Should my son be circumcised?

While recent studies have discovered potential health benefits related to circumcision, the Canadian Paediatric Society still says it isn’t necessary for all boys.



Male circumcision is often a hotly debated topic; parents and medical professionals alike have long been discussing its cultural and medical merits. For years, it was a routine practice, but in recent decades its popularity has waned. And while recent studies have discovered potential health benefits related to the procedure, the Canadian Paediatric Society (CPS) maintains circumcision isn’t necessary for all boys.

Male newborns have been circumcised for thousands of years, but the practice’s history as a medical procedure began in the late 19th century. The doctors of that era believed circumcision was necessary to make genital hygiene easier and to diminish the risk of disease.

The CPS first declared circumcision was no longer recommended as a routine procedure in 1996. The position statement said the benefits and harm were evenly balanced, so it was no longer clearly beneficial for a newborn male to be circumcised.

Since the CPS released that statement, the rate of circumcision has dropped substantially. In 1996, the Canadian Institute for Health Information reported that circumcisions were performed on approximately 20 per cent of Canadian male newborns. In 2005, the percentage dropped to roughly 9.2 per cent.

Dr. Thierry Lacaze, chair of the CPS’s Fetus and Newborn Committee, said in a press release that while there may be benefits to circumcision for some babies, “the benefits of circumcision do not outweigh the risks.”

An updated position statement was released in September and stops short of making a blanket recommendation for or against the practice. Instead, it urges parents to arm themselves with information and make their own decision.

The list of health benefits now includes a decreased chance of getting urinary tract infections in childhood, and a reduced risk of contracting penile cancer (which occurs almost exclusively in uncircumcised men, but its prevalence is low in developed countries).

The risks include pain, minor bleeding, local infection and an unsatisfactory cosmetic result. Severe complications, such as partial amputation of the penis and death from hemorrhage or sepsis, are rare occurrences, the CPS says.

Dr. Lacaze also stated that along with medical information, families should take into account their personal cultural and religious beliefs. In the Jewish faith, for example, circumcision is a religious tradition.

Regardless of its position on the matter, the CPS believes doctors should always provide soon-to-be or new parents with the most unbiased and up-to-date information possible on circumcision, so they can make an informed decision.

Should parents choose to have their newborn boys circumcised, the CPS recommends that they be referred to a practitioner who is specially trained in this procedure, and that they be well-informed on post-procedure care and potential complications.

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