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Circumcision: Who Profits?

Circumcision is big business. Neonatal circumcision is the most frequently performed routine operation in the US. Doctors are collecting as much as $240 million yearly to perform 1.2 million needless operations on 1.2 million normal penises. In England, under socialized medicine when physicians were no longer compensated monetarily, the circumcision rate fell to below 0.5%.

Most parents want the operation. I can make an extra $200. Why should I try to dissuade them? —Anonymous obstetrician

And then, there are the hidden factors that raise the cost of circumcision to the healthcare industry. For example, the additional cost of the added average half-day longer hospital stay for circumcised infants is estimated between $250-550 million beyond the charges for the procedure itself. The total cost of all neonatal circumcisions annually performed in hospitals in the US is well over a billion dollars.

Circumcision is extremely profitable for the medical-industrial complex. Human foreskins are in great demand for a number of commercial enterprises, and the marketing of purloined baby foreskins is also an immensely profitable industry. Some examples: Pharmaceutical companies use foreskin in the manufacture of interferon and other drugs and international biotech corporations are procuring cells from amputated foreskins and experimenting with artificial skin. According to a report in Forbes magazine, the annual market for baby-penis-derived products could be $1 to $2 billion. And all of this without the permission of the “donor.” Biotechnology firms like Organogenesis have received fast-lane approval from the FDA for its foreskin-based Graftskin. Doctors, medico-legal experts, and bioethicists were denied the opportunity to request a full hearing and voice their concerns over the ethics of trafficking in and marketing these foreskins.

The encouraging news is that, despite economic pressure to continue circumcision, the rate of circumcision has declined in the US. Many people are beginning to question the moral or legal right of a parent (or doctor) to remove a valuable and normal part of another human's body. Would it be moral or legal to remove the tip of every male's left little finger? While many doctors, who do not really believe in circumcision, still perform it under pressure from colleagues, hospitals, and parents, many noted physicians have spoken out against circumcision, including Benjamin Spock. More and more, enlightened doctors, nurses, and parents are saying “no.”

My feeling is that it is a traumatic experience and I am opposed to traumatizing the baby… and to inflicting an operation on an individual without his permission. My feelings became more concrete when I talked to Leboyer and saw his birth film. It seemed so incongruous to have a nonviolent birth and then do violence to the baby by circumcising him. —H. Marchbanks

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