Tag Archives: CDC

Mary Jane Minkin, MD, FACOG, stigmatizes men and pathologizes a normal body part

In an interview in 2Dun’s Spread, Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, MD, FACOG, clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Yale School of Medicine and staff member at Obstetrics Gynecology & Menopause Physicians, violates the ethical principle of justice by stigmatizing 70% of the males in the world, those who are not circumcised, and by pathologizing a normal body part, the foreskin, in what only can be interpreted as blatant cultural prejudice.

This starts with the media circus around the CDC proposed guidelines, of which we spoke on our previous post. The Background document by the CDC also warned (page 40):

“Furthermore, recommendations to increase rates of male circumcision in the U.S. to reduce male acquisition of heterosexually acquired HIV infection may result in stigmatization of uncircumcised men or groups of men who are not routinely circumcised should they choose to not undergo circumcision.” ~ CDC

And Dr. Minkin gives us a clear example of what that meant.

Asked by 2Dun whether “doing the deed with an uncircumcised man puts you at a higher risk for contracting an STI?“, Dr. Minkin replies: ”To be exact, yes, if uncircumcised men are more likely to get infected with [an STD], then they’d be more likely to transmit“.

Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, M.D., FACOG, stigmatizes normal men

Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, M.D., FACOG, stigmatizes normal men

Dr. Minkin tells us two lies in this statement, first, that the mere presence of foreskin makes a man more likely to get infected, and second that the mere presence of foreskin makes a man more likely to transmit an infection.

But some readers will say, “the science is sound”. What the readers are forgetting, what the AAP and the CDC often would like people to forget, is that adult individuals can make lifestyle choices. Humans have a capability to make rational decisions, we are not bound by uncontrollable instincts, we can make decisions about whether to have sex or not, whether to engage in safe sex or not, whether to have multiple sex partners or follow a more monogamous lifestyle, and all those decisions are not reflected in the presence or absence of a normal part of the body.

A high risk male has a larger chance of contracting STIs than a low risk individual, regardless of their circumcision status. The risk attitude has far more priority on the chance of contracting sexually transmitted diseases than submission to circumcision.

If the presence of foreskin immediately implied a higher prevalence of HIV and STIs, how can we explain that most countries in Latin America and Europe, where circumcision is uncommon, have a lower prevalence of HIV than U.S., where circumcision rates are prevalent?

Dr. Minkin’s second implication, that uncircumcised males would be more likely to transmit an STI, is again fallacious and stigmatizing. Infected males will transmit infection no matter what, as the virus pollutes the sperm. The presence or absence of foreskin does not alter the composition and presence or absence of virus in sperm.

Dr. Minkin then re-states her lie: “The data is certainly suggestive that circumcised males are at less risk of acquiring—and then transmitting—certain STDs” and then says the only fully true statement:”but not to the point of saying it’s okay to not use a condom.”

All sexually active adolescent and adult males should continue to use other proven HIV and STI risk-reduction strategies such as reducing the number of partners, and correct and consistent use of male latex condoms, and HIV preexposure or postexposure prophylaxis among others. ” – Recommendation #2 in the proposed CDC guidelines

It is sad and corrupt when doctors and university professors, particularly in such a prestigious university, abuse their positions to pass cultural prejudice and false beliefs as science, stigmatizing in the process the vast majority of males in the world and demonizing a normal part of the body. It is simply shameful.

We recommend that Dr. Minkin takes the time to read the full Background document and review those good old ethical principles.

P.D., would it be a surprise that Dr. Minkin is originally from New Jersey, an area with high prevalence of circumcision? And why is a doctor who is “interested in all aspects of women’s health, she has a special interest in menopause” speaking about men’s health? Does she teach her students based on her beliefs on circumcision – or in real science?

Dr. Minkin, you had a chance to educate the public on the importance of safe sex and risk management, but you wasted it to promote a social surgery. We are so disappointed.

CDC, circumcision and misleading headlines

For anyone following the issue of genital cutting of minors in the United States, yesterday brought a plethora of new and misleading headlines:

The Verge: Benefits of circumcision outweigh the risks, US CDC says

NPR: CDC Considers Counseling Males Of All Ages On Circumcision

webmed: CDC Endorses Circumcision for Health Reasons – WebMD

Salon:  CDC: Circumcision is a very good idea – Salon.com

The Raw Story: CDC to parents: Consider circumcising your sons, because

UPI:  CDC recommends circumcision procedure, says benefits

NYTimes (blog):  Circumcision Guidelines Target Teenagers – NYTimes.com

But are these guidelines really such endorsement?

