Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Today’s genital integrity post is going to focus on doctors. Several years ago I was able to join many other intactivists at the annual convention of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists in Philadelphia. I was able to speak to hundreds of doctors in just a few days as I handed out a flyer that I had written.

Here I am with Marilyn Milos, co-founder of NOCIRC

It was very interesting to be able to be able to speak to the people right on the front lines of circumcision in America. There was one comment that was repeated over and over by the doctors:

“The parents demand it.”

That was so interesting to me because in my interactions with parents, they typically seemed to point to medical reasons for doing it. In speaking with doctors, a large portion of them freely admitted that there was no medical benefit to the surgery and they were simply performing a cultural service at the request of parents. They also tried to shrug off their own responsibility as if their hands were tied when they were faced with a parental request that they circumcise the baby. A vicious cycle with each player pointing to the other to justify what they do.

There were many doctors from foreign countries who were openly embarrassed for what their American peers were doing. Many others said that they refuse to participate in circumcisions. There were also doctors who were very enthusiastic about circumcision and mocked the Genital Integrity rhetoric. I can say that doctors are not immune to peer pressure, and many of the obstetricians, when passing by with a group of peers, would refuse to acknowledge the Genital Integrity protesters, but some individuals would return alone, to thank us for speaking up, and to express their hope that routine infant circumcision would one day end.

There were two doctors in particular who made such a lasting impression on me with what they said. One, a fit, petite woman with short curly grey hair and fashionable prescription glasses was crossing the street during the lunch hour. I offered her my flyer and without glancing at it- she took it and threw it on the ground. She snapped at me with a pride and arrogance that I have never encountered before and said,

“I have circumcised over 5000 babies and the ONLY ones I felt bad about were the Jews… because I was taking the money away from the mohel!”

I was stunned. I reached in my purse for a pen and with a shaking hand I wrote it down word for word.

For today’s blog entry I though it would be interesting to illustrate what 5000 people looks like. I did a google image search and had to laugh that I had forgotten about the artist Spencer Tunick who poses crowds of nudes in urban environments. I found a picture (I have blurred it out some) which contains 75 people, men and women. I used photoshop to patch that picture over and over till I had 5000 represented. Several years have passed, so I assume that her number has grown considerably since then.

click the picture to view larger

Now, I would like you to imagine that grey haired 130 pound woman, with a megaphone, standing in front of a group of 5000 men, whose genitals she had altered with her knife, and to hear her say it one more time:

“I circumcised every single one of you and the ONLY ones I felt bad about were the Jews… because I took the money away from a mohel!”

The other doctor was a man, at the peak of middle aged attractiveness, and I’ll confess as a 6 foot tall woman, he was even more attractive to me because he was about 6’4”. Protesters with banners and signs had been told to stay on one side of the street, but because I only had my flyer- I was able to stand close to the entrance, and slip my paper to people rushing by, many not even suspecting that I was part of the protest across the street. I saw this tall man coming, and I think he saw me too- I gave him my flyer and he paused to read the title. He became enraged and got even taller- leaned forward and backed me up against the wall. He took a tone with me like I was a belligerent little girl and he was a school principal, he snapped:

“You don’t even know what you are talking about! Have you ever seen one!!??”

I tried to imagine what sort of objective rational counseling a pregnant woman could expect to get from that arrogant (obviously) circumcised man. As an artist, a world traveler, a sexually experienced woman, a student of anatomy and a mother of a son, of course I had “seen one”… but I know that many American women have not.

In this world of activism, the fact that many- if not most of this generation of our male doctors in America is circumcised is a major consideration. Many of these doctors have no idea how to care for an intact child, and many children are harmed by bad advice coming from them. Many other children who have minor easily treatable problems are circumcised because their doctors see their foreskin, not the pathology, as what ails them. This interaction was my proof that even medical professionals are not immune to the loss of not only their foreskin, but the loss of objectivity that infant circumcision inflicts.

There is a movement to end routine infant circumcision from within the medical community you can read more about them here:
Doctors Opposing Circumcision Website

Here is the text of my flyer if your are curious:

Ten great reasons for Obstetricians to quit circumcising babies

1.To comply with ACOG guidelines of informed consent.
Being born with a normal male sex organ is not an emergency. A male can make this decision for himself if he chooses. ACOG makes a great effort to protect the physical integrity of female patients and to secure consent for all procedures, the willingness to ignore these guidelines in order to circumcise infant males highlights a sexist double standard. Males should also be respected as whole and embodied persons.

