Sydney Children’s Hospital Foundation attempts to hide the truth on circumcision

As I paced the hallways while waiting for my daughter to recover from her surgery at the Sydney Children’s Hospital in Randwick, Sydney, I read a poster on the wall which outlined the hospital’s policies around its care for its patients.Deleting reference to circumcision

I was reassured to read a number of points in relation to the quality of care that the hospital promised. In particular, I was pleased to read a point which was highlighting the right of bodily autonomy. While I can’t remember the exact wording, I recall that it was something like this:

“Children’s bodies are their own.”

Infant circumcision for non-medical reasons was banned in NSW public hospitals in 2006, and as the Sydney Children’s Hospital is a public hospital there should be no non-therapeutic circumcisions being performed there. However, the doctors who practise there can easily bypass this ban by operating out of one of the private clinics surrounding the hospital. I wondered how many of these doctors walked past these posters every day, then walked over to a private clinic to perform this life-changing and damaging procedure on a non-consenting infant.

Nonetheless, I was pleased to read that the hospital seemed to understand the concept of bodily autonomy – that children owned their bodies, and that in the absence of a clear and immediate medical need, they should get to determine what happens to them.

So I was surprised to see that for the foundation’s Gold Telethon 2015 they would be promoting a story of a child rushed to the emergency department as a result of a procedure that is an assault on that autonomy – infant circumcision. Here is a screen shot from the foundation’s website on 5 March 2015:

EliMarch5-highlighted

While the exact timing is unclear, sometime before 23 April 2015 (according the the web archive), the foundation updated the page to remove any reference to the circumcision. This is how the page appeared from that date, and still appears at the time this post was published:

Eli28112015-highlighted

Note that the red underlines have been added to both screenshots to highlight the differences.

When approached for an explanation, a spokesperson for the foundation responded with “We updated the original story as we believed the detail to be irrelevant to the focus of our story – Eli and his treatment for Haemophilia”.

It appears to be unlikely that this reason alone is why the story was changed. In my experience, these types of articles are updated to correct important omissions or errors, or to remove details that are distracting to the story – not merely irrelevant.

The two other stories used to promote the 2015 Gold Telethon also contained information that could easily be determined as ‘irrelevant’. Why were those details not also removed?

The real reason for the revision is open to speculation. An obvious response to the unedited story would be to question why (in its own words) a ‘perfectly healthy baby’ was subjected to unnecessary surgery in the first place. I imagine it was easier for the foundation to sweep this distraction under the carpet rather than address the issue.

The other obvious unanswered questions are ‘who?’ and ‘where?’. It would be difficult for the foundation to claim how heroic the doctors at its hospitals were in treating the child if the situation they were treating was caused by an unnecessary surgery performed by one of its own doctors. Through its spokesperson, the foundation confirmed that the procedure was not carried out at either Sydney Children’s Hospital, Randwick or The Children’s Hospital at Westmead, but they did not respond to the question of whether it was performed at a private clinic by one the doctors who also practises at one of its hospitals.

Paul Mason, Chair of the Australasian Institute for Genital Autonomy, said “This report and the hospital’s suppression of a central fact about the case are deplorable. All across the world “adverse events” from unnecessary genital surgery on babies and children are shrouded in mystery. It is simply not possible for anyone to pretend that any “benefits” outweigh the obvious risks of these dangerous practices if the risks remained hidden and unknown. Parents are entitled to know the truth and the whole of the truth.”

I hope that in the lead up to the Gold Telethon 2016, the foundation chooses a better example of how the medical profession is helping, rather than hurting children.

Image courtesy of Goldy at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Anti-genital mutilation protester shut down at Oprah’s Adelaide show

An intactivist protester at Oprah Winfrey’s show in Adelaide tonight was apparently shut down by police only 2 minutes after arriving.

The man was objecting to Oprah Winfrey’s endorsements of a face cream derived from human foreskin.

A hand-written sign held up to crowds outside the Entertainment Centre read:oprahforeskin

“Foreskin Facecream Oprah’s Shame”

He was apparently threatened with arrest, although the police could not provide information on the details of the charge, so he was allowed to leave with his sign tossed onto the footpath.

We understand this was the first anti-genital mutilation protest to be held in Adelaide. A facebook post of the short-lived encounter has been met with support, and generated interest in organising a larger protest in the future.

LoveForeskincropped

 

 

Did Bendigo councillor Elise Chapman get gender wrong in ‘female genital mutilation’ photo tweet?

On 22 February this year Bendigo councillor Elise Chapman tweeted a photo in what has been largely interpreted as an attempt to highlight the issue of female genital mutilation, and to make a tenuous link between the practice and the proposed development of a mosque in her area.

The Councillor has been a vocal objector the mosque since a proposal for it’s development was approved by Bendigo City Council last June.

The tweet, which can be seen below, was in response to a tweet to her from a supporter of the proposal to build the mosque.

Male Genital Mutilation

If by tweeting this photo Councillor Chapman was attempting to highlight a disturbing cultural tradition, then we agree. These customs and traditions have no place in any modern society. Although as far as we are aware, there is no evidence to suggest that anyone involved with the proposed mosque practices or supports female genital mutilation.

