Parents should weigh pros, cons, before making decision about circumcision

June 17, 2011|By MARIE GILBERT |
  • Dr. Lawrence Rogina, an obstetrician/gynecologist with Potomac OB/GYN in Waynesboro, Pa., says parents should talk with their doctor before making a decision about circumcising male children.
By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer

When Jeff and Lorrie Kreille were expecting their first child last year, they were faced with all sorts of decisions.

There was a name to choose, a nursery to decorate and the selection of godparents.

But one decision loomed heavy on their minds.

If it was a boy, should they have him circumcised?

"We honesty just wanted a healthy baby," Lorrie Kreille said. "And when the doctor said, ‘It's a boy' we were thrilled."

Hours later, though, the Hagerstown couple faced their first important decision as parents.

"We decided against circumcision," Kreille said. "We did a lot of research on it prior to our son's birth. And while we would never judge other families who decide in favor of the procedure, we were against it."

The Kreilles don't belong to a religion that requires it. Nor was there a medical necessity.

"We simply saw no reason for our son to go under the knife just hours after he was born," Lorrie Kreille said.

Circumcision — the removal of foreskin from the penis — has been an accepted practice since the beginning of the 20th century.

But over the past few decades, people have begun asking whether the procedure, grounded in ancient tradition, should continue.

Recently, actor Russell Crowe called circumcision "barbaric and stupid."

And in San Francisco, activists campaigned to put a proposal on the ballot this November making circumcision a crime.

According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, hospitals in the United States perform more than 1.2 million circumcisions each year.

Those who choose the procedure generally do so for reasons related to social conformity or religion. Circumcision is a common practice among Jews, Muslims and some Christians.

But while the majority of American males are circumcised, a growing number of parents, like the Kreilles, see it as an unnecessary intervention. A recent government report noted that infant circumcisions have declined overall since the 1960s.

Dr. Lawrence Rogina, an obstetrician/gynecologist with Potomac OB/GYN in Waynesboro, Pa., an affiliate of Summit Health, said he hasn't seen a change in the trend.

"Most parents still choose to have their sons circumcised," he said.

Circumcisions are usually performed within two days of a baby boy's birth, Rogina explained. Parents who have their sons circumcised for religious reasons may require the procedure to be performed about a week later.

And while most people associate circumcisions with newborns, Rogina said "males can have circumcisions at any stage of life, including childhood, adolescence or adulthood."

As with any procedure, there are risks and benefits associated with circumcisions, Rogina said, and parents should talk with their doctor before making a decision about circumcising their son.

"It has been reported that there is a lower incidence of HIV in circumcised males compared to those who have not been circumcised," Rogina said.

Supporting that comment is a report from the World Health Organization, which emphasized that "male circumcision has significant health benefits that outweigh the very low risk of complications. Of particular importance in regions ravaged by AIDS, circumcision has been shown to lower men's risk for HIV acquisition by about 60 percent."

"Also," Rogina noted, "circumcision can possibly prevent inflammation of the foreskin and other foreskin problems."

And, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, circumcised boys develop fewer urinary tract infections in their first year, as well as the high fevers associated with them. And circumcision virtually eliminates serious penile cancers, although this disease is rare in all men, whether or not they have been circumcised.

Rogina said the risk of developing problems following a circumcision procedure is low. But some babies might experience bleeding, infection, injury to the penis or poor cosmetic appearance.

According to the Mayo Clinic, death rarely occurs, making it the safest of surgeries.

For years, there has been a debate about whether infants feel pain during circumcision.

"Yes, there is pain involved," Rogina said. "Parents should talk with their doctor or another qualified professional performing the procedure about ways to reduce pain."

Throughout the debate of whether or not circumcision has a place in today's society, the American Academy of Pediatrics' bottom line is common-sensical: "Because circumcision is not essential to a child's health, parents should choose what is best for their child by looking at the benefits and risks."

The academy's task force on circumcision has been reviewing recent research and is expected to issue an official new position on the topic next year.

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