Circumcision? How about banning ear piercing?

A petition to ban circumcision will appear on San Francisco’s November election ballot. A proposed bill will make circumcision a misdemeanour if performed on boys aged under 18 years, punishable by a US$1,000 fine and up to one year in prison. Santa Monica could follow suit, with the support of San Diego-based MGM, a group which has drafted anti-circumcision laws in 46 states.

However, the proposal is highly controversial. In a CNN column, famed sociologist Amitai Etzioni recently compared circumcision to ear piercing, arguing that this “very common and usually harmless procedure” results in higher rates of complications than circumcision.

“About 20% of baby girls suffer minor complications from ear piercing; about 3% suffer major ones. Complications include swelling, drainage, infection, bleeding, cyst formation, large scars and trauma. Surely such piercing should be banned before anyone bans circumcision.”

While opponents of circumcision contend that circumcision causes severe pain, nerve destruction, infection, disfigurement and loss of functional tissue, Etzioni argues:

“But the rate of complications resulting from circumcision is lower than ear piercing, between 0.2% and 0.6%, with some bleeding as the most frequent complication. Studies, such as one at the University of Washington, have indicated that circumcision might have health benefits. It helps prevent HIV infection somewhat in heterosexual intercourse (although using condoms results in similar gains).”


“Claims about psychological harm caused by neonatal circumcision are based mainly on anecdotes and Freudian psychoanalysis. If circumcision had the traumatic effects some opponents maintain it has, roughly two out of every three American males would be in trouble.”

Etzioni argues that proponents of circumcision bans challenge the relationship between parents and children. He argues that parents make decisions on behalf of their children every day, seeking what they consider best for them – and that for many parents, circumcision and ear piercing fall into that category.

“A very poorly supported claim that circumcision is harmful, in the face of evidence that it might be of some benefit, is not enough to prevent parents from making decisions for their children on circumcision, ear piercing and much else.” ~ CNN, Jun 15

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