What the media who have covered the story so far and Councillor Chapman may not realise though is that the children in the photo are actually male.

Articles at news.com.au and the Age and the Herald Sun have interpreted her intentions to be highlighting female genital mutilation, although ABC News seems to be a little less sure, with this article which is careful not to assume what the gender of the children may be.

A copy of the original, unpixelated photo can be found here (warning: disturbing content), which clearly shows that this is the aftermath of male infant genital mutilation.

“Oh, we could have this here too?” she tweets. Yes, we already have this here. It is commonly called circumcision, and is performed on over 12,000 baby boys in Australia every year. It is even subsidised by our Government through the Medicare system, and is completely unregulated. Anyone can be a circumciser and a male child can be circumcised for any reason, with any implement at any location.

We wonder if Councillor Chapman is aware of her apparent mistake, wonder what her position is on male circumcision.

Perhaps, like us, she makes no distinction between gender in her objection to genital mutilation. Although if this was the case, she could not justifiably use the picture to object to the development of the mosque given that male circumcision is pervasive throughout both muslim and mainstream Australian cultures.

Dr Andrew Rochford gets closer to the truth on circumcision

Dr Andrew Rochford on circumcisionLast month, Australian doctor, TV medical commentator and former ‘The Block’ winner Dr Andrew Rochford presented a report on circumcision on Channel 7’s news ‘The Healthy Truth’ segment, which was also packaged as a story on ‘Today Tonight’ in Adelaide.

The sentiments expressed in this latest report were significantly different to those expressed in Dr Rochford’s piece on circumcision on Channel 10’s ‘The Project’ in 2010.

This earlier report was in response to the publication of a journal article which suggested that circumcision should be promoted to lower the rate of HIV transmission in Australia. Much of the TV report showed the doctor repeating the opinions expressed by others, with most statements prefaced with phrases such as ‘some people believe’ or ‘some experts claim’.

Comments on the report on the station’s website and social media sites quickly highlighted the fallacies in many of those opinions, including the following:

A number of issues with the African clinical trials which were used to support the claims in the journal article.

Langerhan cells do not only exist in the foreskin.

–  A non-retractile foreskin is normal at birth and remains common until after puberty.

– The questionable credibility of the the authors Alex Wodak and Brian Morris.

– The absurdity of the ‘looking like Dad‘ reason.

– The lack of any discussion on ethical considerations.

This latest Channel 7 report showed a more confident and mature Doctor Rochford, who was unafraid to express his own thoughts, which in general were more strongly against the procedure. It may be that the feedback from the earlier report has shaped his opinion since then, or he may be reflecting the more recent public sentiments on circumcision, which has shifted away from the procedure, possibly due to more recent emphasis on ethical and bodily autonomy considerations.Dr Andrew Rochford on Circumcision Consent

While it’s disappointing that the Australian mainstream media is yet to highlight the functions of the foreskin, we applaud and thank Dr Rochford for bringing the ethical issues to the forefront, and bringing the Australian public one step closer to the truth on circumcision.

How to tell if you live in a culture of genital cutting

Are you perpetuating the genital cutting culture in Australia?

Take the test by answering the following questions.

Do you believe that girls should be able to decide for themselves if they want to have parts of their genitals cut?

Do you also believe that boys should be able to decide for themselves if they want to have parts of their genitals cut?

If you answered yes to the first question but no to the second, perhaps you are considering the issue with a gender bias.

Let’s try another set of questions:

Do you think that religious sensitivities should be respected when determining if Muslim parents should have the right to cut the genitals of their baby girls?

And do you also think that religious sensitivities should be respected when determining if Jewish parents should have the right to cut the genitals of their baby boys?

If you answered no to the first question but yes to the second, then perhaps you are looking at this issue with a religious bias.

And if after answering both sets of questions you have both a gender and religous bias towards genital cutting, then perhaps we do have a genital cutting culture in Australia.

stopthecutting

I have received an overwhelmingly positive response to my first real attempt to explain to my family and friends and the world my very negative feelings about the fact that as a newborn, I was subjected to male genital mutilation (MGM).

Oddly enough, the most push back I’ve received has been from my own family. Maybe this is the first time that they’ve come to grips with the fact that their sons may grow up to feel that they were violated by MGM.

I sure hope that no one grows up to feel like they were violated, but I am not the first to feel this way about the fact that I was subjected to MGM, and until the practice is stopped, I will not be the last.

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Should Australians have the right to decide which parts of their genitals they keep?

Here is an outrageous idea. Or, at least, an idea that may seem foreign to many Australians. I believe that I should have the right to choose which parts of my genitals I keep and which parts I want to have sliced off and thrown into the medical waste bin.Circumcision consent

But it seems that many Australians don’t agree with me. Or that is what it seems when they support the act of pinning down an infant boy and cutting off part of his penis. Most call it circumcision, but I prefer to avoid this euphemism and call it what it really is: genital cutting, partial penis amputation, or even (brace yourselves) genital mutilation. ‘Oh no’ I hear you gasp. ‘It’s only mutilation if we do it to a girl, right? Even if its a tiny symbolic nick. If we cut off 30-50% of the penile skin, surely that can’t be called mutilation. And besides, we do it in Australia, and the Government pays for it through Medicare, so it can’t be mutilation. Can it?’

