Friday, May 22, 2015

US mother jailed for resisting son's circumcision

First, quote from the article Time for U.S. Parents to Reconsider the Acceptability of Infant Male Circumcision, by Danish doctor Morten Frisch, published at Huffington Post:

"Do the benefits of male circumcision outweigh the risks? The U.S. Centers for Disease Control -- echoing the 2012 policy statement of the American Academy of Pediatrics -- have recently suggested that they do. What many Americans are not aware of, however, is the fact that the United States is not just unusual, but actually unique among developed nations in finding such widespread medical support for infant male circumcision. This support originated in the late 1800s, when doctors promoted the operation as a "cure" for masturbation; today it comes primarily from doctors' trade associations -- such as the AAP -- that protect financial and other interests of physicians who continue to perform such surgeries. Doctors in peer nations, by contrast, along with the medical associations that represent them, tend to see the U.S. circumcision ritual as more of a cultural habit, not something rooted in sound medical science...

In recent years, more and more circumcised men have begun speaking out in favor of leaving baby boys' penises intact. According to one recent poll, fully 10 percent of circumcised U.S. men wish they had not been circumcised. Many argue that future generations of boys and men should have the chance to decide for themselves whether something as significant and personal as an irreversible surgery on their sexual organ is what they really want, when they reach an age of understanding.
But doesn't circumcision promote health and hygiene, as the AAP and CDC suggest? The short answer is no. In fact, only one health claim is even potentially relevant to young boys in western countries: the claim that circumcised newborns may have an approximately 1 percent lower absolute risk of getting a urinary tract infection in the first 1-2 years of life. One possible explanation might be the distinctly American habit of trying to retract young boys' foreskins in order to wash their penises -- a practice that should never be done, because retraction is unnecessary for proper hygiene in infants and can cause small tears, which may increase the risk of infection. But even if this "circumcision protects against UTIs" claim is accepted, approximately 100 circumcisions would have to be performed to prevent just one urinary tract infection. Compare this to girls, who get urinary tract infections far more frequently than boys do: no one proposes that we remove their labia or their clitoral hood in infancy. We just prescribe antibiotics, when necessary.

All of the other claimed health benefits apply to adolescents and men after their sexual debut. Consider penile cancer. A reduced risk of this disease is a favorite argument used in support of circumcision. But penile cancer only develops in older men, and is so rare in Western countries that it would take between 900 and more than 300,000 circumcisions according to some estimates - with all the associated risks of surgery - to prevent just one case.

Other claimed benefits of circumcision, including a lowered risk of HIV and sexually transmitted infections, are based on studies of adult men -- not infants -- undergoing circumcisions in poor, African countries. Making health policies for newborn boys in the United States based on studies of adult males in Africa is scientifically unjustified. The situation in Europe, where most men are not circumcised, provides an important insight: all of the diseases that circumcision is claimed to prevent are about equally or even less common there than in the United States. For example, the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in the United States, where most men are circumcised, is 2-6 times higher than in non-circumcising countries of Northern Europe. While there are many cultural and other variables that play into these differences, the point is that the percentage of excised foreskins in a given population is far from the most relevant factor...

Studies from western countries do suggest that circumcision is associated with an increased risk of adverse sexual experiences, which even the CDC has recently acknowledged. Curiously, however, the CDC failed to mention this important finding in their newly proposed federal recommendations, made public in December of 2014.

What about complications? It is often said that these are "low" for circumcision, but there are at least two problems with this. First, research into complications is surprisingly superficial: there is no systematic mechanism in place to collect data on complications, and some problems (like the removal of too much tissue to allow for a normal erection) may take years to develop or recognize -- so they will never be recorded in an official database. Second, our tolerance for risk should be extremely low - in fact, close to zero - when we are talking about an unnecessary surgery performed on a healthy individual before he can provide his consent. Each year, thousands of U.S. boys undergo reparative penile surgery for complications. Clinical studies show that somewhere between 7 and 20 percent of newborn boys undergoing circumcision will develop a potentially serious complication called meatal stenosis, a narrowing of the urethral opening on the tip of the penis that usually requires surgery. Ignoring this fact, both the CDC and the AAP rely on poor quality register data to conclude that there is less than a half-a-percent risk of complications in newborn boys. Judged from the frequency of meatal stenosis alone, this estimate is likely to be at least 14 times too low...

