- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 9, 2014

In the first week of public comments on a federal proposal to encourage male circumcision in the U.S., most people are telling Uncle Sam to leave the foreskins alone.

“His body, his choice” and “Foreskin is not a birth defect” are among the hundreds of negative comments in the Federal Register against a proposed policy by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to advise that males of all ages be circumcised for health reasons.

The strongest objections were for infant circumcision, since it is a “human rights” violation for a male to permanently lose a piece of his body without his consent.

The CDC is wading into the controversy because a handful of studies from Africa have shown that the relative risk of a man acquiring HIV from an infected female partner was halved if the man was circumcised.

In addition, research has shown that circumcised men have reduced risks of getting genital herpes and human papillomavirus, which causes penile cancer.

Circumcision is not believed to affect the risks of HIV transmission via anal sex, which means it would have little impact on male infections in the U.S., which mostly occur in men who have sex with men.

However, one in every 10 new HIV cases in the U.S. “are attributed to female-to-male sexual transmission,” the CDC said.

For this and other reasons, the CDC is proposing that health care providers discuss circumcision with uncircumcised men and parents of uncircumcised infants, children and teens.

The comment period in the Federal Register opened Dec. 2 and closes Jan. 16.

In the first week, some 580 comments have been filed. Of the nearly 500 comments that are public, almost all are negative about circumcision — especially for newborns.

Objections included the pain and trauma of the procedure to the infant, the potential for mutilation of the penis, and lifelong “desensitization” of the penis due to the loss of the foreskin.

Commenters also challenged the validity of the Africa studies — and noted that circumcised men in Africa are still urged to use condoms to avoid HIV acquisition.

Many comments decried the “human rights violation” of cutting healthy skin from a baby who cannot give consent to such a procedure.

Currently, about 58 percent of newborn boys are circumcised in the U.S., compared to previous decades when it was routine for baby boys to have their foreskins removed.

On Twitter, a group called Intactivism has a campaign against “unnecessary genital modification” with the hashtag #i2.

In 2012, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy that said the “health benefits of newborn male circumcision outweigh the risks, but the benefits are not great enough to recommend universal newborn circumcision.”

Instead, the final decision should be left with parents to make, “in the context of their religious, ethical and cultural beliefs.”

• Cheryl Wetzstein can be reached at cwetzstein@washingtontimes.com.

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