Critical Evaluation of Adler’s Challenge to the cdc’s Male Circumcision Recommendations

In: The International Journal of Children's Rights
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  • a) University of Washington School of Law, USA
  • b) Treuman Katz Center for Pediatric Bioethics, Seattle Children’s Hospital, Seattle, Washington, USA diek@uw.edu
  • c) University of Washington, USA
  • d) University of California Los Angeles, USA
  • e) University of Sydney, Australia

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We evaluate Peter Adler’s challenge to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (cdc) draft recommendations on male circumcision (this issue, see pp. 237–262). The cdc advocates elective male circumcision (mc) to improve public health in the usa based on strong scientific evidence. In marked contrast to the cdc, Adler’s criticisms depend on speculative claims and obfuscation of the scientific data. Adler’s central argument that circumcision in infancy should be delayed to allow a boy to make up his own mind as an adult fails to appreciate that circumcision later in life is a more complex operation, entails higher risk, is more likely to involve general anaesthesia and presents financial, psychological and organisational barriers. These limitations are avoided by circumcision early in infancy, when it is convenient, safe, quick, low risk, usually involves local anaesthesia and provides benefits immediately. Benefits of male circumcision include: protection against: urinary tract infections that are ten times higher in uncircumcised infants; inflammatory skin conditions; other foreskin problems; sexually transmitted infections and genital cancers in the male and his female sexual partners. Circumcision during infancy is also associated with faster healing and improved cosmetic outcomes. Circumcision does not impair sexual function or pleasure. Some authorities regard the failure to offer circumcision as unethical, just as it would be unethical to fail to encourage paediatric vaccination. Since the benefits vastly outweigh the risks, each intervention is in the best interests of the child. In conclusion, Adler’s criticisms of the cdc’s evidence-based male circumcision policy are flawed scientifically, ethically and legally, and should be dismissed as endangering public health and individual well-being.

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