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An Open-Minded Pediatrician and Me

November 7, 2011

Last month, I spent three days at the Intact America exhibit booth during the annual convention of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Together with my colleagues Marilyn Milos, Dan Bollinger and Amy Callan, we spoke to many, many doctors. By far, the greatest endorsement of our work came from foreign pediatricians who were nearly universally opposed to circumcising babies. I often tell doctors from the U.S. that their colleagues in Europe and Latin America do not cut babies, a fact too many find surprising.

Each year I attend, at least one conversation stands out as particularly rewarding or particularly upsetting. This year, on day two, a man who appeared to be in his early 50’s approached our booth, which was decorated with an 8 ft. banner listing “10 Reasons Why You Should Stop Circumcising Baby Boys.”

Georganne Chapin at the 2011 American Academy of Pediatrics conference in Boston

Georganne Chapin at the 2011 American Academy of Pediatrics conference in Boston

“Hi,” he said. “I came here because I’m open-minded and I want to learn.”

He went on to tell me that, in the course of his career, he’d circumcised somewhere between 5,000 and 6,000 babies, but that his own 24-year-old son wasn’t circumcised.

I was stunned. When I asked him how much money he’d thought he’d made from all those circumcisions, looking hurt he said, “I have to tell you, I’m feeling attacked.”

He tried to explain that he performs circumcisions because he’s developed a reputation for being efficient and good at it, and that all the other doctors send him their patients.

Recovering my poise somewhat, I asked the doctor why he’d left his own son intact. His reply was vague, something about the AAP’s position on circumcision at the time his son was born, the implication being that the AAP’s position had been sufficiently unsupportive of the procedure for him to decide not to circumcise his own son.

I asked him what he told the parents of the babies he circumcises. “I don’t need to tell them anything,” he said. “They come to me with their minds made up.” Did he tell them his own son is intact? No, that would violate his son’s privacy, he told me.

I finally said, “Your son is intact, and you were concerned enough to come to speak with us. The AAP still doesn’t recommend circumcision, so why don’t you stop? Our campaign this year is Put Down The Knife! You could simply stop.”

“It’s very complicated,” he answered. “I don’t think I could just stop.”

He’s right. In the absence of an external ban, or an unequivocal change in position by the feet-shuffling AAP, it is “complicated” and requires great bravery for a committed circumciser to stop.

In my next post on this topic I will explore the immense, but not insurmountable challenges the entire medical profession must face at the prospect of Putting Down The Knife! and ending the practice of circumcision.

by Georganne Chapin

19 Comments
  1. Michelle permalink
    November 17, 2011 9:42 pm

    My take on the pediatrician is this: huge ego (or maybe a lot of insecurity), much guilt, a deep-seated sense that what he is doing is really wrong, and an incredible need for affirmation. He gets all the referrals because other physicians don’t want to do them. He hasn’t quite figured out that it has little to do with his skill and a lot to do with his availability, which takes other physicians off the hook. Most physicians want to bail on this “procedure”. He also wants to please his parent population. Many physicians thrive on being wanted and needed so badly they will do whatever is asked of them. He felt “attacked” because he knows at some level that it is wrong and that his motives are misguided-a reflection of his constant need for affirmation and bragging about what a great job he does. He does, however, need to be giving full informed consent, which obviously is not happening nor can it happen when the patient is a baby. He will die with a scalpel in his hand unless he has an epiphany (doubtful as that would make his conscience unbearable) or laws are passed to make this illegal. If you want to change these physicians, you will need to replace this ego-booster with something else. He didn’t circumcise his own son because he knew it was harmful, but he sure wasn’t going to pass up the money or the opportunity to play God and come out looking like a hero. We have to come up with an exit strategy: Now that we know better what the foreskin is worth and that babies feel pain and have rights, etc. etc., we can safely say NO.

  2. Eileen Haynes permalink
    November 15, 2011 10:31 pm

    hmm,… well I am disappointed in the Intact America’s response to this doctor who stopped by your booth. The postman/pedophile metaphor was inaccurate and unnecessary. I realize we are very passionate and firm in our position against circumcision but I think you are there to transform and recruit soldiers to our side. (On the other hand, a little alienation could be persuasive as well…!)

    The doctor is obviously wanted to be congratulated for NOT circumcizing his son and recognized for his advanced “thinking”. Great! Give him that. Ask more questions about why his son isn’t circumcized. Did his wife support him? How does his son feel about his intact status? Share some stories from the men who had problems being circumcized.

    It seems to me he wanted to be recognized for doing a great job in efficiently and safely performing cosmetic surgery on newborns penis’. (This is not the time to compare him to the nazi officer loading the gas chambers efficiently!🙂 I would suggest that his skills are valuable and could be transferred to other surgeries. LEAD HIM TO THE MORALITY QUESTION. Perhaps, start with “I personally feel it is immoral to perform cosmetic surgery on newborns.” And, “I am here to encourage practitioners of circumcision to consider that it is unethical to do so. Do you think that it might be immoral to perform cosmetic surgery on newborns?”

    Thank you for listening!

    • jimfromcalif permalink
      November 17, 2011 2:03 am

      I highly doubt he wanted recognition for leaving his son intact. That was just an escape from having to explain his crimes. The only credit I give him is for having enough concern for his son not to have mutilated him. Otherwise, the guy is a total loser who has no compassion for his patients.