Based on both medical and ethical considerations, routine circumcision is not a sensible procedure in countries where individual rights (like the right to bodily integrity) are more than a political buzzword. Boys need cosmetic genital surgery no more than girls do. And keeping one's intact genitals healthy and clean is simple regardless of one's gender: mild soap and running water are all that is needed. Cutting off a functional, protective and sensitive body part is a far-reaching decision that the vast majority of Europeans believe should be left to its owner when he becomes old enough to understand the consequences. Despite the recent, backward-looking statements by U.S. medical organizations, more and more Americans are beginning to agree."

Recently, a Florida mother named Heather Hironimus got in the news for refusing to circumcise her son. The boy, now 4, was born out of wedlock. Ms. Hironimus didn't want to marry the father Dennis Nebus and even tried to hide from him the baby's existence. To me, this shows pretty clearly how much the guy is worth. Unfortunately, today's push for "equal rights of both parents" and the bla-bla-bla about the tender heart of each and every father (read: adult male with functioning reproductive organs) increasingly puts women and vulnerable children under the power of abusive men, as in the bad old days and today's Third World. In this case, the father insisted to have a say in parenting and the two parents signed a court-approved parenting agreement which included circumcision of the boy.

However, the mother soon changed her mind, took her son and fled in order to prevent him for being circumcised. The saga dragged for 4 years but the end is near: "In a remarkable turnaround after a week behind bars for contempt [of court] and an initial hearing in which she was ordered to remain jailed, court reconvened and a sobbing Heather Hironimus signed paperwork giving approval for the surgery, recoiling in tears and clasping her shackled hands after it was done... Upon arriving in court Friday, shackled and wearing a navy blue jail jumpsuit, Hironimus quietly invoked her Fifth Amendment rights when asked if she had signed the consent agreement. [Judge Jeffrey] Gillen said she would be jailed indefinitely unless she did." (Source: today's report by Mark Sedensky, AP via Yahoo! News.)

I don't know what made the mother initially give her consent. Let me, however, quote a comment to the same report: "Even if there is a compelling medical reason, this is still an elective procedure. Every medical treatment should be weighed for Benefits-Versus-Risks. A simple example is antibiotic treatment. Even if I feel my patient may benefit from an antibiotic, I cannot administer the antibiotic if the parent objects (as long as the kid is not in danger of dying from the infection). Please also understand that a legal parent is allowed to change their mind about treatment at any time. Therefore, Ms. Hironimus is allowed to change her mind, even though she signed an agreement a couple of years ago. Sometimes there are valid reasons for a parent to change their minds regarding treatment, such as new treatments being available, better diagnostics, etc. The courts should understand that medical providers welcome parents to update their decisions continuously." Even before I had read this comment - apparently by a doctor, I had pointed out several times that the patient or his legal representative can retract his consent at any time, and if I sign a contract for (say) cosmetic surgery and then reconsider it, nobody would have the right to drag me to the operating theater and bind me to undergo the surgery.

My online friend Jane Meyerding had similar thoughts on another occasion: "Although incredibly resistant to change, the mass of governmental routine can spread itself quickly to cover new situations. The Cuban "boat people" -- the thousands of refugees who left Cuba for the U.S. in 1980 -- are a case in point. According to a newspaper report, 354 of these Cubans were incarcerated in the McNeil Island federal prison while the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) routine was applied to them... I happened to answer a newspaper ad that winter for part-time transcription typists and wound up transcribing tape recordings of their INS hearings. The job paid $7 an hour -- more than I've ever made, before or since.As I sat there... certain INS forms and documents came up again and again in (and as) evidence: I-589, "the State Department letter," the Refugee Act of 1980...
I was amazed at how quickly a newly established routine can come to take precedence over the chaotic reality of human lives. In every case, the INS court upheld the artifacts produced by the routine as more valid than the living, breathing, remembering, spoken testimony of the Cubans themselves. For example: Several of the defense lawyers objected to the admission as evidence of the I-589 forms. An I-589 is a "request for asylum" and, in these cases, the I-589s were filled out by INS agents who were communicating with the Cubans through interpreters (many of whom were not fluent in modern Cuban Spanish)... These interviews followed a period of intense stress and confusion -- imprisonment in Cuba, sudden release, and virtual expulsion in many instances, after a televised invitation from the president of the United States saying the U.S. would welcome them "with open arms." Then there was the crowded and dangerous boat trip to the near-mythical "land of the free" -- where they were immediately imprisoned. The refugees had received mixed messages from all sides -- for example, being told "sign here or you won't be released" and then being targeted for deportation on the basis of the "statement" they "voluntarily" signed...Well, it seemed patently obvious to me and to the refugees' lawyers that the I-589 forms were not worth diddlyshit as evidence. But listen to the judge: "I will overrule the objections. I admit this document as a statement made by the applicant. I admit it both for substantive and impeaching purposes. And I admit it as being a government document that was prepared in the routine course" of INS procedures [emphasis added]. The document -- born of routine -- was considered a more trustworthy expression of the applicant's reality than his own words spoken there in the courtroom. And whenever there was a discrepancy between the routine-blessed document and the words of the human being, the judge invariably chose to believe the piece of paper." (Emphasis mine - M.M.)

