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Foreskin rally calls for ban on infant circumcision
Verbal battle erupts over specialized private clinic
Have you hugged your foreskin today? A passionate rally this week is calling on the government and Victoria residents to show the normally shy body part a little bold love — or at least protection.
The “Whole World/Whole Children” rally is set to gather outside one of the newest private health-care offices to start offering circumcision, Diversified Health Clinic at 1063 Fort, on Friday, April 13, at 11:30 a.m. The group will then march to the legislature lawns and finish with a protest and speeches. But while foreskins may not be an issue paramount in the minds of many (save expectant parents), rally organizers say this affects all of us more than we think.
“What this really comes down to is a human rights issue,” says Glen Callender, speaker at the event and founder of the Canadian Foreskin Awareness Project. “When you consider that infant female circumcision was banned in Canada in 1997 and is now considered a criminal offence, why is the genital mutilation of an infant male any different?”
Kira Antinuk, a local mother and nursing student who organized the rally, says that the impetus for the protest came when her organization, Victoria Circumcision Resources, heard about Dr. Neil Pollock, a Vancouver-based physician who is known for being outspoken on the issue of circumcision, bringing his practice to the Island.
“We were really concerned to hear that Dr. Pollock . . . was planning on opening up a genital-cutting clinic in Victoria,” says Antinuk. “This is not acceptable on the Island, and it shouldn’t be acceptable in B.C. at all. I don’t think a lot of people are aware of this yet.”
Pollock says he has performed over 35,000 circumcisions — 10 to 15 a month in the Victoria clinic — and has taught his “virtually painless, 30-second technique” to doctors all over the world.
“Circumcision saves lives, and if you don’t tell people that, they don’t know,” says Pollock. “My position is the same as that of the Canadian Pediatric Society, which recognizes the multiple medical and disease preventing benefits of circumcision and states that parents should be given unbiased information about the benefits and risks, so they can make an informed decision.”
B.C. was the first province to pull Medicare funding from circumcision back in 1984, with all other provinces following suit after research showed it was no longer a necessary medical procedure. In 2009, the B.C. College of Physicians and Surgeons stated the procedure should be delayed until the child can make his own decision, and the Canadian Pediatric Society now states on its website the relative risks of the foreskin being left intact alongside the proven risks of removing it.
Since circumcisions are no longer covered provincially or performed in hospitals, private health clinics are left to pick up the slack from parents and some adults still wanting to perform the procedure. That privatized bias is exactly what concerns Callender, who says clinics are now preying on misinformed parents to push the invasive procedure onto children who cannot give their consent.
“Criminal law protects the foreskin of a girl, the hood of her clitoris, but not of a boy — yet it’s the same translated body part,” says Callender. “So much of what we hear about why circumcision is ‘good’ is misinformation from years ago, or even old wives tales, but the tales stick. We have to recognize the severe and detrimental impacts not only of making a decision for an individual who cannot consent, but that this is a form of assault, and we need the government to say ‘No more.’”
Pollock, however, says when it comes to the difference between male and female circumcision, “You can’t even compare them. One is an illegal mutilation of women with no medical or disease-prevention benefits, the other is a legal procedure with multiple medical and disease-prevention benefits.”
Wading through the facts on both sides of the argument can be a tedious affair, with statistics ranging from circumcision impacting the function, pleasure and nerve system of the penis, to the procedure preventing penile cancers and reducing the transmission of HIV in some instances.
Callender emphasizes that the rally is not an effort to prevent circumcision on the whole — it’s a plea to halt the procedures on infants, and get everyone thinking about the rights of those who don’t yet have a voice.
“Either you have had a circumcision, or you know someone who has, and this literally impacts everyone — it’s something we need to start talking about,” says Callender. “I feel like I won the luckiest lottery because I was born in the ’70s in Port Alberni and I still have my foreskin. It’s my favourite body part. I actually have a T-shirt that says ‘I love my foreskin.’” M