Or is it that the media is hungry to present benefits and call for a universal endorsement, something that really hasn’t happened?

It is our opinion that these headlines are nothing but a feeble attempt to manipulate the public opinion, under the assumption that everybody is too lazy to go to the source materials.

Anyone wishing to produce objective reporting on the CDC guidelines should start by fully reading and understanding the 8 pages draft document and the 60 pages technical report. It is unlikely that any of the reporters lending their names to the apparently carefully scripted articles, read any of the documents.

But we did, so let’s share our interpretation.

The CDC guidelines refer to counseling. Counseling does not mean immediate and universal endorsement. Counseling means aiding a person through a decision-making process, and that is what the guidelines attempt to do, to counsel patients or parents through a decision-making process.

In this decision making process, the CDC considered 3 main categories of individuals based on the age range: neonates and children, adolescents, and adults.

The CDC also considered the sexual orientation and lifestyle choices as factors to be weighted during this decision making process. And for those willing to go deep enough (as deep as page 39 of the technical report), the CDC also gave consideration to the fact that parents deciding for a newborn raise concerns about autonomy, including the argument that “a man with a foreskin can elect to be circumcised but if circumcised as a newborn, cannot easily reverse the decision“. The PHEC  (Public Health Ethics Committee) subcommittee is, however, of the opinion that “both a decision to circumcise and a decision to not circumcise are legitimate decisions“.  This is one opinion that genital integrity promoters and people for the rights of the child would oppose though.

For those saying that the CDC is fully recommending circumcision, they probably need to read in detail where the technical report indicates that “There are advantages and disadvantages to performing male circumcision at various stages of life” and one of the listed disadvantages of neonatal circumcision is that “the newborn has no ability to participate in the decision“.

The guidelines recognize that in the case of adolescents, both the adolescent and his parents should be involved in the decision-making process.

Let’s make one thing clear. One of the main reasons for the CDC’s discussion of circumcision has to do with the African trials on circumcision and HIV, considered to be evidence that circumcision could help reduce the risk of heterosexual transmission of HIV from infected females to males. The role of the CDC is not to discuss each one of those studies and their validity, strengths and flaws, but to make their recommendations based on currently accepted medical practices and standards. So of course an important premise of these guidelines is the so-mentioned potential benefit of reducing the risk of heterosexual transmission of HIV from infected females to males. As such, it is not within our current scope to discuss the African trials, something that has been already done by others in detail, but to discuss how the CDC interpreted those trials in reference to the U.S. conditions.

When discussing adult circumcision, the CDC recognizes both the documented benefits and limitations of circumcision as part of the prevention of HIV, that is:

  • that circumcision does not replace the need for condoms and safe sex,
  • that circumcision does not reduce the risk of male to female transmission
  • that circumcision does not reduce the risk or male to male transmission,
  • that circumcision does not reduce the risk of transmission through anal or oral sex, or for intravenous drug users.

In other words, that circumcision would only curb the transmission of HIV from females to males during vaginal penetration.

So, with those premises, the guidelines recommend a discussion of the person’s HIV risk behavior, HIV status, sexual preferences and gender of the sexual partner, in order to provide proper guidance depending on individual circumstances.

The PHEC subcommittee concluded that the disadvantages associated with delaying male circumcision would be ethically compensated to some extent by the respect for the integrity and autonomy of the individual.

And what are those “disadvantages”? A slightly increased risk of UTIs during the first year of life (risk of UTIs is low and they are generally easily treatable) and the possibility of the adolescent having a sexual debut prior to counseling and assessment of risks, which could potentially expose the adolescent to the risk of heterosexually transmitted HIV from infected female partners.

The CDC then states that:

The prevalence of HIV infection in the United States is not as high as in sub-Saharan
Africa, and most men do not acquire HIV through penile-vaginal sex. Targeting
recommendations for adult male circumcision to men at elevated risk for heterosexually
acquired HIV infection would be more cost effective than offering routine adult male
circumcision. Men may be targeted according to sexual practices or an elevated
prevalence of HIV within a geographic region or race/ethnicity group.

Also, regarding sexually active individuals:

“All sexually active adolescent and adult males should continue to use other proven HIV and STI risk-reduction strategies such as reducing the number of partners, and correct and consistent use of male latex condoms, and HIV preexposure or postexposure prophylaxis among others.”

So, are these guidelines an immediate and universal recommendation for circumcision? No, as much as biased media and individuals would like it to be, it is not.

