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2013 Buzz Guide: Infant Health

To circumcise or not to circumcise

MD Moms co-founder Dr. JJ Levenstein is a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and quite frankly, the smartest pediatrician we know. According to her, circumcision will be one of the most hotly debated children’s health topics in 2013.

In August 2012, the American Academy of Pediatrics revised its policy statement on infant circumcision, indicating that “the preventive health benefits of elective circumcision of male newborns outweigh the risks of the procedure.” While the AAP is not going so far as to recommend circumcision for all male newborns, it is recommending that access to the procedure be made to all male newborns—leaving it up to individual states and insurers to decide if circumcision is a covered benefit.

The updated policy outlines the benefits of circumcision as fewer urinary tract infections (rare in males); lower risk of penile cancer (also rare); and lower risk of acquiring HIV, syphilis, HPV and genital herpes. However, the AAP still emphasizes that the final decision lies with the parents—many of whom will continue to oppose it on the basis of unnecessary surgery.

“In medical school, the Latin term premium non nicer, meaning, ‘first, do not harm’ is indelibly tattooed into our ethical core,” says Levenstein. “Indeed, one interesting point made by some surgeons is that ‘prophylactic’ or ‘preventive’ surgeries are not made in the cases of appendixes or tonsils—body parts that certainly cause more calamity than an uncircumcised penis. So while the AAP’s new policy is far from a blanket statement firmly recommending circumcision, it has certainly stoked the ongoing debate. As pediatricians, we always like to have definitive answers for parents. But for now it seems questions regarding circumcision will continue to warrant a thoughtful discussion and remind me to first, as always, do no harm.”