2009-06-26

Intact America has first official Press Conference

Intact America is a new organization that was established “to change the way the [U.S.] thinks about male circumcision”. There was a press conference on 2009 June 22, about which more can be read in this official press release.

Unfortunately, it is often the case that people cast the issue of male and female genital cutting as 2 completely separate and mutually exclusive topics—and worse, opponents of male genital cutting are often derided as “misogynists” for not spending their efforts fighting a real injustice like female genital cutting.

The truth of the matter is that both female genital cutting and male genital cutting are genital cutting, and when this act is performed on non-consenting children—male or female—it is child abuse.

In a moving account of her own story, Soraya Miré—who was herself a victim of this abuse as a child—reaffirms the mutually inclusive nature of the fight against all forms of genital cutting, which she specifically calls genital mutilation regardless of gender.

The following is a transcript of the speeches given at the press conference, which was made from an unofficial video recording of the event (the section headings are links to the YouTube videos):

Part 1: Georganne Chapin: Introduction

Georgeanne Chapin [pronounced: “George‑anne Chaypin”]

My name is Georganne Chapin. I'm the head of an organization called Intact America (www.intactactamerica.org). We've called this press conference today to announce an America human rights campaign—a campaign whose purpose is to shed light on an American cultural practice that is both very common and very strange. I'm talking about infant circumcision: The surgical removal of healthy tissue—the normal foreskin from a newborn baby boy.

This practice takes place more than a million times each year in the United States—more than 3 thousand times each day. The babies we subject to this procedure are not sick; they have normal bodies and normal genitals. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Association do not recommend routine circumcision on medical grounds. Yet, motivated by tradition and by misplaced concern about sex and hygiene, and bolstered by misinformation and misconceptions, we persist in carrying out this painful surgery on newborn babies without their consent.

As often as not, no analgesic at all is used; when it is, the methods are inadequate to block the exquisite pain receptors in the baby's foreskin during the operation—and certainly do nothing to alleviate discomfort over the 2 weeks it takes for the wound to heal. Circumcision surgery places babies at risk for both minor and serious medical complications and deprives them of a healthy, functional body part for the rest of their lives.

A lot of Americans don't give much thought to circumcision; they've never seen one performed, because it happens behind closed doors—and many have never even seen a man or a child with an intact penis. It may come as a surprise, then, to know that throughout most of the modern world, routine infant circumcision is virtually unheard of. Pediatricians and obstetricians and family doctors and nurses I've met from Europe, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean, are often shocked when they come to the United States and see that we consider it normal to subject newborn baby boys to brutal, medically unnecessary surgery.

However, awareness is growing among Americans too: Many nurses, doctors, humans rights lawyers, medical ethicists, parents, and others have mobilized over recent years, volunteering their time and their money to educate others about circumcision and bring an end to the practice. Due to their efforts, infant circumcision rates in this country have fallen from over 90% in the 1970s to under 60% today.

Recent hype about putative “benefits” of circumcision, though, has caused some people to call for medical organizations—including the Centers for Disease Control and the American Academy of Pediatrics—to re‑examine their long‑held position that circumcision is not medically necessary. It is these calls for promotion of this unnecessary and painful violation of babies' fundamental rights that have brought us together today to announce the launch of:

www.intactamerica.org

a website and an organization that will permanently change the way Americans think about circumcision.

In just a moment, you'll hear from a number of speakers.

  • Two of them are doctors who know the medical facts about circumcision—who know the risks—and who refuse to perform this unnecessary surgery on the babies who are their patients.

  • You will also hear from a father who, after taking the trouble to investigate the facts about circumcision, decided not to subject his newborn son to it, and as a consequence was harassed and pursued by physicians invested both literally and physically in perpetuating custom. This man—this father—was so appalled that he decided to invest a considerable amount of his personal resources in the movement to end circumcision and in the founding of Intact America.

  • Finally, you will hear from a woman who herself was a victim of genital modification inflicted upon her as a young girl in her native Somalia. She has spent many years writing and speaking out about genital cutting and dedicated her life to making sure that what happened to her will not happen to other children—girls or boys.

As you listen to these speakers, we hope you will ask yourself why the United States—a country that cares about our children and that cares about human rights and that protects our daughters—allows infant circumcision to continue. We hope that this campaign being launched today at www.intactamerica.org will help you and others to change the way our country thinks about circumcision.

