I’ve been trying to write this note for a few days, but I feel depleted. I don’t want to write it. I don’t want to have to write it. I’m tired of this happening over and over.
When I saw the news being shared on social media, I had a deja vu moment. I thought surely it wouldn’t be a new story. I had seen it, last year in April (before this blog started). But I had also seen it and written about another case in January of this year.
Two more babies contracted herpes this year as a consequence of metzitzah b’peh (MBP), part of the Jewish ultra orthodox way of performing circumcisions or bris milah, in which the mohel (circumciser) performs oral suction on the freshly circumcised penis of the baby.
These babies join a string of affected babies in New York, that has resulted in at least 2 deaths and 2 cases of permanent brain injury.
Speaking of the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, do you readers know who works there? Dr. Susan Blank, a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) 2012 Task Force on Circumcision.
The AAP 2012 statement on circumcision (coauthored by Dr. Blank) says: “there are social, cultural, religious, and familial benefits and harms to be considered as well. It is reasonable to take these nonmedical benefits and harms for an individual into consideration when making a decision about circumcision.” In Circwatch, we object to this. There are no other surgeries performed on babies for “social, cultural, religious and familial” reasons, which are not valid medical indications for surgery. The law against FGM/Female Genital Mutilation, for example does not condone cultural or religious reasons to perform genital surgery on female minors.
However, beyond that, the AAP Policy Statement did not take a strong stance on metzitzah b’ peh. This was their exact quote regarding this ritual:
“The Task Force advises against the practice of mouth-to-penis contact during circumcision, which is part of some religious practices, because it poses serious infectious risk to the child. ”
First, it is not part of SOME religious practices. It is specifically part of one religious practice, the one of circumcision by ultra orthodox jews, one practice that would not have been unknown to Dr. Andrew Freedman, also part of the AAP Task Force on Circumcision, and a man of Jewish ancestry.
But also, there is a strong difference between “advising against” and “strongly condemning”, and that is what the AAP should have done, they should have strongly condemned the practice of “orogenital suction”.
Due to the recurrent incidence of this problem, the NYC Department of Health in 2012 devised a “Consent to perform oral suction during circumcision” form. The NYC rabbis have resisted this consent form as an intrusion on their “religious freedom”.
This was one of the heated points during the recent NYC Mayor elections that led to Bill de Blasio’s election. De Blasio had promised to start over and remove the consent form requirement, something that so far he has not done, but also failing to do anything for the protection of the babies.
This consent form is on itself a travesty. Can parents consent in any other instances, to allow an adult person to perform oral suction on the genitals of their children? Is this the “wide latitude in terms of the decisions [parents] make on behalf of their children” that the AAP argues for?
Wouldn’t there be an outrage if parents consented to an adult man performing oral suction on the genitals of baby girls? Would the intention of the person even be a question, as it is in the case of metzitzah b’peh?
But even then, this form does nothing to protect the children. It only serves to put the responsibility on the hands of the parents.
The AAP says: “the law has respected those decisions except where they are clearly contrary to the best interests of the child or place the child’s health, well-being, or life at significant risk of serious harm“. Well, isn’t the risk of herpes transmission to babies “clearly contrary to the best interests of the child or [placing] the child’s health, well-being, or life at significant risk of serious harm”? Why is the law not acting strongly to prevent this?
Notice that the consent form does not even require the mohel’s signature. Not only that, but these consent forms are not enforceable.
From this page, we ask the American Academy of Pediatrics, we ask Dr. Susan Blank, we ask the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and we ask NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, how many cases of babies infected with herpes are necessary? What does it take to take a strong, assertive stance for the right of children to life and to be free from torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment? What does it take to include metzitzah b’peh among the list of Harmful Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Children? What does it take to recognize that adult persons sucking the freshly wounded genitals of babies amounts to ritual abuse of minors?