Saturday, August 25, 2007

Circumcision bans leave parents in dark

From The Australian, August 25, 2007, by Clara Pirani, Medical reporter:

PARENTS deciding whether to have their sons circumcised are struggling to find unbiased advice, as state governments begin to restrict access to the controversial procedure.

Infant male circumcision will be banned in public hospitals in Victoria from next month, except in cases where there is a medical need. NSW, Western Australia and Tasmania have already restricted circumcisions in public hospitals and South Australia is considering a similar move. The changes come as the Royal Australasian College of Physicians is reviewing its policy on circumcision, which currently states there is no medical evidence to support the procedure.

"There is a big anti-circumcision campaign out there run by lunatic-fringe organisations and unfortunately they've infiltrated the medical profession," said Brian Morris, professor of molecular medical sciences at the University of Sydney. "As a South Australian, I'm very concerned that South Australia might follow the stupidity of Victoria, NSW and WA. It's an absolutely appalling policy, designed to save a few dollars, I suspect."

Circumcisions were once performed routinely in most Western countries. However, in the 1980s, parents began to question the practice and now only about 10 per cent of boys in Australia are circumcised.

The RACP says the circumcision rate fell when parents began to worry that it may cause surgical complications, while others believed that removal of the foreskin might lead to less sensitivity in the tip of the penis, reducing sexual pleasure.

"There is no evidence to support the circumcision of infant males and boys," said the RACP's director of policy and communication, Garry Disher.

Professor Morris, however, said circumcision significantly reduced the risk of urinary tract infections and sexually transmitted disease. "Between 2 and 5 per cent of uncircumcised boys will develop urinary tract infections, compared to only 0.1 to 0.2 per cent in boys who are circumcised," he said.

In March, the World Health Organisation announced that three trials in Africa showed circumcision reduced a man's risk of developing HIV by 60 per cent.

However, Andrew Grulich, head of the HIV prevention program at the National Centre in HIV Epidemiology and Clinical Research, said circumcision might not have the same impact in Australia. "In Australia, HIV is mostly a disease in homosexual men and most homosexual men are infected by the anus or rectum and not from the penis or foreskin," he said.

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