Part 2: Dr. Robert Van Howe, MD

Georgeanne Chapin

The first speaker of the morning—and you have information about him in your press kit—is Dr. Robert Van Howe. [pronounced: “How”]

Dr. Robert Van Howe

Good morning and thank you for letting me be part of this important event.

Today we are here to celebrate; we're here to celebrate that every human is an autonomous person worthy of respect—and more specifically to celebrate the autonomy of infants, who should have the same rights to be protected from unwanted intrusions, and the right to make their own decisions about their own bodies. We're here to change the way society views children—particularly infant boys in regards to circumcision.

Circumcision is not a “benign” medical procedure (like with vaccination), but it's a culturally‑loaded amputation of a highly significant, functional body part. Common sense tells us that as a normal part of the human anatomy, the foreskin is valuable. Before cutting it off, there needs to be a compelling public health threat that outweighs the infant's right to security of person and to bodily integrity. Well, where is that threat?

Circumcision was introduced in the 19th Century to eliminate masturbation, but it didn't work. Since then, several other health threats have been blamed on the foreskin and then dismissed one by one as falsehoods. Now we have heterosexually transmitted HIV. Well, the United States has the highest rate of heterosexually transmitted HIV among developed nations, and we also have the highest rate of circumcision among the developed nations. So, clearly, the circumcision experiment has failed to protect the U.S. from HIV.

If circumcision [were] a new procedure and we looked at the evidence objectively, the FDA would not approve it. Yet, there is a small vocal group calling for universal amputation of the foreskin; they compare it to vaccination, but the comparison really falls apart, because the average adult is willing to get vaccinated against disease, but most adult males are unwilling to become circumcised. More importantly, vaccines are effective, while circumcision is not. By usurping the vaccine analogy, the focus shifts away from convincing reluctant adults to practice safe sex to preying on the unfounded fears of new parents.

Infants and children—unless they are sexually molested—do not get sexually transmitted infections or HIV. It's most likely that the falling rates of circumcision in the United States has prompted this sudden surge in the interest in circumcision promotion. The circumcision experiment was failing in the United States, so researchers had to move to Africa, where the latest health threat—the AIDS crisis—[is] at its zenith. Armed with the few deeply flawed studies performed by a handful of investigators, circumcision proponents are capitalizing on the situation by spreading their opinions like manure across the medical literature landscape—calling on national medical organizations to recommend circumcision for all newborn males; but newborns don't get sexually transmitted HIV, so why can't the baby make the choice when he's old enough to make the choice for himself?

Circumcision is the most commonly performed surgery in the United States, yet it's nearly impossible to have a rational discussion about it. Only recently, with the open discussion of female genital cutting, are Americans beginning to realize that genital cutting is wrong, regardless of the child's gender. To have a rational discussion, all the facts need to be on the table—not just those that the editors of our medical journals or those running the Centers for Disease Control see fit.

Our culture has to stop portraying normal genitalia as dangerous, foreign, and filthy. The word needs to get out that the foreskin is the most prescious, sensitive portion of the penis—as a friend of mine put it: It's not the wrapper, it's the candy. The word has to get out that it's all right for a child to be different [from his father]—we have to celebrate our differences (I have 2 sons: Both are much better looking and much better musicians than I am. I can live with that—and occasionally they let me jam with them). The word has to get out that circumcision is not required by the law, not required by schools, not required for admission to the military, and it's not about cleanliness.

So, instead of trying to create a crisis where one does not exist, the medical profession should be working to protect and care for the foreskin. We need to teach physicians what the foreskin is, what it does, and how to properly care for it. We need to teach physicians that they are ethically bound to protect and treat the infant—not the parents; when parents ask physicians to circumcise their sons, physicians (who generally like to make people happy) will oblige—and then they get paid for it!

The problem is that the ethical canons of medicine require that the physician refuse. If the same parents asked for a similar operation on their daughter, it would be illegal. If the same parents asked the physician to cut off the infant's little toe, it would not only be illegal, but the physician would find [the idea] abhorrent, unethical, and would refuse to do so. Even if the family wanted one of their children to donate a kidney to a sibling, the physician would not be allowed to do so, because the donor would not benefit.

What is ironic is that physicians are much less likely to circumcise their own boys than the boys in the families they take care of. As Maya Angelou said:

When you know better, you do better.

