Surgeon: Circumcision risks too great

By Jarrod Booker

Circumcision may not be as beneficial as it seems. Photo / Thinkstock
Circumcision may not be as beneficial as it seems. Photo / Thinkstock

An Auckland paediatric surgeon has hit out against calls for for routine circumcision of newborn boys, saying the risks of the painful "non-consensual mutilation" far outweigh any benefits.

Dr Neil Price, of Starship Children's Health, questioned a study led by Sydney University professor of medicine Brian Morris which claimed evidence in favour of infant circumcision was overwhelming.

Dr Price said any health benefit was very small when put into context and compared to the risk of complications such as bleeding and damage to the penis.

He also questioned the ethics of performing such a "painful procedure on a non-consenting infant".

"If anyone believes that this is not painful they should just listen to the screams that accompany blood testing and immunisation in babies and they should get an idea that 'yes, infants do feel pain'."

About 10 per cent of New Zealand's male babies are circumcised - often for cultural or religious reasons.

The Government pays for the procedure only for medical reasons, such as frequent infections.

The research by Professor Morris and his colleagues found the risk of urinary tract infection and kidney inflammation in uncircumcised infants was 10 times greater than in those who were circumcised.

Later in life the uncircumcised had a higher risk of prostate and penile cancer, and their risk of contracting HIV and syphilis, the risk was three to eight times greater.

But Dr Price said the findings seemed to be the same "blinkered ideology" Professor Morris had been "peddling for years".

"We could prevent 50 per cent of testicular tumours, which are far more common, by removing one testicle from each male. Would Professor Morris be interested in this?"

The purported benefits, when put in context, were insignificant. Recurrent urinary tract infections, for example, were rare in boys less than 12 months old, and penile cancer was a rare disease affecting elderly men.

"The complication rate of circumcision even in the best hands is over 1 per cent, therefore more boys will be harmed than advantaged," he said.

"In the last year I have had to reconstruct two boys who had all of the skin removed from their penis by a 'routine' circumcision, and there have been multiple cases of excessive bleeding," Dr Price said.

To trim or not

For:

* Reduced risk of urinary tract infection and kidney inflammation.
* Reduced risk of prostate and penile cancer.
* Reduced risk of contracting HIV and syphilis.

Against:

* Bleeding, which can be severe.
* Meatal stenosis (scarring of the hole the urine comes out of), which can occur in boys and men who had infant circumcision. This can require multiple surgeries to correct.
* Too much or too little skin can be removed, which can lead to cosmetic and functional issues.
* The penis can be damaged, and amputation, partial amputation, and damage to the urethra are recognised complications of circumcision.

- NZ Herald

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