Monday, April 29, 2013

Circumcision: When Surgery is a Snip on a Board

Submitted 4-29-2013 © Sanfis Daly 2013




Contrary to popular claims, circumcision isn't a quick snip of dangling skin. Yes, it's performed on a very small person, hence a small body part. But it's actually quite major surgery if you think about it:

First, the organ has to be separated from the penis. As in, ripped away, since the body has a natural adhering mechanism similar to the way your fingernails are adhered to your nailed. Then the organ is clamped, then slit down and around. This has to be done by eye, since the retracting design of the foreskin organ is not "marked" on the penis. It's like "penis skin" as my brother in law calls it. How much of the penis do you want to take off for your son? Well, the doctor decides that in the moment.

Then the surgical wound has to be belled, clamped or stitched. The now-exposed penis is an internal organ, so it then has to successfully alter in thickness and cellular development to protect itself from being exposed for a lifetime. Imagine your eyes without eyelids and what they would have to do to continue functioning properly and without pain.

Finally, because circumcision removed the functioning organ protecting the penis, this means all of the other systems involved were destroyed as well. So the immune protection (such as the Langerhans cells) for the penis is now missing, along with the moistening membranes and healthy bacterial flora. You know how women are discouraged from douching frequently or they might irritate and strip their natural flora? The circumcised baby boy is now in a permanently stripped state.

What's most interesting about this surgical style is that all of what I described is performed on a neonate, the term describing an infant within the first 28 days of life. Neonates are fragile in the context of surgical procedures. They can't be safely anesthetized and any complication, infection or adverse reaction to medication is going to be more serious and potentially permanently damaging or fatal. And yet in addition to the heightened risk on these fragile people, the surgery is performed unlike any other surgery out there.

The babies are simply tied down to a plastic board, a basic sheet placed over the body to protect from blood sprays/drops and then off the surgeon goes into this delicate and dangerous surgery. Can someone tell me the last time they had an adult surgery like this? Even going to the dentist for oral surgery, you are hooked to a blood pressure cuff and monitored, after a thorough history is taken to ensure you won't react to medications. (Not that anyone knows the history for newborns as they are new.)

Where is the blood pressure cuff for the baby tied down on the board? Where is his heart monitor? Was he screened for heart defects and blood clotting disorders before surgery? Was he screened for allergies to anesthetics? Was he examined to rule out PID (primary immune deficiency) or other autoimmune or congenital disorders that would make an infection more likely and more severe, or harder to treat? 

Where is the carefully marked design of how much of the organ to remove, and from what area on his genitals? What other surgery relies fully on the doctor's hand and personal opinion without guide, laser, computer analysis or even parental confirmation since the boy can't give his consent or review the "finished" product? What kind of circumcision is he getting exactly?

The next time you think circumcision is a little snip, take a moment to ponder these questions. If you get more and better care as an adult going into the dentist to remove a rotten tooth, then your baby has been cheated out of not just his healthy organ and human rights, but his right to a safe, sterile and monitored surgery.

Want to learn more about baby circumcision? This article lists everything from medical literature to educational videos.

Sanfis Daly, father to three and owner 
works to provide a different perspective 
about genital mutilation in America, 
drawing on his background in biology and 
experience as a circumcised male and father. 

Some of his other writings include:

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