The position of the American Academy of Pediatrics's Committee on Bioethics is that unnecessary procedures should wait until the child is old enough to decide for himself. It's time for physicians to respect the integrity of all children, and to say “No” to this harmful intrusion to a child's life. This is how you treat a child with dignity.

And now that we know better, let's go out and do better.

Part 3: Dr. Michelle Storms, MD

Georgeanne Chapin

Our next speaker is Dr. Michelle Storms.

Dr. Michelle Storms

Good morning. This is my first visit to New York, and I hope not my last; I've certainly enjoyed being here. And, I thank you all for the opportunity to speak here today in support of Intact America, an organization established to protect children from genital modification.

As a family medicine physician and the mother of 3 children, I applaud the vision of Intact America and their thoughtful mission and goals. I would like to explain some of my experiences which have led me to support this organization. First of all, I grew up in the state of Washington. I was raised as a Protestant. I had no experience or exposure with circumcision. So, I basically went to medical school without any preconceived notions about this topic.

In medical school, I was taught very little about it or about the function of the foreskin; it was not until I reached residency training in family medicine in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, that I actually was exposed to neonatal circumcision. And, at that point, it was expected that I would observe a circumcision being done and then I was expected to start performing them, and then I would later be teaching residents how to do them.

My senior resident, who taught me my first circumcision, indicated that there [is] no medical reason to do this—he said this [is] strictly for societal or cultural reasons, and I could tell that he really didn't condone this procedure, so I wondered then why we were doing them. And I was appalled watching that first circumcision: The baby writhed and screamed while being strapped down and cut.

That feeling of repulsion that I felt at that first circumcision never went away, and the babies always responded the same way regardless. Unfortunately, I was expected to continue performing circumcisions during residency—on the male infants that I delivered—at the request of parents. And many times, I tried to dissuade parents from having what I considered their already perfect child cut, but it was rare that they changed their mind about this. I think that any person who wants to subject a child to this should be required to witness one first; I think that would be the best way to dissuade them.

But I began noticing that my body responded very negatively to this act of circumcision, and every time I was requested to do one, my heart would start racing, my hands would get clammy, I would start sweating, and I wanted to just run away and hide. I finally had to sit myself down and say:

Why [is] it that I [feel] this way about circumcision when I [don't] feel this way about any other procedure that I [am] asked to perform as part of my medical training?

So, it dawned on me that this “medical procedure” [is] actually not done for any justifiable purpose that I could see: There [is] no disease being cured by it. There [is] no disease being diagnosed by it. I was cutting up healthy, functional tissue from a baby held down against his will. And it [is] not something that I could justify based upon my medical training “to do no harm and heal the sick”, and it [is] not something I could justify as a human being from an ethical standpoint. I was harming babies and I knew it, and the act of circumcision itself was making me physically and emotionally ill as well.

I knew that I would never condone this for my own child, so why would I subject another person's child to this? Since 1988, I have not performed another circumcision, nor did I consent to have my own children circumcised—and I did get their permission to say that today.

Therefore, I have had the opportunity to witness firsthand the importance of the foreskin to my children; what I was most struck by was what my children had to say about potentially having their foreskins cut off—and if you really want to get the straight scoop, you talk to a child, right?

The first thing they would say is:

Why would anybody do that, Mom? I mean, this is crazy. This is a normal part of my body—I like this part of my body. Don't they know there's nothing wrong with this? and why is this legal? Why aren't their laws against this?

When they became adolescents, they even told me that their friends who were circumcised said to them that they wanted to have a foreskin too, and they said to both my husband and [me] that they wanted us to do something to stop this, and so that's why I've gotten involved.

Over the years, I have been ridiculed, patronized, ostracized—[but] often supported—for my refusal to perform or promote or facilitate the act of circumcision. I routinely speak out against this procedure to the parents of my patients, who often don't know that circumcision is not required—it's not medically indicated and it's not more hygienic. I have counseled and supported the resident physicians that I train as part of my family medicine residency program. These residents are often from other cultures and countries where they do not circumcise, and many have opted out of doing circumcisions because they too are appalled by this American custom.

I encourage physicians to stop reinforcing the supposed necessity of circumcision by condoning and facilitating its performance—but most importantly, I emphasize that removing healthy tissue from any person without [his or her] consent is harmful, unethical, and violates the Hippocratic Oath and basic human rights.

