“And Joshua made him knives of flint, and circumcised the children of Israel at Gibeath-ha-araloth [Hill of Foreskins].” (Joshua 5:3)
A new Australian-American study is getting a lot of attention for comparing circumcision to childhood vaccination in terms of their medical significance. The study, which will be published in full next month, was previewed by the Mayo Clinic. It found that nearly half of all uncircumcised males would contract some form of adverse medical condition as a result and proclaimed that the benefits of the procedure outweighed the risks by 100 to 1.
“The new findings now show that infant circumcision should be regarded as equivalent to childhood vaccination and that as such it would be unethical not to routinely offer parents circumcision for their baby boy. Delay puts the child’s health at risk and will usually mean it will never happen,” said Brian Morris, Professor Emeritus in the School of Medical Sciences at the University of Sydney.
Among the benefits of circumcision are reduced risk of urinary tract infection (UTI) and certain sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV and HPV. The rate of UTI in uncircumcised adults is 1 in 3, and the infection comes with a risk of permanent kidney damage. HPV is associated with genital cancers in both men and their partners.
Morris and his team embarked on this study to see the impact of the American Association of Pediatrics policy statement from 2012 promoting circumcision in the US, a change in its position since the 1970s. The researchers discovered that there was a spike in circumcision in the past decade (from 79% to 81% in the prevalence of circumcision in males aged 14 to 59 years), but the rate of infant circumcision in the US has been dropping, from 83% in the 1960s to 77% by 2010.
Morris concluded that given the benefits, efforts should be made to promote circumcision in communities where it is underused and states should be encouraged to cover the medical procedure (currently, 18 out of 50 states do not cover it).
Not everyone is impressed by the study, however. Professor Kevin Pringle, the Professor of Paediatrics and Head of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the University of Otago in Wellington, New Zealand, disputes Morris’s reading of the data, as well as his conclusions.
Regarding the 20-fold increase in penile cancer risk in uncircumcised men reported in the study, Pringle said, “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. He added that while vaccines protect children against crippling or life-threatening illnesses, most of the medical conditions for which intact foreskin poses an increased risk are more of a nuisance than anything else, and easily treated.
Meanwhile, another study out of Montreal showed that circumcision offers some protection against prostate cancer. Prostate cancer is almost unheard-of among Jewish and Muslim men, most of whom are circumcised. It is, however, the most commonly diagnosed cancer in Canada, where circumcision rates are only 32%. It seems to affect the black community more than any other.
The study, by researchers at the University of Montreal and the INRS-Institut-Armand-Frappier, showed that circumcision reduced the risk of developing the cancer by 11%. Interestingly, in men who were circumcised later in life, after the age of 35, that benefit increased to 45%.