This article on circumcision was written by Marian Tompson, the founder and past president of La Leche League International. It appeared in “The People’s Doctor-A Medical Newsletter for Consumers” by Robert S. Mendelsohn, M.D., Evanston, Illinois 60204, Vol. 4, No. 12, p 8.
“If our two sons had been born under any other circumstances, they probably would have been circumcised. But to begin with, our family doctor opposed circumcision- a rather unusual position for a doctor to take in the late 1950’s when our eldest son was born. Dr. W.* would not even perform the operation unless medically indicated, and his opinion carried a lot of weight with us. Then too, our sons were born at home, and the whole idea of submitting them to the violence of surgery without anesthesia and all the possible complications of surgery went against everything we were trying to accomplish by having our babies at home, particularly when that surgery seemed to serve no real purpose. So we decided against circumcision, and we felt it was the right decision. We did have some concerns, however, about the effect being “different” might have on our sons as they grew up.
In those days, almost nothing appeared in print on the pros and cons of circumcision. In fact, many people, unaware that the United States is the only developed country where newborns are routinely circumcised for non-religious reasons, didn’t know they had a choice. Some of our friends thought we might be breaking the law. Even in 1978, when the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists adopted the position taken several years earlier by the American Academy of Pediatricians that “there is no absolute medical indication for routine circumcision of the newborn,” few heard about it. Indeed, during the following year, 85 percent of male newborns in the United States- nearly 1,500,000 babies- were circumcised. (By way of contrast, in Norway where this surgery is performed only when indicated, the rate is 0.02 per cent.)
When a writer for the “Village Voice” interviewed 10 per cent of Manhattan obstetricians, more than half said they believed circumcision was unnecessary. Nevertheless, they performed the operation on more than 90 per cent of the males they delivered, indicating that the parents’ desire for the surgery was so strong it would have been useless to try and convince them otherwise. But when mothers were interviewed, two out of three stated that if the doctor had suggested their child not be circumcised, they would have accepted his opinion!
Today, you don’t have to wait for your doctor to bring up the subject. All the information you’ll ever want, and then some, can be found in the new book “Circumcision, An American Health Fallacy” by Edward Wallerstein.** Fully documented and based on an intensive review of the medical and popular literature, this book describes how circumcision became the “wonder drug” of American Medicine and carefully examines the claims made over the years for the prevention and cure of a list of ailments ranging from asthma, epilepsy and tuberculosis to modern-day worries about cancer, hygiene and sexual performance.
Still, what about the effect on a boy of being different? To quote a young man we know very well who has been through it, “Don’t worry about it!””
*Dr. W. refers to the late Dr. Gregory J. White, whose wife Mary helped found La Leche League International with her friend and fellow Catholic, Marian Tompson.
FROM: The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, Third Edition
La Leche League International, Franklin Park, Illinois, July 1981: 92-93.
ELECTIVE SURGERY FOR YOU OR BABY
If you are going to be in the hospital anyway for the birth of your baby, you or your doctor may suggest that you have some other medical matter attended to. Examples of elective surgery for the mother include stripping the legs of varicose veins or tying the fallopian tubes (tubal ligation). As for the baby, it may be considered almost routine to circumcise boy babies when they are only a few hours or days old. But circumcision is elective surgery and you have a choice of whether or not to have your baby circumcised. You can also choose to wait a while before having this done. We bring these subjects up because, physically and emotionally, these procedures all take their toll on mother and child. Since they represent elective surgery, their appropriateness at this critical time must be questioned.
Circumcision is as painful a procedure to a newborn as it is to an adult. As a religious rite, circumcision is not performed until the baby is eight days old, when he is less apt to hemorrhage. The reasons given in the past for the non-religious, almost routine circumcision of the newborn were generally hygienic and are no longer accepted by many physicians and parents. If you’re interested in learning more about this subject, see the Book List at the end of this book.*
* Book List (page 349)
Circumcision: An American Health Fallacy by Edward Wallerstein
Springer Publishing: 1980. Softcover.
Available from Birth & Life
A very definitive book, covering twelve years of research. The author
feels that circumcision is a solution in search of a problem. Extensive
arguments against routine circumcision are presented in a most readable