So, I hope that we will all join together to end this ill‑conceived practice of neonatal circumcision and start the healing process for our society. Let's all do better for the sake of our children, and I hope that all will lend support to Intact America in this important endeavor.

Thank you very much for inviting me here today.

Part 4: Dean Pisani: Donated $1 Million to Intact America

Georgeanne Chapin

The next speaker this morning is Dean Pisani. [pronounced: “Pizz‑awny”]

Dean Pisani

Thank you, Georganne, and thank you Intact America for inviting me here today; it is an honor to be here. I am [a normal American]: 10 years ago I went through an experience that millions of Americans are going through right now, which is [becoming] a parent, and I started doing some research myself; we were in that group of parents [who] didn't want to know if we were going to have a girl or a boy—we wanted to be surprised—so, I was doing research across a lot of different information (books), and [it was] really the first time I got involved in the Internet (I'm not a high‑tech guy).

I really didn't have a leaning either way; I just wanted to educate myself, and I read everything. I read both sides of the story and couldn't come up with a reason why I would want to circumcise a boy if we had a boy. My wife is a registered nurse; she's a lot more comfortable with [these] things in the medical community, and I went home and talked to her, and she did her research. She said the same thing: “I just don't see why we would do this if we had a boy.”

I was living in Chicago at the time, and we went to our normal doctor's appointments with my wife's doctor, and at some point in the process she was asking us the questions and one of the “questions” was obviously “If you have a boy, you [of course] want him circumcised?” and we said “No”, not thinking it was that big a deal. And this particular doctor decided at that time to make us feel awful about our decision and really said some things that—after the last 10 years of knowing the facts—was really inappropriate. Certainly there was a bias, and I couldn't quite figure out why, but that sparked me a little bit.

18 months later, we're in the same situation. We've moved out from Chicago; we're now living in a suburb of Chicago, and my wife is actually trying to select a new doctor, and the same thing happens: We're going to this doctor for a couple months, we get to the questions again, and this time this particular doctor was offensive to where I—being a hotheaded Italian—got into it with her a little bit. And my point was that [there are] a lot of people like me, [who] are very insecure when [they] walk into a medical environment, because [they] don't know anything. And so you're listening to a doctor, and they're supposed to be giving you great advice, and I was going “Geez, I think I know more about this than this lady does!”, because I had studied, and she couldn't give [us] any medical reasons why the procedure should be done if we were to have a boy—again we didn't know [the gender]. You know, [she was saying]:

It [is] more of a cultural [thing]; everybody does it!

and I was just sitting there [thinking]:

I feel like I'm in high school!

You know:

Just do it, because everyone else is doin' it!

You're a medical doctor! Please tell me the medical reasons!

Long story short, that sparked me a little bit more, and I started getting involved with just supporting resources—writing checks—to the movement, which was very grass roots. I've been fortunate enough over the last few years—successful business in Texas—and wanted to assist and help move this process to the next level—[move the] grass roots—which was, by the way, very effective—to [something] more mainstream, and with Intact America, that was the opportunity. So, it's a pleasure, actually, to make the donation [of $1 million], and I appreciate everything that Intact America is doing. Thank you.

Part 5: Soraya Mire: Victim of FGM and anti‑FGM activist

Georgeanne Chapin

Our final speaker this morning is Ms. Soraya Miré. [pronounced: “Soar‑eye‑uhh Me‑ray”]

Soraya Miré

Thank you. It's good to be here and support Intact America in protecting children.

Today I come to you not as a victim, but as a survivor: A woman who's not defined by what was taken from her, but what she is—by what was left of her. As a survivor of the most horrendous act of female genital mutilation, I'm bothered by hearing this roaring sound of the sewing machine. It takes me back to the days when I would watch [my family's tailor] cutting off the long sleeves from my dress. He would adjust his glasses and with his foot push the pedal to the floor. The loud noise would hurt my head and instead of seeing the dress, I would feel the wild needle biting my skin.

How can a mother prepare her child to go through the unthinkable?—the terrible culture gone wrong. How can you prepare a child to wake up to cruel hands firmly grabbing and spreading her legs open and cutting? How can you prepare a child to go through the practice which violates [her] basic human rights?