  3. Amy Rosenberg permalink
    November 10, 2011 10:29 pm

    “I don’t need to tell them anything,” he said. “They come to me with their minds made up.”
    What a strange statement. Would a doctor say that about any other issue? Imagine a doctor saying, “A patient came to me with emphysema. Did I tell him to stop smoking? Oh, no, I didn’t mention it at all because his mind was already made up to continue smoking.” Huhhh??? He clearly has some serious denial issues.

    • jimfromcalif permalink
      November 17, 2011 2:00 am

      You’re right about the denial issues. I fell he also carries a tremendous burden of guilt for having done what’s he’s done. Not being willing to admit his mistake is indicative of wishing to hide something.

    • cloudyday14 permalink
      December 5, 2011 11:02 pm

      Perhaps if a mother came to him with her mind made up that she wanted to tatoo her newborn he wouldn’t have to tell her anything? I’m pretty sure he’d give her plenty to think about, even if it was “complicated”.

  4. November 10, 2011 9:03 pm

    Only the guilty need feel “attacked.”

    It is quite clear this doctor did not want to “learn,” only get pity and approval. He probably thought IA would make some sort of exception for him.

    So what if he’s “good and gets referrals!”

    I’m sure performers of labiaplasties can get prolific and “good enough” to get referrals too.

    It misses the whole point of medical ethics.

    The Bottom Line
    The foreskin is not a birth defect. Neither is it a congenital deformity or genital anomaly akin to a 6th finger or a cleft. Neither is it a medical condition like a ruptured appendix or diseased gall bladder. Neither is it a dead part of the body, like the umbilical cord, hair, or fingernails. The foreskin is normal, natural, healthy tissue with which all boys are born.

    Unless there is a medical or clinical indication, the circumcision of healthy, non-consenting individuals is a deliberate wound; it is the destruction of normal, healthy tissue, the permanent disfigurement of normal, healthy organs, and by very definition, infant genital mutilation, and a violation of the most basic of human rights.

    Doctors have absolutely no business performing surgery on healthy, non-consenting individuals, much less stoking a parent’s sense of entitlement.

  5. November 8, 2011 10:09 am

    Circumcision went out of favour in the UK when doctors mostly employed by the State, were no longer paid to do them(1948). You could still have it done privately if you paid, but very few people did, money being short for many years after WW2. So the mutilation habit very largely died out.

  6. November 7, 2011 11:11 pm

    Unless his practice income is now 30-50% RIC derived, I submit that there is no valid reason why he cannot simply announce that he no longer performs RIC. He could go cold turkey, in other words.

    • jimfromcalif permalink
      November 17, 2011 2:09 am

      If he’s charging $300 a whack and does two a week, that’s an extra $15,000 gross per year. That’s not just pocket change. I sat on a jury once in which the defendent was convicted of killing a donut store clerk for less than $30! Greed is a powerful motivator. If he were to admit wrong doing, he’d stand to lose everything to law suits against him.

  7. doublecee permalink
    November 7, 2011 7:06 pm

    The only way this will stop is if there is a ban on circumcisions in the US. It cant even be by state, it has to be nationwide. Girls are protected in this fashion, so our boys must be as well. When a boy turns 18, if he wants a circumcision, he can have one. An adult can make the decision for himself.

    The only way to end it is to pass legislation against this practice. Otherwise these doctors who wont even do it to their OWN child, but will freely and gladly accept money to mutilate OTHER people’s kids, will NOT stop until its illegal to do so. I agree that the masses must be educated on why circumcision is a horrible practice (even some of my own friends defend it, I cannot understand their position) but education alone is not enough to stop this.

    • jimfromcalif permalink
      November 17, 2011 2:12 am

      That isn’t going to happen. We have a very powerful Jewish voice in this country. Look at what happened in California when the Jewish community began to clamor about San Francisco and Santa Monica. Gov Moonbeam got all over that like flies on molasses. Those in Washington are no different.

  8. November 7, 2011 5:43 pm

    Doctors need lawsuits to be filed against them. Seriously. They have to be able to say “We CAN’T do it anymore for legal reasons related to malpractice insurance.” Otherwise they will fear losing patients, er, parents of patients, who will take their business elswehere– to hospitals and doctors’ offices wherein the service of sexual mutilation IS provided at parental request.

    • jimfromcalif permalink
      November 17, 2011 2:16 am

      Bingo! Go after their carrots.

  9. danbollinger3 permalink*
    November 7, 2011 5:27 pm

    I remember this guy well. He wanted desperately for us to understand his position. Which I found strange considering he stepped into our booth, we didn’t seek him out. By my calculations he’s made something like $900,000 doing circumcisions! Which probably goes a long way in explaining why he says can’t stop. He was quite proud of his technique and speed. He talked with pride about how many referrals he gets and that he does the vast majority of circumcisions in his region. I could never get a read on his motivation for stopping by, which is atypical for me. He reminded me of Thurber’s character Walter Mitty, the guy with the secret inner life. One thing I do know, is that, like Georganne says, he won’t stop until someone takes the knife out of his hand.

    • jimfromcalif permalink
      November 17, 2011 2:15 am

      To get a good idea of how physicians handle mutilating baby boys, watch this:

  10. Lo Maret permalink
    November 7, 2011 4:46 pm

    follow the money……

  11. rachel h permalink
    November 7, 2011 4:38 pm

    He would probably lose staff. I am sure a huge amount of his practice income is based on that alone!

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