Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Latest in Penis Science

NYTimes has run a piece in its health blog, titled : "Should You Circumcise Your Baby Boy?" and oft subtitled as "Why Science Can’t Help You Much in Deciding on Circumcision"

It's the usual mix of "maybe circumcision has some health benefits!" evangelism, the highlights of actual facts being:

  1. "100 boys would need to be circumcised to prevent one urinary tract infection."
  2. "more than 300,000 infants might need to be circumcised to prevent one case of penile cancer."
  3. There is no benefit regarding HIV transmission rates, as surveys in African countries facing very specific public health issues do not magically apply equally well to every population around the globe
  4. "Surgical complications, while rare, are greater than zero."

This is the same nonsense that has floated around Slate, NPR, the CDC and every other organization looking for an excuse to explain bizarre American medical practices. (Who doesn't love American exceptionalism?)

The odd thing about author Aaron Carroll's contribution to this "debate", is how the talk of science is dealt the obvious religious trump card.

All cards on the table: I’m Jewish, and I’m circumcised, as are both my sons. The procedure has a spiritual weight in my community. When confronted by people who use terms like mutilation, I generally recoil. Circumcising my boys was a personal decision for my wife and me, and I understand the various arguments for and against. People angry about this choice seem to imagine that we haven’t thoroughly considered it.

Yes, this covenant with the almighty God is a contract that needs to see some cut foreskin of an infant or else... something bad will happen. Soon after sharing the article, the author tweets "Today has been another lesson for me that antisemitism is still alive and well."

Within the space of a few hours a headline that is supposedly related to medical science is now about religious bigotry. "Intactivists" may be disregarded until they somehow prove themselves sufficiently tolerant of religious argumentation.

The odd thing about Aaron Carroll's evangelism is that Carroll includes nearly every datapoint about circumcision he could find - except for the many documented cases of infection (and even death) after an unusual bris still practiced in extremely religious communities. It's not clear whether Aaron Carroll thinks this should remain legal or not.

It could be that Aaron Carroll not only thinks metzitzah b'peh should remain legal, but also billable to one's insurance provider. Surely anything as much as co-pay would be antisemitic.

And the final paragraph -
Given that religion and culture are tied up in this, it’s clear that this issue won’t be decided soon. It’s also clear that evidence won’t make anyone’s choice easier. In the end, the decision as to whether parents opt to have their babies circumcised will remain a personal one.

This conclusion makes a mockery of the definition of what qualifies as a "personal decision".

1 comment:

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