In my time as an intactivist, I have seen this scenario play out a few times. A parent, relative or friend of a relative posts in facebook asking for prayers for a baby who became severely ill after a circumcision. One of them kept bleeding and had seizures. Another one developed a UTI and a fever after a second procedure to try to fix an already botched circumcision.
Then the baby dies.
The intactivist community at large starts expressing sadness and grief, but they also start sharing the story, hoping that some parents will realize that there is a real danger of death when you send a baby to circumcision.
And then the family comes back… asking for silence. They claim that it was not the circumcision what caused the death. They claim that they are being attacked for their decisions and their beliefs.
What should the community do in those cases?
Accepting that their child died as a consequence of their circumcision means accepting that their child died because of a decision they took. It’s easier to go into denial. In fact, the circumcisers have an interest in keeping the family quiet, so they will likely distort the facts to make it seem as if circumcision was the only chance for the child to survive a pre-existent condition.
In the case of the baby that bled in 2013, the parents later said that bleeding gave them the only chance to fight a bleeding disorder; never mind that their baby didn’t make it.
In fact, in an amazing display of arrogance and irresponsibility, doctor Nisha Jain, M.D., chief of the Clinical Review Branch in FDA’s Office of Blood Research and Review, wrote “Patients [of hemophilia] can be diagnosed as infants during circumcision”
In the case of a baby that stopped breathing shortly after a circumcision in Israel in June 2013, the Rabbis claimed a pre-existent condition and said that the circumcision had been performed “flawlessly”.
That same week, a teenage girl died in Egypt after circumcision (FGM) by a medical doctor. A health inspector report said the cause of the death was due to “a sharp drop in blood pressure resulting from shock trauma”. The doctor who performed the female genital mutilation was found guilty, but it is said he is not in jail.
But shock trauma is never considered in the case of baby boys dying after circumcision.
It is likely that hospitals offer some kind of incentive to families of babies dead after circumcisions. Families in turn will keep quiet about what happened. For example, when Jacob Sweet became severely disabled after having an infection and seizures after circumcision, and the hospital “lost” the records, the family offered a reward to anyone coming back with the records. The legal proceedings lasted for years, and the family was finally compensated. The family, that up to that point had even attended genital integrity events, suddenly became silent. When Jacob died, at the age of 26, his circumcision was not even mentioned in the obituary and related news.
But, who benefits from this silence?
The families don’t want to have their story plastered on the news and all over the internet. They want to settle and move on. The doctors don’t want the bad publicity. So, is it a surprise that the AAP didn’t find studies of mortality, only case reports, and thus didn’t provide any numbers on mortality on their policy statement on circumcision of 2012?
The majority of severe or even catastrophic
injuries are so infrequent as
to be reported as case reports (and
were therefore excluded from this
- American Academy of Pediatrics
Technical Report on Circumcision 2012
In Canada, a baby, the son of an Iranian couple, died in 2013 after a circumcision that the parents didn’t even want in the first place, but were convinced by a doctor to have it done for medical benefits. The story remained silent for two years, until the family succeeded in seeing the doctors named. So you can see that there is an interest in keeping silence over these cases.
But, who speaks for the child? Who speaks for the one whose voice was never heard?
Genital integrity activists claim that circumcising a minor is a violation of human rights. Many medical communities refuse to accept this and frame circumcision as a parental right. But when a baby dies after his circumcision, can we claim that his rights were violated?
The World Health Organization (WHO) frames female genital mutilation as a violation of human rights, with this paragraph:
FGM is recognized internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women. It reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes, and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women. It is nearly always carried out on minors and is a violation of the rights of children. The practice also violates a person’s rights to health, security and physical integrity, the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and the right to life when the procedure results in death.
We disagree that it “reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes” as those societies that practice FGM also practice traditional forms of male circumcision, often resulting in death and mutilation. However, in this moment, we are more interested in the last part of the paragraph:
“The practice also violates a person’s rights to [...] life when the procedure results in death”
Circumcision apologists claim that every medical procedure has risks. Genital integrity activists remind them that circumcision is not essential to the well-being of the child, and as such is considered an “elective” procedure – and yet the subject is not given the chance to “elect” (or refuse).
So what happens when circumcision results in death?
Who speaks for the baby whose right to life was violated?
How can we stay silent, and wait in silence for the next victim? What good is that?
Sorry families of those babies who died after circumcision. We grieve with you. We feel your pain. But staying silent is the worst form of disrespect for your lost one, and we will speak, if anything with the hope that one family won’t have to go through what you just went.