Human Exceptionalism

“Circumcision Saved My Life”

The authoritarian attempt to outlaw circumcision in San Francisco–no religious exemptions allowed–stirred quite a hornet’s nest here at SHS when I first brought it up. Having paid attention to the comments, particularly those in support of the ban, I am more convinced than ever that opposition is ideological and not based on actual material harm to the baby and the man he become. Indeed, circumcision can be beneficial to health–even for a circumcised man’s sexual partners.

Diane Cole writes a first person account of this ancillary health benefit for the Wall Street Journal today. She has direct and painful experience in the matter. Her husband, a hemophiliac, died of AIDS–but she was never infected even though they spent some time after he acquired HIV from a blood transfusion, but before they knew he was positive, trying to get pregnant–meaning body fluids were definitely exchanged.  He died in 1999, but she lives on uninfected, for which she credits her husband’s circumcision as an infant. From “Circumcision Saved My Life:”

But here is the reason I am alive today: In the same way that circumcision vastly diminishes the chance of infecting women with the human papillomavirus that causes cervical cancer, studies suggest that circumcision also helps guard against the transmission of the HIV virus. In both cases, cells on the inside of the male foreskin are implicated in spreading the virus. But if the foreskin is removed, a source of infection is also removed.

So there you have it: My husband’s circumcision saved my life. That reprieve allowed us to make the decision to adopt a child (our son, now 22, who will soon graduate from college). And it impressed on me the importance of public health decisions that unwittingly can save a life—which in this case happened to be mine. If the San Francisco initiative passes, and encourages other communities to do the same, who knows whose lives won’t be saved.

Of course, there is no way of knowing with certainty that she was spared because of her husband’s minor surgery as a baby–a procedure he never remembered and which did not interfere in the least with his attempts to impregnate his wife, and I presume, take great pleasure in the intimacy.  Sexually passed HIV isn’t as readily spread to women in America as to from man to man.  But it is a good bet.  Studies in Africa show that HIV transmission is cut substantially when men are circumcised.

The emotional obsession about the issue exhibited by some C-ban advocates has me really shaking my head.  In researching this and the last post on circumcision, I even noted angry advocacy to dissuade adults from being circumcised as an HIV prophylactic.  Good grief.

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