The American Academy of Pediatrics has made their first statement on the subject of circumcision in 13 years. The verdict: the benefits of circumcision are greater than the risks.
Circumcision is the removal of the foreskin from the penis. The United States has one of the highest rates of circumcision in the world, though the number has fallen in recent years. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that as many as 59 percent of newborn boys were circumcised in 2010, but that number has decreased from nearly 63 percent in 1999. Circumcision is required for practicing Jewish boys, and is a common ritual for Muslim boys. Among other religious groups and people who do not practice or ascribe to a particular religion in the United States, the practice has become fairly widely spread due to public health concerns.
The last time the AAP weighed in on the subject was in 1999, and their opinion was fairly neutral. But since then, the debate on the merits of circumcision has gotten louder. In San Francisco, lawmakers tried to outlaw the practice. A court in a region of Germany banned the practice altogether. Medicaid in 18 states does not cover the procedure and doctors worry that private insurance may follow suit.
But, after studying about 1,000 different studies on the procedure, the AAP said in a statement, "[The] health benefits of circumcision include lower risks of acquiring HIV, genital herpes, human papilloma virus and syphilis. Circumcision also lowers the risk of penile cancer over a lifetime; reduces the risk of cervical cancer in sexual partners, and lowers the risk of urinary tract infections in the first year of life." The AAP also says that they believe that insurance companies should cover the procedure.
The AAP's verdict has been met with a mixture of joy and criticism. Yair Rosenberg wrote in Tablet magazine, which caters to Jewish readers, "The statement solidifies the scientific consensus behind the advisability of infant male circumcision (noting that complications are more likely to arise when the procedure is performed later in life) and places the traditional practice squarely within the realm of sound medical science."
But not everyone is thrilled by the decision. Georganne Chapin, the executive director of anti-circumcision group Intact America, said, "By ignoring the substantial body of literature showing supposed 'benefits' of circumcision to be nonexistent, ignoring the fact that infant circumcision violates bioethical principles and children's rights, ignoring the fact that a growing number of European physician groups view circumcision as a violation of children's rights, calling for increased funding for this non-therapeutic and harmful procedure, and actively soliciting other health professionals to enlist in the circumcision enterprise, the AAP is exposing itself, as well as its member physicians, to moral and legal liability for perpetrating this harmful and unethical practice." Intact America also noted that most of the data studied is based on research conducted in Africa.
The AAP does state that the decision should be one taken by each individual family.
The AAP's report was published in the journal Pediatrics.