Circumcision deaths are a legalized non-scandal

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Kudos to the Times for reporting on the recent ultra-Orthodox sex abuse scandal. Here’s the NYT‘s latest:

The district attorney, Charles J. Hynes, alleged that the [four] men were part of an effort to protect a prominent member of the Satmar Hasidic community, Nechemya Weberman, who has been accused of 88 counts of sexual misconduct, including oral sex with a child younger than 13 years old.

It’s a travesty if the allegations are true. And yet, a routine violation of children inside the ultra-Orthodox community slides by with zero accountability. In the Daily Beast, Kent Sepkowitz writes, “Circumcision’s Deadly Fault Line: Rationality vs. the Metzitzah B’Peh” (emphasis mine):

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention just reported a fatal transmission of herpes from an infected ritual circumciser, or mohel, to an eight-day-old baby apparently related to a practice performed in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community called metzitzah b’peh.

What, you ask, is metzitzah b’peh? According to the CDC, it refers to the ritual when a mohel “places his mouth directly on the newly circumcised penis and sucks blood away from the circumcision wound (direct orogenital suction).”

The transmission of herpes is thought to occur when the mohel, with or without a visible oral herpes sore (herpes is well-known to be transmissible even in the absence of a visible sore), touches his lips to the infant’s newly cut skin—a golden and tragic opportunity for herpes or any infection to enter the bloodstream. The immune system of the infant is far too immature to handle much of anything and some babies are quickly overwhelmed. In the CDC series, infants in two of 11 cases gathered over the last decade died and others were left with long-term neurologic disabilities.

This is legal, repeat, legal to perform in this country.

Let’s review the relevant legal principles:

– The only body part of a child that may be legally amputated without medical necessity and without the consent of the child is the foreskin of the male;

– The one and only time it is legally permissible to perform oral-genital contact on a non-consenting minor is immediately after amputating a male’s foreskin;

If anyone were to even prick a drop of blood from a non-consenting female minor’s genitalia (much less amputate part of the genitalia) – or put his/her mouth onto the female minor’s genitalia – they would face felony charges.

The NYT previously reported on the metzitzah b’peh-related deaths two weeks ago:

New York City health officials proposed on Tuesday that Orthodox Jewish parents be required to sign a consent waiver before they can take part in a circumcision ritual that is believed to have led to the deaths of at least two babies in the city over the past decade….

Among the more than 250,000 ultra-Orthodox Jews in the New York area, the ritual remains commonplace. In its study, the C.D.C. estimated that roughly 3,600 newborn boys a year in New York had circumcisions that included the procedure…. Ultra-Orthodox authorities have strongly defended the practice as a religious right. Some rabbis argue that there is not enough evidence to show that the procedure causes infection, while others say the practice is important enough that it should be continued anyway.

Here’s how the New York public health department reacted to the metzitzah b’peh-related deaths:

The city’s health department issued a statement last week strongly urging that direct oral-genital suction not be performed during circumcision.

A statement? Strongly urging? That and $12 will buy you a Manischewitz bottle to drink yourself into oblivion at the next Bris.

Here’s what the Canadian Children’s Rights Council has to say about circumcision:

It is the position of the Canadian Children’s Rights Council that “circumcision” of male or female children is genital mutilation… There is no medical benefit to the routine genital mutilation (circumcision) of any children. Further, all Canadian children, both male and female, should be protected by the criminal laws of Canada with regards to this aggravated assault. Currently, the protection provided by the Criminal Code of Canada includes only genital mutilation (circumcision) of female children.

Not only is metzitzah b’peh a violation, so is forced circumcision of any kind. Should not all unnecessary, harmful amputation of genitalia be illegal regardless of gender? Do not males deserve equal protection?

On the question of religious freedom, Sepkowitz writes:

Perhaps the only thing more intensely held than a person’s religious beliefs is a guy’s thoughts about his [penis]. It is just about all we think about. Given this, how completely and bizarrely ridiculous it is that men, millions and millions of men, that brutal tribe that spends all day thinking about it, worrying about it, protecting it, comparing it, agree to give up their foreskin and even that of their sons to the cold blade. That’s the point though—it is the ultimate leap of faith. The church-and-state issue remains unresolved…

If a consenting adult wishes to give up his foreskin to the cold blade, let him; this is indeed his right. If a consenting adult wishes to allow someone to then suck blood out of the wound, let him; this is also his right.

But the aforementioned adult’s religious rights should end where his child’s body begins. It’s my body, it’s my foreskin, shouldn’t the choice have been mine?

For parents who wish to practice a religious form of welcoming a child into the world without harming him, try Brit Shalom. See more on Jewish opposition to circumcision here and here, and secular opposition here and here.