The CDC gave slight consideration to sexual effects of circumcision. Again, we need to consider that they are reviewing existing medical standards, practices and publications (and it is noteworthy that proper discussion of the male foreskin is so absent from American health books that even pictorial representations of the foreskin are missing most of the times except in the context of its removal through circumcision). So, the guidelines devote the full length of a single paragraph to the discussion of sexual effects from circumcision:

The foreskin is a highly innervated structure and some authors have expressed concern
that its removal may compromise sexual sensation or function. However, in one survey
of 123 men following medical circumcision in the United States, men reported no change
in sexual activity and improved sexual satisfaction, despite decreased erectile function
and penile sensation. Furthermore, a small survey conducted among 15 men before and
after circumcision found no statistically significant difference in sexual function or sexual
satisfaction. Other studies conducted among men after adult circumcision have found
that relatively few men report that there is a decline in sexual functioning after
circumcision; most report either improvement or no change.”

This paragraph acknowledges the histological studies of John Taylor and Sorrells’ study on fine touch pressure thresholds, but not the European surveys of Bronselaer in Belgium and Frisch in Denmark (both of which showed sexual difficulties among circumcised males), preferring instead to refer to Krieger‘s Kenyan study (which does not show the same difficulties). This begs the question of why African studies are more relevant to the sexual function and satisfaction of American citizens than European studies, but we will leave such discussion for the readers to make their own conclusions.

Finally, missing from the guidelines is any discussion of the role and functioning of the foreskin, something that could be accomplished by simple observational studies of the sexual behavior of uncircumcised males. But one could argue that the role of the CDC is to counsel on control and prevention of diseases, and not on sexuality.

I can’t avoid, however, citing this quote from the late Dr. Paul Fleiss, from his 2002 book:

“Accurate information about the foreskin itself is almost always missing from discussions about circumcision. How can parents make a rational decision about circumcision when they are told nothing about the part that will be cut off?” Fleiss. What your doctor may not tell you about circumcision

Our conclusion is that the CDC draft is far from being the universal recommendation for circumcision that biased media, organizations and individuals may wish for, it is actually more balanced on its ethical aspects than the AAP’s Policy Statement, however it is not unbiased as it still gives more relevance to African studies than European, in spite of the American circumstances being more comparable to those of Europe than to Sub Saharan Africa. The media however latches to key phrases like “benefits from circumcision” ignoring the harms and collateral effects and autonomy concerns, thus distorting the message and manipulating the public opinion.

NEW CIRCUMCISION “STUDY”: Complication Risks May Increase With Age – Does Medical Necessity?

“Circumcision fails to meet the commonly
accepted criteria for the justification of preventive
medical procedures in children. The cardinal
question should be not whether circumcision can
prevent disease, but how can disease best be
Frisch et al, Cultural Bias in the AAP’s 2012
Technical Report and Policy Statement on
Male Circumcision

Another day, another article. This time, it’s about a study by Charbel El Bcheraoui  published in JAMA Pediatrics, funded by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The study claims that “Male circumcision had a low incidence of AEs (adverse events – a euphemism for complications) overall, especially if the procedure was performed during the first year of life, but rose 10-fold to 20-fold when performed after infancy.

The question that El Bcheraoui circumvents is, however, are those circumcisions necessary? Without medical or clinical necessity, are those circumcisions ethical?

Without those considerations, this is nothing more than a sales pitch. “Circumcision! Buy now, or tomorrow it will be 20 times riskier,” El Bcheraoui seems to urge.

But, what are the chances a child will need to be circumcised later on in his lifetime?

What are the reasons a man would have to be circumcised at a later age? Do they increase with time? (Answer: No, they don’t. The majority of men who are left intact, stay that way.)

El Bcheraoui concludes that “Given the current debate about whether MC should be delayed from infancy to adulthood for autonomy reasons, our results are timely and can help physicians counsel parents about circumcising their sons” but this is nothing more than self-interested hogwash. The argument of bodily autonomy is mentioned but not expanded on. In effect, what the author is saying, without daring to say it, is that bodily autonomy can be violated in order to decrease the risk of complications; a risk the author already considers to be low.

If we were to extrapolate the reasoning behind this conclusion, it would be possible to argue that removing the breast buds from baby girls is easier, less traumatic and has less complications than waiting for breast cancer to develop and then perform mastectomies, where breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in women.

