Intended for healthcare professionals

Feature Male circumcision

Circumcision: Divided we fall

BMJ 2010; 341 doi: (Published 17 August 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c4266
  1. Sophie Arie, freelance journalist
  1. 1London
  1. ariesophie{at}

    Recent research on the benefits and drawbacks of routine circumcision in boys is provoking medical bodies in different countries to review their position, reports Sophie Arie

    Opinion on routine circumcision for boys is already divided across the world, but recent research is sparking fresh debate. The American Academy of Pediatrics is assessing the mass of evidence that has become available since it took the position, in 1999, that although there may be “potential medical benefits . . . these data are not sufficient to recommend routine neonatal circumcision.” The academy plans to publish its updated position later this year amid growing pressure from both sides of the debate.

    Campaign groups have emerged worldwide, both within religious communities who traditionally practise circumcision and outside, where groups argue that the tradition of circumcising infants for non-medical reasons amounts to a violation of the rights of the child.

    In May this year, the Royal Dutch Medical Association became the first to decide that the procedure is not only medically unnecessary but also an abuse of the rights of the child in a similar way to female genital mutilation. Under the Dutch constitution, altering a child’s body without medical reasons is illegal, and the Dutch medical body therefore argues there are grounds for banning routine circumcision of babies and children. It has not, however,

    called for a legal ban on the procedure for fear that it would drive circumcision underground. Only around 15 000 infants have routine circumcisions in the Netherlands each year, and the hope is that concerted discouragement by doctors in consultation with parents could wipe out the practice.

    An estimated 30% of the world’s male population are circumcised, and traditionally the operation is carried out on newborn children or infants because it is a simpler procedure at that stage and less likely …

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