To snip or not to snip? Many parents with newborn sons have to weigh the possible health benefits of circumcision against fears of complications and ethical issues of bodily integrity. Now a big authority has aligned itself with the pro-snipping faction: the American Academy of Pediatrics has come out in favor of infant male circumcision.
"Evaluation of current evidence indicates that the health benefits of newborn male circumcision outweigh the risks and that the procedure's benefits justify access to this procedure for families who choose it," the AAP wrote in a policy statement published on Monday.
Circumcision can reduce the risk of urinary tract infections throughout a child's first year, and can also reduce the child's future risk of acquiring various sexually transmitted infections - including HIV transmission through heterosexual intercourse. It virtually eliminates a male's risk for cancer of the penis. The complications, meanwhile, are rare, according to the AAP.
However, the AAP did say that the health benefits of circumcision weren't great enough for them to recommend that all male newborns go under the knife.
Other research suggests that the infant circumcision procedure can also reduce health costs in the long run. Johns Hopkins University researchers estimate in a recent paper in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine that reducing the overall circumcision prevalence to a Finland-esque 10% would tack on an average of an extra $407 to a man's lifetime healthcare costs, thanks to increased rates of STIs and UTIs.
Dutch medical ethicist Gert van Dijk told the journal Nature that the prevailing sentiment in Europe is that circumcisions should only be performed when men are old enough to consent to the procedure.
"The integrity of the body is an important thing. We would never amputate a healthy part of a child," van Dijk said.
Many health organizations, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the British Association of Pediatric Urologists, have yet to issue a decree on circumcision. A few countries have already limited bans on infant circumcision - in Australia, the practice is prohibited in public hospitals, and in South Africa, it is unlawful to circumcise children under 16 except for medical or religious reasons.
Even without bans in effect, much of the world is trending towards leaving infants uncut. Circumcision rates are low across Europe - less than 20% in the U.K., Ireland, Switzerland, France, Germany, and a host of other countries. In Finland the figure is less than 10%.
In the US, a slight majority of newborns are circumcised, but that figure has been dropping perceptibly over the last decade. According to the National Hospital Discharge Survey from the National Center for Health Statistics, the rate of circumcised males decreased from 62.5% in 1999 to 56.9% in 2008.
Recently, a German court ruled that circumcision could only be performed on older males who gave consent. The ruling, limited to the area of Cologne, coincided awkwardly with a new stamp issued by the German postal service commemorating the circumcision of Jesus for the 200th anniversary of the German Bible Society.