Somewhere in this country, at this moment, a male child has been strapped to a "bodyboard" and his penis is being sliced with a scalpel. His tiny body shakes uncontrollably as his screams pierce the air. He has not been given any type of anesthetic and, oddly enough, his parents have given their consent to this mutilation.
No, the boy is not being attacked in some bizarre ritual. He is being circumcised. In a routine circumcision the foreskin covering the male penis is surgically removed. The surgery takes approximately thirty minutes in a hospital. In a Jewish ceremony the procedure takes about three minutes.
Circumcision has continued through the years despite great controversy over whether or not it is necessary. Medical experts hail the medical advantages and religious leaders promote the supreme sacrifice to God.
Rosemary Romberg, author of "Circumcision - The Painful Dilemma" asks, "...is the foreskin a useless piece of tissue - an 'anomaly' in need of surgical correction:? Is the human male body made wrong the way it normally comes into the world?" Circumcision is a painful procedure at any age. Why then do so many parents consent to having their child subjected to pain and trauma? Do the social reasons and medical advantages outweigh the pain inflicted on such a tiny child?
Circumcision has been around in all parts of the world for more than 4000 years. In parts of Africa the practice of circumcision was used as part of the adolescent initiation rites. If a teenage boy refused the surgery he was considered weak. Romberg states that "...the social ostracism would have been greater trauma and punishment than the initial pain...". The circumcision was considered a test of endurance comparable to the test a woman went through during childbirth. Thus circumcision was endured and accepted in Africa and later in our society.
Passages from the Bible concerning circumcision are conflicting. Genesis 17:11 says, "And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you." But according to 1 Corinthians 7:19-20, "Circumcision does not mean a thing, and uncircumcision means not a thing, but observance of God's commandments (does). In whatever state each one was called, let him remain in it."
So which passage should be followed? That would depend on whether you are Christian and follow the New Testament, yet there are plenty of Christians who circumcise their sons. Rabbi Moses Maimonides says, "No one...should circumcise himself or his son for any other reason but pure faith...". This is sound advice for those parents questioning only the religious aspects of circumcision.
I have three sons and they have all been circumcised. Not once did I question the procedure. When my first son was born I was brought the permission slip to sign while I was in labor. Being in quite a bit of pain I didn't have the time or energy to question what I was signing - I just signed and waved the nurse away.
That son was born ill and remained in the hospital for two weeks enduring painful penicillin shots in the thigh. The day I was to take him home he would not nurse and he kicked his little legs furiously, crying out in plaintive wails. Being a new mother, I was very upset and thought he must be ill again. The doctor checked him out and replied that there was no need to worry, the baby had been circumcised that morning and that was why he was crying.
I breathed a sigh of relief. But I was not prepared for the sight of his penis when I changed his diaper. It was swollen to the size of my thumb and was beet red in color. Again the doctor assured me that this was normal.. Nine years ago I accepted that assurance. But now I question how a swollen, red, and sliced penis can be called normal. The penis my son was born with was normal and God given - why did it have to be altered?
The great Irish poet, William Butler Yeats discusses in his essays the concept that we are all raised in a myth. We are all taught to exist as metaphors, as symbols of something supposedly greater than ourselves. If we are, as Yeats postulates, merely symbols of something greater then how are we to uncover first what that symbol represents, and second, how that symbol represents our true self? As people become symbols they become abstract, something ideal rather than real. Thus, we are all living an illusory existence, an existence created by others. This is the truth that Buñuel brings to the screen. He attempts to expose the lie – which is not really a lie, it is the truth that society refuses to reveal, even to itself.
My next two sons were circumcised because of what is known as "the locker room effect". I wanted them to look like their brothers and father. I did not want them to be ridiculed in the boy's locker room when they became older because their penis was different than other boys were.
Many parents fall into this trap needlessly. In 1989 only half of all males born in the United States were circumcised. This statistic greatly reduces the chance that a young boy will be teased in the locker room. Chances are that half of the boys in his class will be circumcised and half will not.
