Circumcision refers to the removal of some or all the penile foreskin and can be performed for medical or cultural and religious reasons. Circumcision is a common practice among certain populations and has proven effective in reducing the risks of occurrence of some conditions. While traditional circumcision usually takes place between birth and puberty, depending on specific beliefs, medical circumcision is mainly performed during adulthood when the need arises.
Both the health benefits and the ethical legitimacy of the procedure have traditionally raised lively debates. In 2012, the revised policy statement of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) led to some biased readings of the document, fueling the debate (Freedman, 2016). This paper offers an overview of the practice of circumcision and examines some of the most common arguments for and against circumcision.
Male circumcision is distributed differently over the world, following the diffusion of some cultures and religions. Most circumcisions are performed in Africa, the Middle East, and the United States, and are more common in arid climates (Morris et al., 2016).
Religion is the first motivation behind circumcision: almost all Jewish and Muslim males are circumcised. Among Jews, newborns are circumcised on the eighth day after the birth, while Muslim boys undergo the practice between childhood and pubescence, depending on specific traditions. In some cases, circumcision might prevent the insurgence of some conditions. Adult males can be circumcised for personal choice or medical reasons. Particularly, circumcision has proven a deterrent against human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
Male circumcision is one of the most common surgeries in the world; if correctly performed in aseptic environments, it is safe and does not have harmful collateral effects. Most of the arguments around circumcision stem from rituals and beliefs, which are so rooted among different cultural traditions to produce biased and controversial medical literature (Freedman, 2016; Friedman et al., 2016).
When, in 2012, the AAP stated that the health benefits of circumcision in newborn males outweigh the risks, many authors sponsored the need for circumcision even in those civilizations where cultural norms were different. However, these researchers failed to notice the AAP pointed out the scope of health benefits does not justify routine circumcision (Freedman, 2016). Arguments and biased literature do not inform the public adequately and lead to a sterile dispute within the scientific world.
Benefits for the health include improved hygienic practices and decreased urinary tract infections in children, and prevention of specific conditions such as phimosis and balanitis in adolescents (Friedman et al., 2016). From a medical perspective, the most crucial benefit of circumcision is the effect of decreasing the incidence of STIs.
Research conducted in Uganda, Kenya, and South Africa showed evidence that circumcision reduces the rate of the insurgence of STIs, including HIV, human papillomavirus, mycoplasma, genital ulcer disease, syphilis, and herpes simplex virus (Friedman et al., 2016). Indeed, these outcomes can provide stringent guidelines to improve the health and life of millions of people in high-risk zones, especially in Africa.
Most of the arguments against circumcision have no reliable scientific evidence. Often, opponents resort to human rights to support their view and state that parental decisions are a violation of children’s rights (Jacobs & Arora, 2015). Other reasons against circumcision include the limited number of immediate benefits, the possible risk of complications, especially in countries where proper aseptic requirements are not met. Finally, circumcision might be judged as mutilation once a child has become an adult.
Male circumcision is a common practice worldwide, and it is mainly founded on traditional and religious motivations. However, the medical evidence shows that circumcision has some positive effects in reducing specific conditions, primarily related to STIs. Circumcision is the focus of a lively debate on its efficacy and ethics; however, as the arguments involve cultural, social, and religious factors, the dispute seems to be endemic, with the manifest difficulty of reaching a common and shared view.
Freedman, A. L. (2016). The circumcision debate: Beyond benefits and risks, Pediatrics,137(5), e20160594. Web.
Friedman, B., Khoury, J., Petersiel, N., Yahalomi, T., Paul, M., & Neuberger, A. (2016). Pros and cons of circumcision: An evidence-based overview, Clinical Microbiology, and Infection, 22, 768-774. Web.
Jacobs, A. J., & Arora, K. S. (2015). Ritual male infant circumcision and human rights. The American Journal of Bioethics, 15(2), 30-39. Web.
Morris, B. J., Wamai, R. G., Henebeng, E. B., Tobian A. A., Klausner, J., D., Banerjee, J., & Hankins, C. A. (2016). Estimation of country-specific and global prevalence of male circumcision. Population Health Metrics, 14(4), 1-13. Web.