Argument: HIV-prevention is poor justification for neonatal circumcision

Issue Report: Infant male circumcision


Somerville, Margaret (November 2000). “Altering Baby Boys’ Bodies: The Ethics of Infant Male Circumcision, The ethical canary: science, society, and the human spirit.” 2000. – The most recent claim of a medical benefit from circumcision is a reduction in the risk of contracting HIV infection or other sexually transmitted diseases. The research on which this claim is based is being challenged, but even if it is correct, it would not justify circumcising infant boys. Even assuming that circumcision gave men additional protection from becoming infected with HIV, baby boys do not immediately need such protection and can choose for themselves, at a later stage, if they want it. To carry out circumcision for such a future health protection reason (assuming for the moment that circumcision is protective) would be analogous to testing a baby girl for the gene for breast cancer and, if it is present, trying to remove all her immature breast tissue in order to eliminate the risk of her developing breast cancer as an adult woman. I believe that most of us would be shocked at undertaking such a procedure on a baby girl, but some of us might not have the same reaction to infant male circumcision. Why is this? Quite simply we value breasts-we see it as a serious harm to a woman to lose them-and we do not value foreskins, in fact they are often devalued-spoken of as ugly, unaesthetic and unclean. Yet both are part of the intact human body and both have sexual and other functions. Consequently, to summarize, routine infant male circumcision cannot be ethically and legally justified on the grounds that it is medically required.