A New Zealand academic says the authors of a study suggesting male circumcision has major health benefits have confused cleanliness with godliness.
The study of American data suggested half of uncircumcised men would contract an adverse medical condition caused by their foreskin during their life, and that the benefits of circumcision exceeded the risks by 100 to one.
Professor Brian Roberts of the University of Sydney said infant circumcision should be regarded as equivalent to childhood vaccination, and as such it would be unethical not to routinely offer parents circumcision for their baby boy.
But Professor Kevin Pringle, the Professor of Paediatrics and Head of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the University of Otago in Wellington, says he found the paper extremely worrying.
Prof Pringle says the report quotes a more than 20-fold increase in the risk of penile cancer for uncircumcised men, but the figures didn't agree.
"In fact, the incidence of penile cancer in Israel (almost 100 per cent of males circumcised) is about the same as that in Scandinavia (circumcision the exception), suggesting that it is cleanliness, rather than godliness that is important," he said.
Prof Pringle said the authors overestimated the level of cases of two other conditions, phimosis and balanitis, and said 80 per cent of children with phimosis respond to the application of a steroid cream. Only a small percentage needed a circumcision.
Prof Pringle said the comparison with vaccination was inappropriate as most of the diseases for which infants are vaccinated are potentially lethal or produce significant handicap.
"Circumcision is an intervention with significant risks (ignored or minimised by the authors of this paper) to prevent problems that will not develop in the vast majority of males."