99 Problems

Published on January 25th, 2018 | by Cara Gormally


Not Our Choice: A Comic on a Big Decision for a Tiny Person

How do two moms make a decision about the most personal of their son’s body parts? A comic about consent, culture, and choices.

Photo credit: Andrea K. Jones

Footnotes and Citations

1 People are embracing other rituals to welcome babies into their faiths, described for example, in the New York Times (July 2017): https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/25/well/family/cutting-out-the-bris.html?emc=edit_tnt_20170725&nlid=63450943&tntemail0=y&_r=1

2 Worldwide estimates of circumcision: World Health Organization, 2007. Male circumcision: global trends and determinants of prevalence, safety and acceptability. http://www.unaids.org/sites/default/files/media_asset/jc1360_male_circumcision_en_0.pdf

3 McCann, Erin (2013) Danish Doctors’ Group Wants to End Circumcision for Boys. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/08/world/europe/circumcision-boys-babies.html

4 Svoboda, J. Steven (2013) Circumcision of male infants as a human rights violation. Journal of Medical Ethics 39: 469-474.

A brief historical overview about why rates declined: Rates of routine infant circumcision started to decline in other countries in the early part of the 20th century. For example, in the U.K. during the 1930s, the medical community reevaluated whether circumcision was medically beneficial. As a result, the National Health Service stopped covering routine circumcision. Rates rapidly declined, from 33-40% in the 1930s to 20% in 1949—and plummeted further over the next decade. Britain’s first wave of the natural childbirth movement, from 1933-1960, also contributed to the decline. Later in the 20th century, rates fell in Canada after national health care declined to cover the procedure.

Carpenter, L.M. (2010) On remedicalisation: male circumcision in the United States and Great Britain. Sociology of Health and Illness 32(4): 613-630. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-9566.2009.01233.x/full#b50

5 Rabin, Roni C. (2010) Steep Drop Seen in Circumcisions in U.S. The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/17/health/research/17circ.html

6 Ingraham, Christopher (2015) Americans truly are exceptional— at least when it comes to circumcision. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/05/26/americans-truly-are-exceptional-at-least-when-it-comes-to-circumcision/?utm_term=.ebe322d2ea32

7 Medical associations around the world oppose circumcision because it involves risks, inflicts pain, and violates the right to consent, in order to remove a functional body part, as described in: Frisch, Morten, et al. (2013) Cultural Bias in the AAP’s 2012 Technical Report and Policy Statement on Male Circumcision. Pediatrics 131(4): 796-800. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/pediatrics/early/2013/03/12/peds.2012-2896.full.pdf

8 American Academy of Pediatrics statement on newborn male circumcision https://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/pages/newborn-male-circumcision.aspx

9 Lerman, S.E. & J.C. Liao (2001) Neonatal circumcision. Pediatric Clinics of North America 48(6): 1539-57. And: MacNeily, Andrew E. (2007) Routine circumcision: the opposing view. Canadian Urological Association Journal 1(4): 395-397. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2422979/

10 Matar, L. et al. (2014) Medical risks and benefits of newborn male circumcision in the United States. Journal of the International Association of Providers of AIDS Care. 14(1): 33-39.

11 Weiss, H.A., et al. (2010) Complications of circumcision in male neonates, infants and children: a systematic review. BMC Urology 10:2. And: Krill, Aaron J., et al. (2011) Complications of circumcision. Scientific World Journal 11: 2458-2468. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3253617/

12 El Bcheraoui, C. et al. (2014) Rates of adverse events associated with male circumcision in U.S. medical settings, 2001-2010. JAMA Pediatrics 168(7): 625-634.

13 Rediger, C. & A.J. Muller (2013) Parents’ rationale for male circumcision. Canadian Family Physician 59(2) e110-e115. And: Mitchell, T. & C. Beal (2015) Shared decision making for routine infant circumcision: a pilot study. Journal of Perinatal Education 24(3): 188-200.

14 How to care for your baby’s penis, as described by the American Academy of Pediatrics: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/bathing-skin-care/Pages/Care-for-an-Uncircumcised-Penis.aspx

15 And, women have foreskin, too, which covers their clitoris. The most common type of female genital mutilation partially or completely removes the clitoris and/or this foreskin (2010, Human Rights Watch, https://www.hrw.org/news/2010/06/16/qa-female-genital-mutilation).

16 Darby, R. Risks, benefits, complications and harms: neglected factors in the current debate on non-therapeutic circumcision. Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal 25(1): 1-34.

17 Foreskin area measurement from data within (converted from the metric system) Kigozi, Godfrey (2011) Foreskin surface area and HIV acquisition in Rakai, Uganda (size matters) AIDS 23(16) 2209-2213. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3125976/

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About the Author

Cara Gormally is a biology professor who draws comics to make science relevant to everyday life. She teaches at Gallaudet University. She lives in the DC metro area with her favorite mammals: her partner, poodle, an extra-large cat, and a very curious preschooler. Her autobiographical science story comics have recently appeared on Medium’s Spiralbound and at Popula, among other places. See more of her comics on Instagram and at caragormally.com. She’s currently working on a longform comic piece about the science and technology of making babies.

8 Responses to Not Our Choice: A Comic on a Big Decision for a Tiny Person

  1. Nadia says:

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and research on the subject! Your son is very lucky to have two thoughtful moms.

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  3. Jennifer says:

    Thank you for an inquiry that is at once analytical and very personal. Well done!

  4. John Wason says:

    From personal experience, I would take issue with several of the assertions here. Wish I could be more explicit. 🙂 I do commend you on being such a thoughtful and caring mother.

    • John Adkison says:

      Not sure why you think you can’t be more explicit. I highly recommend that you check out the anatomy of the intact, natural penis at http://www.doctorsopposingcircumcision.org. They go into more detail than this story did. If you don’t have your entire penis, don’t assume you understand what was taken away. I almost did when I became a dad. Luckily someone got us more information and we kept our two sons intact.

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