“When is an adult who intentionally wounds and sucks the genitals of a child not met with criminal charges of molestation, rape, sexual battery, or mutilation?”
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?
There are so many things wrong with this, I can only refer you to the article on Forward, about how this New York City mohel (and chairman of the American Board of Ritual Circumcision) proudly breaks the law requiring him to obtain signed parental consent from parents before performing the ritual of metzitzah b’Peh (oral suction) after circumcision, even when parents have instructed him not to do it.
Where do we draw the line between child endangerment and religious freedom?
Direct orogenital suction during ritual Jewish circumcision (also known as metzitzah b’peh) has been documented to transmit herpes simplex virus (HSV) type 1 to newborn males (1-4). In January 2014, the New York City (NYC) Department of Health and Mental Hygiene received a report of a new case of HSV-1 infection in a newborn male infant following direct orogenital suction. To date, a total of 14 laboratory-confirmed cases of HSV-infection attributable to direct orogenital suction have been reported to the Health Department since 2000. Two of these infants died, and at least two others suffered brain damage (4).
In the most recent case, the infant was the term product of a full-term pregnancy and normal vaginal delivery. He had ritual Jewish circumcision including direct orogenital suction on day of life 8. On day of life 13, at a well-child visit, a rash was noted on and around genitals. The baby was treated with topical antibacterial ointment. On day of life 16, the baby returned to his provider for worsening rash, and a topical anti-fungal was added to the regimen. On day of life 18, lesions progressed to include the perineum and the right foot. HSV infection was suspected, and the infant was referred to a pediatric dermatologist. The next day, upon evaluation of the baby, the dermatologist, also suspecting HSV, collected specimens for direct visualization and for viral culture, and the baby was admitted to a hospital for treatment. The location of herpes lesions (on the genitals and on the foot, a dermatomal distribution reflecting involvement of sacral nerves), viral type (HSV type 1, which is commonly found in the mouth of adults), and timing of infection (5 days after circumcision) are consistent with transmission during direct contact between the mouth of the ritual circumciser (mohel) and the newly circumcised infant penis.
The document is co-signed by Susan Blank, one of the members of the AAP Task Force on Circumcision from the infamous policy statement of 2012 – the one that says that “the benefits outweigh the risks” – and the one that does not have the guts to say that “orogenital suction” (baby penis in adult’s mouth) should not be performed. So much for that Dr. Blank.
In any other instance, this outrageous action of sucking a newborn’s penis would constitute sexual abuse. But cut the foreskin in a religious ceremony, and now you are free to do it, and you shouldn’t even have to ask the baby’s parents if they agree, even if you may be carrying the Herpes virus in your mouth.
Let’s remember that this is not just a possibility. Just in April of this year 2 babies were reported to have contracted Herpes because of this ritual, and this infection that can be life threatening or permanently disabling for a newborn.
If this bill is enacted, every new baby infected with HPV by the means of Metzitzah b’Peh should know that this man is responsible for his tragedy.
|City Council David Greenfield||Metzitzah b’Peh (literally, “Oral Suction”)|
From The Jewish Week:
“This is one of the most outrageous examples of government intruding into the ability of residents to freely practice their religion without restrictions based on questionable findings.” said Greenfield, a Democrat, in his remarks, which were forwarded to the press.
“I continue to be outraged that the city took this incredibly misguided step last year, and will fight until the board reverses its decision or this bill becomes law. It is imperative that every citizen, regardless of their particular religion, be able to practice and worship without the fear of being restricted or targeted by their own government.”
Samantha Levine, deputy press secretary to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, said in an emailed response Tuesday that the city was acting to save lives.
“Health Department investigations of newborns with herpes virus between 2000–2013 have shown that 13 infants contracted the herpes virus when mohelim, or ritual circumcisers, placed their mouths directly on the child’s circumcision wound to draw blood away from the circumcision cut,” Levine said.
“Two of these babies died. The city’s highest obligation is to protect its children and it is critical for parents to know the risks associated with the practice.”