The ban on the circumcision of boys in many Australian public hospitals has come under fire from 12 medical experts, who say the latest international evidence shows the procedure reduces risk of infections, cancer and painful conditions.
According to their study, more than 80 per cent of Australian boys are uncircumcised, exposing them to significantly higher risk of urinary tract infections in childhood, as well as other diseases - including prostate cancer - later in life.
The study found that female partners can also be affected, as cervical cancer rates are higher in women with uncircumcised partners.
The research leader, a Sydney University professor of medicine, Brian Morris, said it was the most comprehensive assessment of international evidence on the issue yet.
He said the evidence in favour of infant circumcision was so strong it made this simple procedure for baby boys about as effective and safe as childhood vaccination.
The risk of urinary tract infection and kidney inflammation is 10 times higher in boys who are uncircumcised.
The conclusion challenges the practice of many paediatricians, as well as the policy of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians. After reviewing the available evidence, the college declared in 2010 that the level of protection offered by circumcision and its complication rates didn′t warrant routine infant circumcision.
But Professor Morris dismisses that view as “blinkered ideology”.
The new study says that factors discouraging the procedure probably included biased information given to young parents, the ban on the procedure in most Australian public hospitals, and the low Medicare rebate which made it unaffordable for low-income families.
Among the authors of the study are several professors of medicine, including the public health expert Stephen Leeder, and Professor David Cooper, a HIV expert.
Their report presents a risk-benefit analysis of circumcision on the basis of available evidence.
It shows that in uncircumcised infants, the risk of urinary tract infection and kidney inflammation is 10 times higher than for those circumcised. In later life, the risk of prostate cancer and penile cancer is higher, and for HIV and syphilis three to eight times higher.
For the female partner of an uncircumcised male, the risk of cervical cancer is four times higher.
Retaining the foreskin also increases hygiene problems and the risk of a variety of penile inflammatory conditions, the report says.
In reply to his opponents, Professor Morris said, “The scientific evidence shows no adverse effects on sexual function, sensitivity, satisfaction or sensation – if anything, the opposite.”
But Robert Darby, a PhD who’s written widely on circumcision, has dismissed the level of protection offered by circumcision. He said the decision to circumcise shouldn′t be taken by the parents, but should be left to the mature individual as the foreskin was an “integral part” of the male body.
“It belongs to the individual,” he said.
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