Circumcision, Ethics, and Medicine

“Like all professions, medicine has its own ethical code and principles of conduct. One rule of conduct is “First, do no harm.” Removing a normal, healthy body part and causing unnecessary pain is doing harm. Some doctors who circumcise acknowledge the associated pain and then dismiss it by saying, “It only lasts for a minute,” implying that it is acceptable to subject an infant to unnecessary pain as long as it is temporary. (In one study, the time required for the procedure ranged from six to forty minutes.(1)) However, there is strong evidence that the pain has lasting effects. Even if it did not, this careless attitude about inflicting pain violates the ethical principles of the medical profession. It also violates general moral principles to subject anyone, particularly a defenseless infant, to any unnecessary pain for any period of time. As recently reported in the New England Journal of Medicine, “Failure to provide adequate control of pain amounts to substandard and unethical medical practice.”(2) Furthermore, circumcision without anesthesia is inconsistent with ethical guidelines that prohibit performing surgical procedures on laboratory animals without anesthesia.(3) Based on these standards and given that there is no effective and safe anesthetic that will eliminate circumcision pain, all circumcisions would be prohibited.

According to the Hippocratic oath, another important principle of medical practice is that the patient’s welfare shall be the doctor’s first consideration.(4) In the case of circumcision, doctors generally tend to ignore this rule, while parents falsely believe they are following it. One physician defended circumcision by saying that “within the community at large, at the present time, there is not a tremendous amount of support for saying to parents you shouldn’t do this.” For this physician, regarding the issue of circumcision, community attitude seems to supersede the patient’s welfare. Isn’t it the medical profession’s responsibility to lead rather than follow regarding community health care standards?”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>