Is circumcision a healthy ritual?

  • By Dr. Shalini Kapoor

Religious rituals and practices have been carried out since ancient times. Circumcision is a religious ritual that involves surgical removal of the prepuce of the human penis. Prepuce is the foreskin of the penis and during the procedure; the person performing the ritual opens, inspects and separates it from the glans. The process is painful and hence local or topical anesthesia is used to reduce physiological stress and pain. Circumcision is performed for religious as well as personal reasons and many times recommended medically for prophylactic or therapeutic reasons as well. Today’s medical science makes use of this treatment for treating chronic urinary tract infections, refractory balanoposthitis and pathological phimosis.

Circumcision is performed as ritual in many parts of the world. However, it is also recommended medically as protection against HIV infection.

Circumcision-Is it Legal and Ethical?

In the world over, the ritual or practice of circumcision is carried out on all types of people from neonatal stage to adulthood. While no significant risks have been noticed due to the practice of this ritual, rather some modest health benefits have come to the fore. The World Health Organization has recommended circumcision for male infants in parts of Africa where the children are more vulnerable to urinary tract infections. However, no other medical organization in the world has supported or banned the procedure. Over past few years, legal and ethical questions have been making rounds and many believe that consent should be taken before carrying out neonatal circumcision.

HIV and Circumcision Benefits

A Cochrane meta-analysis conducted in 2009 on sexually active African men have revealed that the ritual of circumcision reduces the risk rate of HIV infection by 38 to 66 percent among heterosexual men in a period of 24 months. That is why WHO has recommended circumcision in sub-Saharan African areas having high rates of HIV infection as a part of the comprehensive HIV program. Moreover, this process is more cost-effective as compared to other treatments and preventive measures recommended for HIV. Circumcision reduces the risk rate of HSV-2 infections and oncogenic HPV prevalence along with the risk of penile cancer and UTIs. Until now, there have been no concluding reports on the protective effects circumcision offers against other types of sexually transmitted infections.

Circumcision is also recommended medically to children suffering from pathological phimosis and refractory balanoposthitis.

Contraindications

The literature worldwide review conducted in 2010 reveals that around 1.5 percent of the newborns face median complication when the process of circumcision is performed by trained medical providers. Only 6 percent children face severe complications with the common complications being infection, bleeding or removal of too little or too much of foreskin. However, the process does not cause any negative impact on the sexual functioning of an individual. Contraindications due to circumcision are also cited in infants having genital structure abnormalities right from the birth such as misplaced urethral opening, ambiguous genitalia or chordae. In such cases, the foreskin may require reconstruction through surgery. It is contraindicated in premature babies and clinically unstable infants and it should also be avoided in children with family history of hemophilia (bleeding disorders). In such patients, it is important that the blood should be checked for its coagulation properties before attempting the procedure.


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