Argument: Pain of circumcision is traumatizing for infants

Issue Report: Infant male circumcision


Somerville, Margaret (November 2000). “Altering Baby Boys’ Bodies: The Ethics of Infant Male Circumcision”. 2000. – Another reason to reject infant male circumcision is the pain it causes. In considering their obligation to “first do no harm,” physicians must give great weight to one of the most immediate harms of circumcision-it causes pain. Research has shown that we have been insensitive to those who are unable to verbalize their pain, that is, to put their suffering into words. We have carried out procedures on children that would never be carried out on adults without adequate and full anesthesia; as recent research on infant male circumcision has shown, traumatic pain experiences in very young children heighten their pain sensitivity, possibly for life. Research also shows that newborn babies have a unique nervous system that makes them respond to pain differently from adults. As journalist Victoria MacDonald, describing the recent research of Maria Fitzgerald, professor of neurobiology at University College, London, reports in London’s Sunday Telegraph:

Reports in clinical and psychological literature indicate early injury or trauma can have long-term consequences on sensory or pain behaviour that extend into childhood or beyond. . . . Because the spinal sensory nerve cells worked differently in babies, even a simple skin wound at birth could lead to the area becoming hypersensitive to touch long after the wound had healed. By studying these sensory nerve cells in infants the scientists discovered that their reflex to pain or harm is greater and more prolonged than that of adults. The sensory nerve cells are also linked to larger areas of skin, which means they feel pain over a greater area of their body.

“The Pain of Circumcision Impacts Babies (and the Adults They Become)”. National Organization of Circumcision Information. Opposing Views – The pain may not be remembered consciously, but the body and the psyche will never forget the traumatic experience. Those who remember or who have recovered circumcision memories in therapy describe the excruciating pain and terror associated with the experience.

“Circumcision of Boys Alters Human Behavior”. Doctors Opposing Circumcision. Opposing Views – There is abundant evidence that the non-therapeutic circumcision of children alters human behavior throughout life. Circumcised boys cry differently, have more trouble breastfeeding, a heightened alteration to pain at vaccination, and, after they become adults, many have a compulsion to reenact the trauma of circumcision on others.