[In] many parts of Africa, it's believed that when children are born, they are born with both elements of sex; [for instance], the clitoris is considered in girls [to be] the male element—the maleness. [It is] that tiny piece of flesh [of which people are most scared]; they feel that without cutting that, it might grow longer—dangle—and she might have a “third leg”: It has to be cut off in order to properly set her—[it is a] rite of initiation in her gender.

For the male, the foreskin—that's what is seen as the [femaleness], and that soft side of him needs to be cut off in order to properly set his warrior side—the one who might be facing the lions [and who] would be carrying the family tradition from that time.

I remember that fateful morning when my mother came to me and said she was going to buy me a gift; I remember getting a little bit cocky, and, you know, like, really arrogant, thinking about all the scenes I was writing in my head—how my brothers and sisters would look at me when I come back with this gorgeous dress—the colorful one I liked—all over looking like an elegant woman, saying “Look, I'm the chosen one! Look what my mother got me!

But later when I found out what was about to happen, I remember crying to my mother:

“You're going to cut off my third leg!”

and her response was:

“Yeah, this is my gift to you. It's time to become a woman.”

I wanted to run away, but where are you going to go? This is the one person who is supposed to protect you—she's my mother, after all. And I had no strength or energy to move my legs.

I was only 13 years old—raised in a [well‑to‑do family]; [this mutilation is] one of the things that makes [everyone] equal. And I watched—shockingly—a young girl being brought out of this room. You could see she was trying to cry, but there was nothing—the air was stuck inside. She couldn't even scream; she [had] lost her voice.

And I looked up and I saw the nurse rushing—this was a doctor's house, because when you have money you go to a doctor's house (girls cannot be taken to the hospitals: Either it's the midwife sitting in the bushes somewhere with a cut glass [for the cutting] or its [in a doctor's home, which] looks like a hospital—proper and clean). The nurse was rushing toward me, and suddenly I felt like a hand [was] around my neck. At that moment, I saw the image of a scared lamb that was tied to our tree, ready to be slaughtered for the feast that day—that's how you would feel: I'm not a human being [anymore]. Honestly.

And all I could do was shout “I don't want to become a woman! I don't want to be a woman!” I wanted to be something, [though]: Just who [I already was].

The nurse tied my wrists and legs down to the surgical table. Hearing the sound of the scissors cutting [your] flesh, you really feel like your body is sitting on that roaring sewing machine that I saw in my family's tailor shop... Don't even ask about my cries: Like hot water rising up like waves from the depth of my being—and you're just a child! And all you can do is just cry and cry and cry until you lose your voice.

This act [of] female genital mutilation or male cutting or male genital mutilation—whether it's a cultural or religious or personal choice—I think is nothing but a scar of betrayal; it really is a sore wound; [the minute] you touch that child—the minute you cut at that child—[inaudible, so this is a guess at the meaning: the pain and betrayal is always there in the cut person's head]; whether [that person] chooses to speak for or against it, it's there.

I've been fighting for the past 30 years—I'm only 19 now [laughter]. Seriously, you know, I've been fighting really child abuse. This is the ultimate child abuse—as you've heard me say a million times, and the reason why I say it is that [this] first cut is all you need: Violation of their rights; they have no voice to speak.

You are supposed to be the mothers and fathers, giving those voices and protecting those children. So, [over] the past few years, [I've] chosen to speak about child abuse that is—in our case—handed down generation after generation, that was kind of protected by the word “ga ah” (“culture”) as if [that] provides, you know, absolution.

But we, the activ[ist] survivors who really went through this, we decided [to] use our own stories—first of all to heal ourselves and try to find a way to say:

I didn't ask for this. Don't look at me [as though] I'm different [from] you. I'm still a woman. I'm still [a person], whoever you are. I didn't choose this, but I [do] chose to say: “No! We have to stop this!

and that's what we've been doing, and I'm hopefully changing [minds].

But the reason why I'm a little bit nervous about this is [the following:] What I remember [from] back in 1993, sitting in Marilyn Milos's living room, watching that video of that young baby boy undergoing the genital mutilation, what struck me the most was this painful cry as his wrists and legs were tied down to the surgical table: I saw myself in him—as my own mother stood above my head, eyes watching, the doctor's rough finger dancing around my private parts, touching a place he had no business touching—No Business Touching!

And that's the reason why [I came] here: Not only [to help] Intact America but [also to say] that no one has a right to touch the child down there!