But what about the medical benefits? You can put forward an argument for amputating any body part based on the medical benefits of doing so. You could amputate a baby’s big toe to reduce the risk of ingrown toenails, or cut off their ears to reduce skin cancer. I challenge you to suggest one body part where there wouldn’t be a benefit in chopping it off (please suggest a body part as a comment below if you are up for the challenge). But with all these other body parts, the use of that part is considered, and medical ethics and plain old common sense prevail. The penis seems to be exempt from all of these concepts.

And by the way, even if there was any truth to these so-called medical benefits, most of them are related to sexually transmissible diseases, and I didn’t have sex when I was a baby. In fact I didn’t have my first serious sexual encounter unti l was 20. And my partner in this encounter has been my only partner and now wife for the last 12 years. I was hardly at risk of HIV or other STD’s which the pro-cutting crowd try desperately to prove are more prevalent in men who have all of their genitals. Besides, at the age of 20, even if I had decided to lead an ‘at risk’ lifestyle, I could have decided to either get myself circumcised for a marginal reduced risk at best, or wear a condom.

But getting back to my ‘outrageous’ statement. I wasn’t wasn’t given the right to choose for myself. And it seems that most Australians think that’s OK. Otherwise, like me they would be joining the intactivist movement and lobbying government to bring an end to the practice. But the most important thing they could do would be to simply stop cutting their babies. Most have, with rates now less than 1 in 5 and shrinking every year. But it seems that many who wouldn’t circumcise their own children will still support parents who decide to do it to theirs.

Maybe I am wrong. In this age of gender equality, self-determination and the growth of the human rights movement, perhaps Australians do support the concept of genital autonomy. Where do you stand?

Image courtesy of Jeroen van Oostrom / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Ryan Fitzgerald wins the inaugural ‘Australian Circumcision Stupidity’ award

In 2009, Ryan ‘Fitzy’ Fitzgerald, now half of the popular ‘Fitzy and Wippa’ team on Sydney’s Nova FM radio station, decided to circumcise his baby boy. Obviously we are against the forced circumcision of children where there is no medical need, but we don’t usually single out the parents who have made this decision for ridicule. Often the decision is made under pressure from family members and doctors, or due to a lack of research and understanding of just how damaging this procedure is. However, while inflicting unneccessary and damaging cosmetic surgery on his defenceless son was bad enough, Ryan’s actions in the days following the operation took the abuse to a whole new level, and so has earnt him our inaugural Australian Circumcision Stupidity award.

Holding down a perfecty healthy newborn and slicing off the most intimate and sensitive part of his body is bad enough. But in a feeble attempt at ‘entertainment’ Ryan took his son’s amputated foreskin into the radio station and passed it around to his then co-presenters, Julian ‘Jules’ Schiller and Claire Murphy, to get their reactions on air.

To see what happened check out the clip below:

On two occasions Ryan seems to gloat about just how much tissue has been removed from his baby. On one of these occasions he quips “That’s a fair bit of skin, hey?” Yes, it is a lot of skin. But what he may fail to realise is that this is only the amount of skin (and other specialised tissue) that is lost to the baby. When his baby grows into a fully developed man he will be missing up to 15 square inches of highly sensitive and functional genital tissue, which is about the size of the palm of your hand.

Ryan’s colleagues appear to be slightly less enthusiastic about the stunt, with Claire commenting “That’s the whole top of a willy. It’s not what I was expecting.” I’m not sure what she was expecting to see. If you cut off the end of someone’s penis, that is exactly what you will get. Perhaps this was a realisation for Claire of the harsh reality of this procedure. It is something that was so readily accepted by our culture until recently that it is difficult to fully comprehend what we have been doing, until coming face to face with the raw results.

The saddest side to this is that this boy will one day grow up and may find this video when looking through his father’s career. How will he feel when he sees that the most intimate part of his body not only taken from him, but then trivialised and disrespected in such a public way by someone who should have protected him?

For this shameful act, Ryan not only takes home the award but also a copy of the book ‘The Joy of Uncircumcising‘, in which he can learn about the functions of the foreskin, and how restoring his own foreskin could improve his sexual experiences. In fact, through reading this book and sharing his experience, Ryan has a chance to redeem himself. We all know people make mistakes. The growing movement against forced infant circumcision is well represented by parents who did not know the truth at the time they made the decision to circumcise their sons. If Ryan takes on the techniques outlined in this book (or more modern techniques from restoration forums) for a period of two months, and then shares his experience with his listeners, in Lance Armstrong style we will re-write history strike his name from the record books.

Who knows, like many men who have restored their foreskins and now understand what they were missing, Ryan too may join us in becoming an Intactivist and help protect the rights of future generations of baby boys.