The decision to circumcise a child is often an easy one for American parents. Usually, the father is circumcised, and every male in the family has been for generations. It's a tradition that many accept without pausing to consider the consequences. Myths and falsehoods about circumcision abound, which perpetuate the practice. Yet, there are many valid criticisms of circumcision that deserve consideration.
First, circumcision is an unnecessary medical procedure. This isn't merely an opinion; it is a fact. Every major medical organization in America acknowledges that circumcision is not necessary; no major medical organization recommends routine circumcision of all boys. Circumcision can have the potential effect of reducing the risk of UTI infections, but these affect less than 1% of newborns. Circumcision can also reduce the risk of penile cancer, but this disease is quite uncommon.
Circumcision has been the most effective at reducing rates of HIV, and is highly encouraged in African nations, but in a developed country like the United States that doesn't have a high rate of HIV infection (compared to a country like South Africa), ensuring the populace has easy access to condoms and promoting safe sex should be enough to prevent the spread of HIV. Additionally, HIV rates are lower in Northern and Western Europe and most European men aren't circumcised so the likelihood that routine male circumcision would lower the HIV rate in the US is quite slim.
Despite popular belief, penises with foreskin are not less healthy than penises without foreskin. Keeping uncircumcised penises clean is not a hassle. One merely has to pull back the foreskin and wash to maintain proper hygiene, just like any other body part. Of course, if someone neglects to properly clean their foreskin, that could lead to health problems; but there's no reason to chop off foreskin, when parents could instead just teach boys how to keep their foreskin clean.
Additionally, the foreskin serves many important biological functions; it is far more than "extra skin." The foreskin has thousands of nerve endings that give men sexual pleasure; in fact, circumcision became popular in the middle of the 20th century because it was thought to prevent boys from masturbating. The foreskin protects the opening of the penis from infection and irritation. It helps provide natural lubrication during sex and prevents chafing. It also ensures that erections aren't too painful by covering the head of the penis as it is engorged. The foreskin is not a birth defect. It is a normal part of the male body with legitimate biological functions.
Lastly, the practice of circumcising baby boys violates the principle of bodily autonomy. Babies, precisely because they are babies, cannot give informed consent to any medical operation. The parents, of course, are the ones giving consent. Yet, the foreskin is a part of the child's body, and a child's body is not the property of his parents. In the field of bioethics, it is generally accepted that parents can only consent for a medical operation on their child if such an operation is necessary to save the child's life or protect the child's health.
Circumcision definitely isn't necessary and has only a few potential benefits. Thus, if we truly believe in the principle of bodily autonomy, the idea that people should have full control over their own bodies, which is a cornerstone of human rights and has played a role in several Supreme Court decisions, notably Roe v. Wade, then we must reject the practice of circumcision as it exists today in America: as a surgical procedure forced upon baby boys who cannot possibly consent to it.
Circumcision is clearly a questionable practice. It is an unnecessary medical procedure with only a few potential benefits; it removes a normal body part that serves important biological functions, which provide tangible benefits; and from a bioethics standpoint, it can be seen to violate the bodily autonomy of baby boys. For reasons both practical and theoretical, we should all say no to circumcision.