The circumcision debate

Sabina and Ben McDonald
Sabina and Ben McDonald 

In the light of new American research on the benefits of circumcision, SBS program Insight speaks to doctors and parents on both sides of debate.

Of all the issues we cover on Essential Baby, circumcision is one of the most fraught, with passionate views on both sides.  Only 10-20 per cent of couples now choose to circumcise their newborn sons, from a rate of 90 percent in the 1950s. But a small but vocal movement of doctors and medical researchers are calling for it to be routinely offered to new Australian parents for a variety of health reasons, including hygiene and to prevent the transmission of sexually transmitted infections.

They’ve been bolstered by a new policy statement from the American Academy of Paediatrics which recently reviewed more than a thousand studies and concluded that the “preventative health benefits of elective circumcision of male newborns outweigh the risks”.

Such sentiments are not endorsed by the The Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP), which warns of minor complications and some rare but serious complications from the procedure, which they do not think should be routine.

Those that do circumcise often do so for religious or cultural reasons. Male circumcision still plays a in our Jewish and Muslim communities and is a traditional cultural practice for some people from Indigenous, Middle Eastern, African and Islander backgrounds.

Tonight’s Insight program on SBS looks at whether the medical evidence stacks up and introduces us to several couples who have weighed up the decision for themselves.

In a sneak peak, here’s what they have to say,

PRO CIRCUMCISION: Ben and Sabina McDonald

Sabina and Ben had their new baby Jake circumcised at eight days. For Sabina it was out of respect for her Jewish ancestry. For Ben, it was for health reasons. He himself had to have a circumcision at the age of nine. Two of his brothers are circumcised, two aren’t, depending on the fashion and medical advice of the day. Baby Jake was circumcised at home by a Jewish circumcisor (‘Mohel’) who uses local anaesthetic. Interestingly, Sabina’s eldest son was born without a foreskin, which is considered very lucky in the Jewish culture.

Sabina says, “For me it was about keeping up with the family tradition. We’ve had everyone circumcised for generations and generations, and it’s something that I don’t even think about. It’s something that had to happen, and it’s something that we discussed before we got married, and it’s something out of respect to my family.”


Ben added that, “Sabina’s motivation was religious say; mine was for health reasons. The end result was the same, but yeah, the motivations were probably different”

ANTI CIRCUMCISION: Adrian and Amanda Leeper-Kubik

Amanda has been against circumcision since she was a young nanny and had to care for a baby whose penis was swollen and badly bruised from his circumcision. She sees the procedure as a violation of the child bodily integrity. Adrian initially wanted his sons to be circumcised because of his Jewish heritage, health benefits, and wanting his sons to look like him, but Amanda was totally against it. After being shown research and footage, Adrian came to understand her viewpoint, and agreed they should not be circumcised. Their boys, now 4 years old and 11 months old, are intact and perfectly healthy.

“I think every child has the right to have their body intact until they reach the age of 18,” says Amanda.

UNDECIDED: Ben and Pip Fleming

Ben and Pip have a nine month old son. They are both undecided when it comes to circumcision. Before having a baby Ben was pro-circumcision, as he was circumcised himself for medical reasons as a young boy and is concerned about hygiene. But he says that when your child comes into the world it changes everything. In the first six months you are adjusting, and don’t want to add that concern in to the mix as new parents. Pip was in favour of circumcision for hygiene reasons, and also to follow the general trend in her family, however she is scared of putting her son through that procedure. Ben says they were also unsure about the best age for a child to be circumcised. They both want to consider all sides of the debate before making any decision.

“I’m trying to weigh it up,” says Pip.  “As mother you look at that, you want to protect your child from that pain.  So there’s that factor, and then the other side is it’s what my family’s always done.  So there’s that part of your culture.”

“I’m personally still undecided, says Ben. “I think we’ve got to go home and we’ve got to have a pretty robust conversation about this.”

Insight is on SBS at 8.30pm. See for more information.