CDC Says Circumcision Benefits Outweigh Its Risks, But Stops Short Of Telling Parents To Get Their Baby Boys Circumcised

Anti-male circumcision activists and believers — odd start, I know — take note: the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that circumcision's benefits exceed its risks, in a draft on long-awaited federal circumcision guidelines released Tuesday. The Associated Press reported that health officials said there is medical evidence in support of the procedure, and that it should be covered by medical insurers.

Male circumcision has been around for a long time for religious purposes, and in the U.S. today, is a cultural norm and largely practiced based on the family's private decision. However, there has been growing debate surrounding the ethics of the procedure, led by "intactivists" who aim to outlaw circumcision. Part of the argument against the procedure is that babies — on whom it is frequently performed — cannot consent to the operation. Some also label it "genital mutilation."

The New York Times reported Dr. Jonathan Mermin, director of the National Center for H.I.V./AIDS at the CDC, stressing the organization's role in providing "accurate information so people can make informed decisions." He added:

The first thing it’s important to know is that male circumcision has been associated with a 50 to 60 percent reduction of H.I.V. transmission, as well as a reduction in sexually transmitted infections such as herpes, bacterial vaginosis and the human papilloma virus (H.P.V.), which causes penile and cervical cancer.
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However, Dr. Mermin noted that circumcision does not ensure zero infection risks. He also suggested that circumcised men continue taking other safety measures, such as wearing condoms (obviously) and limiting sexual partners. According to the AP, the guidelines are a federal first, and have been in the works for about seven years now, following a slew of influential studies in Africa that indicated circumcision might help prevent the spread of AIDS.

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CDC officials have said that circumcision can lower a male's overall risk of sexually-transmitted diseases, penile cancer and urinary tract infections. Some studies have also shown it can reduce the risk of prostate cancer. The foreskin, according to the CDC, is an effective places for germs to grow.

Groups against the practice, such as the Circumcision Resource Center, argue that the functions of the foreskin are typically ignored by such studies, and point out the pain and trauma of the operation. In the AP report, the organization's executive director, Ronald Goldman, said of the guidelines:

[They] are part of a long historical American cultural and medical bias to attempt to defend this traumatic genital surgery.

Although the draft stopped short of recommending parents to get their baby boys circumcised, it does lay out the numerous benefits of the practice. In its current draft form, the guidelines will be subjected to public input for 45 days — during which I imagine it will face a plethora of equally ardent arguments on both sides — before being finalized next year.

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