The authors did not declare any conflict of interest. But of course it is not surprising that El Bcheroui is affiliated with the Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention, National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Let’s just quickly remember that in 2009 the CDC was considering promoting universal circumcision to prevent the spread of HIV in the United States, despite pre-existing evidence (from the CDC nonetheless) that the high rates of circumcision in the United States had no effect over transmission of HIV.

It seems nowadays no circumcision article or “study” is complete without the obligatory “benefits outweigh the risks” soundbite from the 2012 AAP policy statement on circumcision. Of course, what is never mentioned is that this is only part of the statement, which is rarely ever quoted in its entirety:

“The American Academy of Pediatrics found the health benefits of newborn male circumcision outweigh the risks, but the benefits are not great enough to recommend universal newborn circumcision” - http://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/pages/Newborn-Male-Circumcision.aspx

Circumcision advocates love to quote the AAP, but they could not recommend circumcision in their last statement because, in their own words “the benefits were not great enough.” How is it lay parents are expected to analyze the same “benefits” which couldn’t convince an entire body of medical professionals, and somehow come to a more reasonable conclusion? Why are doctors expected to act on it, and why is the public purse expected to pay?

The AAP said in their last statement that “The true incidence of complications after newborn circumcision is unknown, in part due to differing definitions of “complication” and differing standards for determining the timing of when a complication has occurred (ie, early or late)” and catastrophic injuries were excluded from the report because they were reported only as case reports, not as statistics. The statement also indicates that “Financial costs of care, emotional tolls, or the need for future corrective surgery (with the attendant anesthetic risks, family stress, and expense) are unknown.”

In the opening statements of this study, El Bcheraoui estimates that 1.4 million circumcisions are performed in medical settings annually in the United States. This appears to contradict a previous statement by none other than El Bcheraoui himself, claiming a rate of 32.5% in 2009. Perhaps he expects the 2012 AAP Policy Statement to result in the resurgence of circumcision rates.

The study reviewed the medical history of approximately 1.4 million males circumcised between 2001 and 2010, and found that approximately 4,000 infants had suffered complications, leading them to calculate a rate of complications (adverse events) of less than 0.5%

This would mean, using the data they present, that every year, between 5,600 (0.4%) to 7,000 (0.5%) infant males will suffer complications from circumcision; circumcisions that will in all likelihood be medically unnecessary.

This would not include those complications that can be minor or undetected by the parents (skin tags, skin bridges, uneven scarring) or those that will not be detected until much later (pain caused by tight erections, lack of sensitivity).

The researchers note that some complications might not have been picked up because they were reviewing claims data on problems that typically occurred within the first month following the circumcisions.

This would likely exclude meatal stenosis. High prevalence of meatal stenosis has been found in circumcised males (see here and here), possibly as consequence of ischemia (poor blood supply) to the meatus or permanent irritation of the meatus caused by friction with the diaper and resulting in scarring.

A recent ecological analysis by Ann Z. Bauer and David Kriebel found a correlation (but not causation – further studies are needed) between early exposure to paracetamol and other analgesics, and autism spectrum disorders (ASD). This took into consideration that most newborn circumcisions before 1995 used no pain relief at all, but with growing awareness of the pain of circumcision and increasing use of paracetamol, a sudden rise on the rates of male ASD occurred.  According to this analysis a change of 10% in the population circumcision rate was associated with an increase in autism/ASD prevalence of 2.01/1000 persons (95% CI: 1.68 to 2.34) ”

These findings of course would not have been included in El Bcheraoui’s paper, as this would be out of existing billing codes and administrative claims within the first month from the procedure.

So, let’s just think for a moment, if these circumcisions are not necessary, if these circumcisions are “elective,” then what is the tolerance for errors and complications? El Bcheraoui claims that a 0.5% complication rate is low. But how low is it when it means 5,600 to 7,000 babies who will suffer complications annually? And what kind of complications are we talking about?

These low rates fail to explain the increasing rates of circumcision revisions as well.

How many cases like the one of David Reimer can we afford to have before it is ethically wrong, morally wrong? How many more like Jacob Sweet?

How many MRSA infections?

How many partial or full ablations of childrens’ penises, like that baby in Memphis and that other baby in Pittsburgh last year?

How many infections with Herpes?

How many deaths?

Catastrophic complications, rare or not, mean destroyed lives. Not numbers. And to destroy lives of innocent babies in the name of “religious, ethical and cultural beliefs” is simply not right. Because there is no medical indication for surgery in healthy, non-consenting minors, any complications above zero is ethically unconscionable.