The unfortunate Cubans, at least, were not US citizens. What made US authorities subject US citizen Heather Hironimus to such outrageous, fascistic treatment? I guess, because it would be a bit of a scandal to admit that millions of US baby boys have been subjected to unnecessary and potentially risky surgery over decades. It is difficult to admit that the Emperor has no clothes.

Meanwhile, what is the moral of the story? Girls, never-ever have a baby with a man you feel you cannot trust! Use reliable contraception and if it fails, go straight to abortion, leaving aside any ethical and other considerations. If you don't want a man next to you, just a baby, use the services of a sperm bank. Apparently, this is the only way to prevent psychopaths like Dennis Nebus to poison your and the child's life and to abuse you as much as they wish, backed by the authorities. I am so sorry for Heather Hironimus and her child. I hope that this child will grow to become a strong man and will sue the hell out of his "father" and the state of Florida.

Update: A commenter at an ABC News report puts a good question:

"If the judge had the right to enforce the previous agreement, then why did he force the woman, under duress, to sign again? If a signature that the woman later changed her mind about was not satisfactory, how is a signature that has been obtained under duress any better? If the judge could override the woman's objection, why didn't he do just that? Forcing her to sign a consent form under duress is bizarre and cruel. I can't see how it could possibly be legal."


Estranged said...

There's a reason for people to have equal rights and to face no special treatment under the law.

Some women get to understand this only if their dear brother, father, or their sons become a victim of female abuse and the court treats them as monsters by default. Women actually have a lot in their toolkit, even if their tools are more covert and their abusive behaviour generally goes unnoticed and overlooked by society.

I used to ignore female abuse most of my life, even when it has damaged significantly my life or that of my friends. I actually hated my sex and adored women, and only in the last couple of years I started to see what I was trained to ignore. But I'm not going to argue with you whether men are abusive monsters or not.

I'll just end with this 'parable'.
My job currently is to catch people who cheat in an online videogame and my monkey brain was very surprised that my prejudice towards people from Russia and China (who are the majority of cheaters online) doesn't help me to be efficient at my job. My intuition wasn't helping me to ban people who abuse the system, and to protect innocent players. Words, pleas, accusations, complaints, sex and national origin meant nothing. It turned out that diligently comparing evidence from various sources helped to solve correctly 95% of the cases, and prejudice, bias and "human" judgement helped me in only 5% of these cases (and often misled me).

And I am still surprised by this, on an emotional level. I try to adjust my bias to reflect reality, but the results of my investigations keep surprising me every day. The evidence driven method is extremely efficient, but my biased emotions don't use it unless they have exhausted all other options.

To recap, there's a reason for people to have equal rights and to enjoy no special treatment under the law.

Maya M said...

I am sexist. I regard the mother as Parent No. 1, with all rights and responsibilities implied.
Western culture did the same for a long time: in case of divorce, the mother used to become the custodial parent by default.
Now, the new paradigm is that the two parents are equal in every respect, and when both parents wnat custody, the judge must evaluate their parenting abilities, which seems Mission Impossible to me.
I am sorry to say this, but in the cases I know about, when the divorcing father wants custody, this is with the sole purpose to hurt his ex. As an uncle of mine said: "I will leave her without children!" (Bez detsa shte ya ostavya!)
He got the custody he wanted, but it was hardly in his children's best interest. They are now adults, neither of them has much love for Daddy, and one of them developed a mental condition.

Estranged said...

I see why you are saying this. But I can also share a personal story. I grew up with my grandmother and my mother. I also don't have much love for them and I have several different mental health problems that seriously interfere with my ability to do very simple things in my daily life - to the point where life becomes an impossible burden and hurting and killing myself seems to be the best course of action. These were all acquired because the people that controlled my life were extremely unstable and abused me every day when I was a child. I owe my father the sanity and the facade of a normal life that I have. Without him, I wouldn't even imagine that they would be possible.

Maya M said...

I am sorry for this. A big bravo for your father!