Health & Medicine

As legality of circumcision is debated, U.S. group recommends the practice

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A driver takes a photo of a small group protesting against male circumcision outside a clinic that performs the operation in Vancouver, Canada, Aug. 4, 2012. The Canadian Foreskin Awareness Project has been lobbying for a ban on all circumcisions. (Photo

Last week, a major fear of Germany's Jewish and Muslim populations was born out when a criminal complaint was lodged against a German rabbi, David Goldberg, for performing a circumcision.

“Religious freedom cannot be used as an excuse for carrying out violence against an under-age child,” wrote an unnamed doctor, in a complaint he filed against Goldberg, according to local media reports.

In June, a German court ruled that circumcision amounted to "bodily harm" and banned it throughout the country. That sparked an uproar among Germany's Jewish and Muslim communities, who view circumcision of baby boys as religiously necessary.

A government spokesman, shortly after the court ruling, said the legislature would move to legalize 'responsibly performed' circumcisions this fall, but until that time the court ruling remains controlling in its jurisdiction and influential across Germany.

“I am shocked,” Cologne Rabbi Yaron Engelmayer, co-chairman of the national umbrella group of Orthodox rabbis in Germany, said to the Times of Israel. “De facto it looks as if doctors across the country are afraid (to perform circumcisions).”

American Academy of Pediatricians Says It Is Riskier Not to Circumcise a Baby Boy
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Goldberg, a 64-year-old qualified mohel (ritual circumciser), says he's performed more than 3,000 circumcisions in his career. Goldberg said he only learned of the complaint from journalists.

But controversy over circumcision isn't confined to Germany. The practice has been all-but-halted in Australian hospitals and is declining in the United States as well.

Various studies say about 79 percent of adult American men have been circumcised, the vast majority of them as infants. But that rate has been declining as activists have increased pressure and focused attention on the practice.

On Monday, the American Academy of Pediatrics waded into the debate, by formally revising their policy to declare the health benefits of the procedure clearly outweigh any risks.

That had been the academy's position until 1999, when they back away from the claim. In the wake of new evidence, however, a 14-person group concluded circumcision is something that prevents positive health benefits. Since 1999, the rate of circumcisions has declined to approximately 56 percent of newborn boys.

"The health benefits of male circumcision include a drop in the risk of urinary tract infection in the first year of life by up to 90 percent," Susan Blank, who led the academy group, said to NPR. "It drops the risk of heterosexual HIV acquisition by about 60 percent. It drops the risk of human papillomavirus (HPV), herpes virus and other infectious genital ulcers."

Intact America, a group that strongly opposes infant circumcision, blasted the academy report and called for its retraction.

“The Report presents highly selective information to promote the benefits of a useless and unethical surgery, and completely ignores the rights of the child to an intact body,” Georganne Chapin, the group's executive director, said in a statement. “Just as understandable revulsion of female genital mutilation has led to the outlawing of that practice, modern nations are recognizing that boys, too, have the right to an intact body.”

Meanwhile, in Germany, prosecutors so far have declined to say whether they'll follow the criminal complaint with actual charges. 

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