Today, though, the main question remains: Is it medically beneficial to have a male child circumcised? Medical experts, as well as the American Academy of Pediatrics (APP), disagree among themselves. The APP has changed their stance on this issue repeatedly.
In 1971, The APP task force concluded that there were no medical advantages to recommend routine circumcision. But in 1989 they reversed their stance. A new task force concluded that the procedure "has potential medical benefits and advantages." The APP maintains that men who have not been circumcised suffer from more urinary tract infections, sexually transmitted diseases, and cancer of the penis. They also claim that cancer of the cervix in women is contributed to by having sex with an uncircumcised man.
Certainly we would all like to be able to believe what these learned men and women have to say on the issue. Knowledge and practice of basic personal hygiene, however, can prevent many of the above problems. Capt. E. Noel Preston, M.C. USAF states, "...if a man has a foreskin which he can retract and which he keeps clean, the risk of cancer of the penis is removed."
Many of Buñuel’s films were banned, including L’Age d’or, which was, in Buñuel’s words, “a film about passion, l’amour fou, the irresistible force that thrusts two people together, and about the impossibility of their ever becoming one” (Buñuel 117). The film was actually an attack on the bourgeoisie and religion. In one scene two drunks drive a horsecart through a room full of people having a party, seemingly indifferent to the bourgeoisie’s activities, illustrating the hostility felt towards the bourgeoisie.
Meanwhile the physicians and the APP tout the medical advantages of circumcision yet none of them has been able to offer solid proof that being circumcised will prevent disease in adult life. Many parents today tend to take their doctors word as law. They reason that surely the doctor knows what he/she is talking about. It is too often the case, however, that the doctors have previously formulated their opinions about the procedure. They tend to recommend the surgery without explaining the actual procedure or the reason it is or is not beneficial. Parents feel funny about demanding information, so they sign the forms required without even realizing what their precious new baby will be put through.
A question asked by many is does a two to three day old infant feel pain? Many physicians say no.. They maintain that a two to three day old baby does not have a sufficiently developed nervous system to feel pain. This statement, once again, can not be backed up with solid proof. Why does a child a mere few hours old jerk back and wail when pricked in the heel with a needle? If this causes the infant pain then how can it be said that the child does not feel his penis being sliced open?
Admittedly, there are a small number of infants who show no effect to the surgery. But a very large number of babies become withdrawn and are unable to nurse for hours, sometimes days, after the surgery. Tonya Brooks, President and Founder of the Association for Childbirth at Home International, in Los Angeles, California and a lay midwife observes, "I have seen babies so socked into it that they've been almost unconscious...".
If a parent decides to have his/her son circumcised a natural question would be: Is the child given anything for pain? Most often he is not. A few doctors do use a relatively new painkiller called a dorsal penile nerveblock. This is a painless injection (if an injection can be called painless) given a few minutes before circumcision. According to Prevention Magazine, "In a recent study conducted in a Minneapolis hospital, the anesthetic shot reduced baby's crying time during circumcision by more than half." Which just goes to prove that the infant felt pain in the first place,.
Phil Sherman of New York City is a Jewish ritual circumcision, a mohel. He uses an anesthetic only topically and states that it "...makes the parents feel better, but may or may not affect the baby." Often the only reason a baby is given anesthetic is to pacify the parents. But how can a parent even be sure that the anesthetic is give to the child? Parents are not permitted anywhere near the room where the child is being operated on. One mother reports standing outside and hearing her child screaming. "It tore my heart out, " she said, "But I couldn't stop them once they'd started. I'd never submit another child to that now that I know."
Parents will continue to have their sons mutilated despite all the literature being produced on the subject. It is easier to go along with something that has been routinely done for years than to take a stand, even when that stand will cause a child to be saved from needless mutilation. Dr. Benjamin Spock, a noted pediatrician and author of Baby and Child Care sums the issue up with, "My own preference, if I had the good fortune to have another son, would be to leave his little penis alone."
(I don't have a copy of the Works Cited)
K. Y. Hamilton, BA, MA - Copyright 2006