2. Circumcision violates the Hippocratic Oath. Participation in an invasive non-medical procedure is an indicator of a physician’s professionalism.

3. American circumcision is a global embarrassment.
Callis Osaghae bled to death after a home circumcision in Ireland. Many Irish doctors were incensed when it was suggested that they should preform circumcisions for the immigrants who requested them. They felt this was an abuse of their medical training and a clear ethical broach. American doctors are protected by law, from pressure to circumcise females, yet no such legislation protects doctors from the pressure to circumcise males. Their inability to stand up to that pressure, in the absence of state mandated legislation, reflects poorly on their ability to comply with internationally accepted medical standards.

4. Obstetricians are specialists.
Despite this, obstetricians have cornered a market outside their specialty by popularizing the circumcision of male neonates. High pressure tactics in the hospital and a service industry conveyor belt give indifferent or reluctant parents the opportunity to secure a circumcision without having to do anything. A circumcising OB will rarely do any followup and will also not encounter any of the common long term pediatric or adult issues of circumcision damage. This confusion of the role of an obstetrician as child circumciser reflects poorly on the obstetric profession and abusively forces maternity nurses to cooperate.

5. Soliciting elective surgery from women in labor is abusive and unethical.
There is an implied medical endorsement when hospital staff solicits in the course of admitting patients. The AMA circumcision policy states that a lack of information and deferral of the decision until after the birth contribute to the high rate of circumcision in America. This means that if parents were given more time and more information, fewer would circumcise their son.

6. Unnecessary surgery exposes a circumciser to avoidable liability.

7. The refusal to treat infant pain is well documented. The obstetrician circumciser is the worst offender of any medical specialty; with the most appalling record right here in the northeastern US. Despite the AAP admonition that children not be exposed to the pain of circumcision, many medical schools still teach circumcision without pain relief. (using living human children)
Circumcision Practice Patterns in the United States
Stang HJ, Snellman LW Pediatrics. 1998 Jun;101(6):E5

8. Circumcision in America did not spring from our culture, it came from our doctors.
Circumcision is now known to have no medical value, yet doctors inexplicably offer it as a cultural service, maneuvering consent from fathers circumcised in an era predating modern respect for patient autonomy.

9. Circumcision gains public acceptance at the expense of a physician’s professional integrity.
As long as physicians are willing to involve themselves in non-medical surgery, parents will be confused about the intended purpose of such surgery.

10. The best reason to say, "NO!" is your own.

This message to obstetricians comes respectfully to you from a survivor of Placenta Previa


bubah1mau said...

Author, you are a courageous person. I know what it is to hand out, or sell for a nominal fee, leaflets or newsletter-type publications where there is a specific, determined group opposed to your ideology.

I haven't done this type of thing for many years, but I know the feelings of tiredness, and quiet pride, after advancing an ideology for hours at a time this way.

I also have met the two types of detractors you refer to in your text, although not face to face in this particular cause. I have encountered the same hostile certainty at Yahoo-group blog sites that you encountered face-to-face, the same pride in undoing the lives of thousands of people.

This mentality is the same as a Mengele, who can vivisect hundreds or thousands of humans in the name of pseudoscience, and go right on contenting themselves at the spectacle of the mangled, diminished, traumatized lives they leave behind.

I have blogged at other sites that I wouldn't personally squeeze the trigger or conspire to murder a baby-circumciser; but I wouldn't do a great deal to defend one, or prevent the murder of one, either. In my opinion, baby-circumcisers are the same kind of bullies as Mengele, Stalin, or Himmler.

Instead of destroying, or radically intervening in the lives of hundreds or thousands or millions of people for political power, they do the same thing in the sexual lives of people, taking pleasure in their personal power to torture, traumatize, and radically alter the lives of hundreds, thousands, or millions of defenseless babies. How could I lift a finger to defend this kind of human-hating trash?

Sarah said...

Thank you so much for commenting- but for the sake of anyone who is thinking of trying to do some in-person activism- I have to say that I find it really easy to do that kind of activism, and I'd even say that it's very relaxing, almost cathartic for me to do! In my every day life, I don't typically talk about it except to my closest friends- I wish I could but I am reluctant that I might alienate people in my close circle. On a day what I have an intactivist job to do- I feel so free, I have the permission and authority to speak from my heart. I even enjoy talking to people who may disagree with me- because I feel so thankful just for the opportunity to get this out in the open without any concern about how to broach the topic.