Yesterday, the American Medical Association, whose core values are leadership, excellence, integrity and ethical behavior, announced that its membership has voted to “oppose any attempt to legally prohibit infant circumcision.”

The AMA’s president, Peter W. Carmel, M.D., was quoted as saying, “There is strong evidence documenting the health benefits of male circumcision, and it is a low-risk procedure….  [T]he AMA … will oppose any attempts to intrude into legitimate medical practice and the informed choices of patients.”

Strong evidence? Presumably, he’s talking about evidence from flawed studies conducted among adults in parts of Africa with high HIV prevalence? Even these studies show that while female to male sexual transmission of HIV might be lessened when the male is circumcised, male to female transmission actually increases. And it’s not clear what any of this has to do with newborn babies, who don’t have unprotected sex.

Health benefits? Compared to what?  The foreskin is there to protect the penis, keep the glans moist, and enhance sexual pleasure throughout a man’s lifetime. Do the AMA doctors know about recent studies showing higher rates of erectile dysfunction in circumcised men than in intact men? Do they know anything about the benefits of the foreskin?

Low risk? Do Dr. Carmel and the AMA know that more than 100 babies die each year in the United States from circumcision? Do they know about the $2.3 million award made earlier this year to the family of a Georgia baby whose penis was severed and thrown into the trash after a botched circumcision? Or about Jamaal Coleson, Jr., who died in New York City this spring, following a “routine circumcision?” Or about little Eric Keefe, who bled to death following his circumcision in a South Dakota Indian Health Service hospital in 2008?  Certainly, they don’t know that just this week, the blogosphere was ringing with the discussion of another post-circumcision infant death, this one allegedly from a heart attack.

Legitimate medical practice? Do the AMA members who voted to keep the United States safe for circumcisers know that most of their European colleagues believe “routine” circumcision is not legitimate – but, instead, barbaric? Have they read the call by the Royal Dutch Medical Association for doctors to refuse to surgically remove part of the genitals of babies and children, on the grounds that there is no medical reason for it, and it violates children’s rights?

Informed choices of patients? Did the AMA stop to think about WHO IS THE PATIENT who supposedly is making an “informed choice?” Answer: the BABY is the patient – not the parents – and the baby cannot consent. On the contrary, only someone with a vested interest in denying the truth can assert that babies react with anything other than terrorized, panicked protest to the ripping, crushing and severing of their tender foreskins.

In the United States and most of the modern world, cutting a normal, healthy body part from the genitals of a girl is “genital mutilation” and it’s illegal. No ethical, moral or legal rationale distinguishes boys from girls in this regard.

Shame on you, Dr. Carmel. And shame on the AMA.

Georganne Chapin