Bioethics Blogs

‘Unethical and harmful’: the case against circumcising baby boys

The foreskin is the most sensitive part of the penis. Flickr/NoVa Hokie

For centuries, children have been subjected to cultural and medicalised practices that were ultimately proven harmful and a violation of basic bodily integrity. Such practices have included foot binding, forehead flattening, scarification and genital cutting.

In English-speaking countries, the practice of cutting the genitals of male children was gradually medicalised over a period of 150 years with the benign-sounding label “circumcision.”

Today, there is increasing awareness that infant male circumcision – once deemed a “parental choice” – is really an unnecessary, irreversible and harmful bodily modification.

With the recently discovered functions of the foreskin and a growth in awareness, we’re fortunately beginning to see the rights and experience of the child become the paramount consideration in discussions about circumcision.

The foreskin

The human foreskin is a contiguous part of the skin system of the clitoris or penis.

In infant males, the foreskin is attached to the head of the penis (glans). The outer foreskin protects the more sensitive inner foreskin and the glans from abrasion and injury.

The moveable skin facilitates sexual pleasure. In fact, the foreskin is typically the most sensitive area of the penis.

When circumcised males lose sensitivity and skin mobility, it’s likely to significantly alter their sexual experience.

One recent Danish cross-sectional study concluded that male circumcision was associated with sexual difficulties for men and their female partners.

Bioethics of a non-treatment surgery on minors

Surgery without consent is ethical only in cases for:

1) incapacitated patients, in order to save their life

2) minors, with proxy consent from a parent or guardian, but only for surgery that addresses an underlying condition.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.