While taping a female genital mutilation show, Oprah Winfrey said... she didn't understand why women don't just rise up and say:

You can't do this to our daughters! We're not going to allow this to happen!

That, Operah said, she didn't understand, and that's what I'm asking today; America, why don't you get up and say:

We're not going to do this to our boys! We're not going to allow it!

So, thank you very much.

Part 6: Q&A

Question

Georganne, what do you say to a Jewish parent or Muslim parent who performs this surgery for cultural reasons?

Georgeanne Chapin

I would say the same thing I would say to any parent, and that is that it is your right to have your religious beliefs, but the child is an autonomous human being and its not your right to remove a body part from that child. The child can grow up and practice whatever religion he or she chooses, but we believe that all children must be protected from this violation of their bodily integrity.

Question

Could you speak a little bit more [as] to “Why now?”

Georgeanne Chapin

Why now? Because it's time!... there's been a movement against infant circumcision in the United States for 3 or 4 decades, and it's had enormous results, where the rate has fallen from over 90% to about 60% or even less [NOTE: In 2004: Nevada (14%), California (21%), Arizona (25%), Washington (26%), Oregon (30%), and Florida (39%)], but just as some of the speakers—particularly Dean Pisani—talked about, the Internet and the availability of information to the public has really transformed the way that we learn and that we teach, and Intact America—which is now a virtual organization as well as an on‑the‑ground organization—is part of a trend of electronic communication that's really quite astonishing.

In the short months that we have been active—thanks to the generosity of the donor you heard from this morning—we have seen hundreds of people; I think a lot us thought, you know, we knew the insiders [in the movement], but we've seen hundreds of people and thousands of people who are talking about this and communicating on Facebook and YouTube and on Twitter...

Once people start talking about it and thinking about it, we believe that this issue will grab them in a way that they will stand up and say: “We have to stop!

Question

When you look at what the CDC is doing involving studies of African adult men, what is the difference between those adult men and the baby boys here?

Georgeanne Chapin

Well, the studies that have been promoted among African adult men—we could discuss them at length another time. We believe—I believe personally as a public health professional and as an attorney—that they have huge methodological flaws: Any studies of sexual behavior are very difficult to carry out with reliability, so we believe they are flawed.

But, even [making] an assumption that there is some medical validity about circumcision reducing HIV transmission from women to men in sub‑Saharan Africa—where the incidence is very very very high—we say that has absolutely nothing to do with newborn baby boys: Newborn baby boys don't have sex; they can't get sexually transmitted diseases; they will have to learn how to practice safe sex anyway, and there is absolutely no reason to cut off a healthy body part from a newborn baby boy based on these studies or anything else that we've heard.

Question

One of the biggest arguments [in favor of circumcision that] doctors say to prospective parents [is]:

Well, you want your son to look like you.

How do you speak to that?

Georgeanne Chapin

Actually, I think that wanting the son to look like you [as the reason for] cutting off a body part is really a fascinating justification. I would imagine many of the fathers of these young babies [already differ from them significantly]:

  • [They] have athlete's foot.

  • They certainly have beards.

  • They might have lost a finger or a toe in an accident.

  • They probably have scars.

  • They certainly have hair where the babies don't have hair.

  • They have different eye color from their babies.

  • People adopt children from all over the world and don't worry that they don't look like them.

  • ...

So, to cut off part of the sexual anatomy to make the baby look like the parent is almost humorous.

I think most men—when responded to in that way—will see that this isn't really a very good justification. The other [interesting part] is that American men weren't always circumcised. So, I happened to have found out that my father was intact. I found this out when he was very very old and about to die, actually. And my brother told me, and that's when my brother[s] found out that my father was intact, and of course my brothers are circumcised, so that rationale didn't hold up then. Nobody said: “You want your sons to look like you”, because [in that case] they would have left their sons alone.

So, these are things that are being trotted out to justify and perpetuate a custom that has taken hold in the last few decades.

Question

You mention that the CDC and the pediatricians are looking at this question. What would you have them do? What would you have them consider?

Georgeanne Chapin

We would have them look at the ethics. We would have the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics and the America Academy of Family Practice—and every medical professional, every epidemiologists, every public health person, every human rights lawyer, and every American who believes in basic human rights—we would have them look at the ethical issues of removing a healthy body part.

