The debate on circumcision is heating up again. After being criminalized in the Cologne Regional Court of Germany, the first violation resulted in a recent charge against the traditional Jewish practitioner. Other countries such as Denmark are calling into question if this practice violates health codes.
In New York City, concern has focused on a practice used only by ultra-Orthodox Jews: metzitzah b’peh. This involves direct oral suction of the circumcision wound, and has recently been implicated in the death of two infants who were infected by herpes. Concern over herpes infection has pushed New York City health officials to pass a regulation requiring parents to provide signed informed consent before allowing their child to take part in metzitzah b’peh.
Dena S. Davis, professor of bioethics at Lehigh University, believes insistence on metzitzah b’peh is wrong. In an opinion piece she wrote for Bioethics Forum, a service of The Hastings Center, Davis outlined the latest political occurrences and medical ethical implications regarding male newborn circumcision. Davis believes that informed consent is an inadequate approach to the issue.
“If oral suction puts infants at unreasonable risk of death, it ought explicitly to be made illegal (in fact, one could argue that it already is illegal and could be prosecuted as negligent homicide or child endangerment),” she said. Also unreasonable, she said: the fact that traditional Jewish circumcision "can legally be performed by anybody, and has absolutely no regulation" in a state that regulates who may shampoo a person’s hair.