcision stands at the precipice of potential shifts in the coming decades. Numerous factors, such as increased awareness about bodily autonomy, changing religious demographics, and a growing body of research on the long-term effects of the procedure, possess the power to exert influence and potentially save millions of children and men from this harmful surgery.
“In a 2015 survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 71% of U.S. adult men reported being circumcised, but younger generations showed a slight decrease in rates compared to older generations.”
A decline in routine circumcisions would, logically, mean reduced revenues for medical institutions and related industries that have long relied on the steady income from this surgery. Medical equipment manufacturers, post-operative care providers, and other stakeholders will find their fortunes intertwined with the fluctuations in circumcision rates, which means each of these groups has a vested interest in keeping this practice ongoing.
Personal Economics of Circumcision
Circumcision has far-reaching financial implications that extend beyond the initial procedure’s cost. Throughout a lifetime, there are various direct expenses to consider. Georganne Chapin, in “This Penis Business,” refers to Intact America board member Dan Bollinger’s estimate of the cost of circumcision in the United States. This included repairs—around 2.8 percent of cut boys require such surgery, referred to in the trade as “revisions,” some done for aesthetic reasons (“not enough skin taken off”), and some that attempt to correct serious medical errors—as well as other expenses over a lifetime. Bollinger estimated that the total money spent in 2020 as a direct result of “routine” infant circumcision was nearly six billion dollars.1 In cases where complications or dissatisfaction arise, therapeutic interventions may be necessary, both physically and psychologically, resulting in additional financial burdens.
It’s important to acknowledge that the costs go beyond the tangible. The psychological and emotional toll can be profound, leading to feelings of loss, violation, or struggles with body image. Seeking counseling or therapy becomes crucial in addressing these issues, as they can impact personal and professional aspects of one’s life, potentially affecting opportunities and productivity. It is evident that while the economic aspect of circumcision may appear straightforward initially, the long-term implications, both tangible and intangible, are complex and significant, and complicit parties continue to profit from the pain they have caused.
The economics of circumcision are purposefully obscured. As you have seen throughout this article, many people profit from the bloody business of circumcision. The commodification of this practice demands transparent discussions. These dialogues should include the major risks and irreversible harms of circumcision, along with the financial and societal consequences of allowing parents to consent and medical professionals to perform circumcision on children who cannot give consent. As societies evolve, it is crucial to approach the topic of circumcision with an open mind, informed by both medical and economic insights. This ensures that the choices we make are holistic, compassionate, and well-informed.
I await the day, long overdue, when insurance companies and the government in this country stop paying for the “benefit” of circumcision—which has already happened in other Westernized countries that corrected their course based on scientific evidence that circumcision was extremely invasive, conferred no benefit to boys’ health, and imposed considerable risk and unjustifiable costs upon children and their families. — Georganne Chapin, author of “This Penis Business” (Lucid House Publishing, 2024)