04/09/2014 10:00 EDT | Updated 06/09/2014 05:59 EDT

The Decision to Circumcise Isn't As Clear Cut As it Used to Be

An important decision needs to be made if you are expecting a boy, or if you have recently welcomed a little man to the world: whether to circumcise him. For some families, cultural and religious beliefs make the decision an easy one. But for others, the choice may not seem as clear cut... no pun intended. A lot of media focus has recently been placed on circumcision and the debate has become heated between the pro- and anti-circers.

A recent study published in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings states the health benefits of circumcision outweigh the risks one to 100. The very candid lead author Brian J. Morris, a circumcision advocate and Professor Emeritus at the University of Sydney, Australia, takes a very strong pro-circumcision stance. He goes so far as to liken parents who do not circumcise to those that do not vaccinate.

"Just as vaccination, failure to circumcise will put your son at serious risk of adverse medical conditions and he could indeed die from some of them. What's more he will harm others, from sexually transmitted infections which include oncogenic HPV types that cause cervical cancer, a potentially lethal cancer," write Morris.

While Morris' viewpoint may be a bit alarmist, it also has some merit. The American Association of Pediatrics recently changed their stance to be more pro-circumcision citing the many benefits of circumcision including "the prevention of urinary tract infections, penile cancer, and transmission of some sexually transmitted infections, including HIV."

Related:How to Care for a Newborn Baby

And yet on the anti-circumcision side of the argument, passions run just as high. The most vocal opposers are a group who call themselves "intactivists." They consider circumcision to be "genital mutilation" and feel it violates a child's rights and may cause serious health risks such as infections, hemorrhaging and even death.

So when there are risk factors on both sides of the argument, where does this leave parents? It seems no matter which side of the argument you fall on, there are some pretty serious risks. But these risks should be taken with a grain of salt as the actual risk of serious complications on both sides are quite low. A small bleed, infection or other minor complication is more common than the serious complications cited for circumcised boys. And penile cancer is so rare (about one in 100,000) that even an increased risk is still barely any risk at all.

The Canadian Paediatric Society outlined its position in 1996, saying "the overall evidence of the benefits and harms of circumcision is so evenly balanced that [the CPS] does not support recommending circumcision as a routine procedure for newborns." The CPS was set to release a more neutral policy in mid-2013 "that captures the risks, and the benefits, but is also respectful of personal preferences, religious issues and many other things that dictate this decision." But the organization has been struggling to find an appropriate balance and has yet to adjust their stance on the issue.

Clearly, there are pros and cons on both sides of the argument and ultimately, it comes down to what each family chooses. Speak to your doctor before making your decision and keep in mind that no matter what you choose, cleanliness is key to keeping your son healthy, circumcised or not.

Written by Marianne Litman for

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