We don't think that any of the medical reasons—we know that none of the medical reasons that have been used to justify circumcision—have held water over the years; people thought circumcision [prevents]:

  • tuberculosis
  • hip dysplasia
  • insanity
  • blindness
  • all kinds of crazy things!

It's in the literature; I'm not making it up!

You can find circumcision as a justification for almost anything we have feared over time. Circumcision has been put out there as something to ward off our fear and our anxiety about some kind of bad thing happening—usually a health thing. Most doctors know this—they know it intuitively; it's why they haven't circumcised their own children.

So, they just have to look at the ethics: We don't believe in cutting body parts off baby girls; there's no reason to cut body parts off baby boys.

We think if doctors took a more active role and when a parent came and said “I want my baby circumcised”—of course, if it was always that easy, the doctor would say “Well, I'm not going to do it.” We believe the doctors themselves often offer circumcision, even in the absence of parents asking—but if doctors said:

  • “You know, we don't do that anymore.”

  • “Sorry, but I'm not going to do that.”

  • “Gee, I don't think that if you knew the facts, you'd really want to do that; we don't do that.”

  • “I wouldn't give you antibiotics for your baby if your baby didn't have an infection. I wouldn't pull out your baby's fingernails to keep your baby from scratching his face. We don't do that. We're not going to do that.”

If doctors did that, [the practice of circumcision] would end.

Part 7: Q&A continued

Question

So what do you say to all the parents out there [who] have circumcised their son?

Georgeanne Chapin

Well, I think that Dr. Storms or Dr. Van Howe once quoted Maya Angelou:

You do better when you know better.

There's absolutely no point in self‑recrimination. There's no point in making men or boys who have lost this body part feel that they somehow should feel bad about themselves... I think as Soraya talked about, there's no benefit in feeling guilty or feeling victimized.

People know better now.

They should take action:
  • They can support Intact America.
  • They can support local efforts.
  • They can talk to their friends and family.

I taught law—bioethics—a few years ago, and one of the young men in my class [said the following] after we did a section on circumcision:

I'm going to go home; I'm going to yell at my mother, and I'm going to apologize to my son.

I don't know if he yelled at his mother and I don't know if he apologized to his son, but he told me [via email a few months later that] he was telling everybody he knew—everybody he knew—that this [is] not something that they should do to their children, that they should speak up when they have a family member who [is] expecting a child, and they should take action—and that's the healing a number of people in this room talked about today.

Question

Speaking of action, what specifically is Intact America doing to effect that change?

Georgeanne Chapin:

The campaign that we're launching today on intactamerica.org is a campaign directed to the Centers for Disease Control—which is the largest, of course, public health agency in the United States government, and we are asking people—by signing on to www.intactamerica.org—we're asking them to take action and to write to the CDC and say just what we've talked about today:

No matter what you might say about some studies conducted halfway around the world showing some reduction in transmission of disease among men who are circumcised—no matter what, this is unethical. Do not recommend. Do not be swayed.

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control have properly—if not aggressively enough—held the position over the years that circumcision is not medically necessary. We want them to continue to hold that position and indeed we want them to understand that the American public thinks—when they know the facts—that circumcision is unethical and that they should take a stronger statement and they should say “It should not be done.”

So, that is the campaign we're launching today. We're directing it towards the Centers for Disease Control, which is a public agency—[it] has accountability to the public. They [must] publish their processes—their process for looking at recommendations, the people they [consult], where they get their information, etc.—and if 10 million Americans write to them and say:

  • We will not allow our country to support circumcision.

  • We will not allow federal dollars—taxpayer dollars—to be spent on this violation of human rights.

[then] they will hear us, and they will change their course.

Question

You mention that the circumcision rates are declining in the United States, and yet there's a possibility of a recommendation for some consideration of health benefits now. Are other countries wrestling with this issue?

Georgeanne Chapin

I'm so glad you asked that question about other countries and circumcision. It's interesting, because this hype about [the] medical benefits of circumcision is doing absolutely nothing to make the Germans or the French or the English or the Australians or the Scandinavians or the Indians or the people in various South American countries—doing nothing—to have them change their practice, which is essentially not circumcising infant baby boys.

People in other countries who come here are appalled to see that Americans do this routinely. So, the rest of the world is persisting on the proper human rights course, which is that they don't approve; the rest of the modern, medically sophisticated world says that they do not cut their baby girls and they do not cut their baby boys.

Thank you so much to all of you.

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