Ha'aretz (Israel) - March 1, 1999

Circumcision Has Few Health Benefits

By Iris Krauz

CHICAGO - The American Academy of Pediatrics yesterday said the medical benefits of circumcision are not sufficient to recommend the procedure and for the first time said that pain relief should be provided when the procedure is performed.

In response, the head of Israel's Pediatrics Association said the American academy had not denied that circumcision may help prevent some diseases. "It is known that the rate of cervical cancer among women is lower when their partner is circumsized and it is also known that the incidence of AIDS contagion is less among the circumsized, which was not mentioned by the academy," said Dr. Emanual Katz, head of the Israeli association. In addition, he said that babies in Jewish circumcision ceremonies are often given wine to dull pain.

He said he is sure the Jewish circumcision ceremony would be able to adapt to new knowledge if medical evidence indicated conclusively that local anasthesia is desirable in the procedure.

The American pediatrics academy, the largest pediatricians' group in America, published its new policy statement in the March issue of its journal, Pediatrics, after a review of medical literature by a seven-member task force.

Two frequently cited medical justifications for circumcision - the prevention of urinary tract infections and penile cancer - are not major problems, the report said. While uncircumcised males run a higher incidence of urinary tract infections during the first year of life, it said, the risk is still relatively low - around 1 percent overall. And while penile cancer rates run three times higher in uncircumcised men, the disease is rare - affecting only 10 or fewer men in a million annually worldwide, it added.

"The academy does not recommend a policy of routine newborn circumcision. We encourage parents to discuss the subject with their pediatrician and make an informed choice," said Carole Lannon, a physician at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, who headed the task force. "With the benefit of additional medical research we agree there are potential medical benefits but they are not compelling," she said.

The Circumcision Resource Center in Boston estimates that about 60 percent of males in the U. S. are circumcised at birth, down from 85 percent in the late 1960s.

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