The Wild West: Banning Circumcision

Despite living here for 15 years, San Francisco continues to surprise me. In this city renowned for being progressive and open-minded, there ballot item for November 2011 that has the entire world abuzz.

The Male Genital Mutilation Bill

What’s in the ballot box for this fall is called the “Male Genital Mutilation Bill.” It seeks to make it “unlawful to circumcise, excise, cut, or mutilate the whole or any part of the foreskin, testicles, or penis” of anyone 17 or younger in San Francisco.”  A person who violates the proposed ban could be jailed (for <1 year) or fined (< $1,000). Exemptions for religious reasons would not be allowed. This Bill is on the ballot because, in this fair city, if 7,168 people sign on, then it can be added as an election item.

Circumcision: The Cultural Context

It is likely that this bill was inspired by the worldwide movement to ban the cultural practice of female genital mutilation or female circumcision. This is a common procedure in Africa and Southeast Asia performed on 2 million girls annually. A female circumcision is not the same as the male variety however. With female circumcision, the clitoris is removed (clitoridectomy). In a boy, this would be the equivalent to removing the entire visible penis and not just the hood of skin covering the penis.
For a bit more context, please note:

  • Virtually all Jews, most Muslims, as well as an estimated 55% of the American population are circumcised.
  • Overall, it is estimated that 16% of the world’s population is circumcised.
  • Most medical societies worldwide do not recommend routine circumcision on boys.
  • Abortion has been legal since 1973.

For more medical context, please note the following demonstrated benefits of male circumcision:

  • Prevention of urinary tract infections in boys
  • Prevention of spread of HIV, Herpes, HPV (warts) and possibly other sexually transmitted diseases
  • Prevention of penile cancer

As I have stated before in this forum regarding the medical issues with circumcision: “A clean penis and a clean life may be all that’s needed to replace the knife.” Clearly the issue of whether or not to ban medical, cultural or religious circumcision in boys is a very personal matter. What fascinates me is that, as a urologist who performs adult circumcisions, depending on how the vote goes in November, I could become an outlaw in my own city. The Wild West all over again. Guess I’ll have to follow the advice of Will Rogers: “Don’t squat with your spurs on.”