The medicalized genital cutting of infants and children was first promoted in Canada and the United States during the mid and late 19th century. Doctors encouraged the genital cutting of both male and female children to prevent masturbation and various diseases like epilepsy and tuberculosis. In 1875, the American Medical Association published an article by Lewis A. Sayre, who stated that the foreskin caused clubfoot, curvature of the spine, and paralysis of the bladder. A medical bulletin published in 1890 announced that circumcision cured blindness, deafness, and dumbness.
Somerville states, ‘‘As medical knowledge about infant male circumcision and, therefore, its medical justification changed, the ethics changed’’
Routine infant male circumcision performed on a healthy infant is now considered a non-therapeutic and medically unnecessary intervention that is not justified by parental preference. Strong cautions have been issued by medical regulatory bodies, such as the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan, which states, ‘‘In any dialogue you have with the patients about potential circumcision of newborn male infants, be sure that you accurately and effectively convey the message that this is not a recommended procedure’’ (p. 1).
The College of Physicians and Surgeons of British Columbia notes, ‘‘Routine infant male circumcision is an unnecessary and irreversible procedure. This procedure should be delayed to a later date when the child can make his own informed decision’’ (pp. 1–2). The Committee on Medical Ethics points out ‘‘parental preference alone is not sufficient justification for performing a surgical procedure on a child’’ (p. 261).
Written by Kira Antinuk, RN, BScN, MN
Excerpt from: Forced genital cutting in North America: Feminist theory and nursing considerations. Nursing Ethics, 20(6), 723-728. doi:10.1177/0969733013496361