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News: Circumcision

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Background information on Circumcision [When available]

Circumcision is the removal of some or all of the prepuce (foreskin). The frenulum is often excised at the same time, in a procedure called frenectomy. The word circumcision comes from Latin circum (meaning "around") and caedere (meaning "to cut"). Female circumcision is a term applied to a variety of procedures performed on the female genitalia, of which only one, the removal of the clitoral hood, is comparable to male circumcision. Except where specified, "circumcision" in this article should be taken as "male circumcision."

Reasons for circumcision

Circumcision is performed for religious, cultural, and medical reasons. Elective adult circumcision may also be chosen as a form of body modification, or for aesthetic or other reasons.

Religious and cultural circumcision

Circumcision is a religious practice traditionally required by Judaism, usually performed in a ceremony called a Brit milah or Bris Milah (Hebrew for "Covenant of circumcision"). The ceremony is to be performed on the eighth day after birth of the newborn boy unless health reasons force a delay. A trained professional, called a mohel, performs the ceremony. See also: Circumcision in the Bible.

According to nearly all Muslim religious leaders, circumcision is an important element of Islam. Although circumcision is not mentioned in the Qur'an, it is mentioned in some parts of the Hadith, a set of texts explaining Islamic law that most Muslims view as authoritative. Most Muslims believe that Muhammad was born circumcised. Moreover, Hadiths describe that the ritual of circumcision was started by Abraham, who is seen as the founder of Islam. Muslim custom on circumcision varies. Some Muslim communities perform circumcision on the eighth day of life, as the Jews do, while others perform the rite at a different time. Turkish, Balkan, and Central Asian Muslims typically circumcise boys at between six and eleven years of age, and the event is viewed communally as a joyous occasion and celebrated with sweets and feasting. In contrast, Iranian Muslims are typically circumcised in the hospital at birth without much ado. In Egypt, farmers in rural areas celebrate circumcision as a joyous occasion, while in urban populations, as in many industrialized countries such as the USA, the procedure is routinely performed at a hospital.

Circumcision is also customary in the Coptic Christian and Ethiopian Orthodox religious traditions. It is usually performed on the eighth day of life. This practice was condemned by the Council of Florence [1] in 1442, held by leading theologians of the Roman Catholic Church, which said in part:

Therefore it strictly orders all who glory in the name of Christian, not to practise circumcision either before or after baptism, since whether or not they place their hope in it, it cannot possibly be observed without loss of eternal salvation. [2]

Circumcision is also common in a number of African and Australian Aboriginal religious traditions. Among some West African animist groups, such as the Dogon and Dowayo, it is taken to represent a removal of "feminine" aspects of the male, turning boys into fully masculine males. Among Nilotic peoples, such as the Nandi, circumcision is a rite of passage observed collectively by a number of boys every few years, and boys circumcised at the same time are taken to be members of a single age set. Aboriginal circumcision ceremonies, which also constitute a rite of passage, are noted for their painful nature, including subincision for some tribes.

The United States and South Korea are the only countries that still practice circumcision routinely on a majority of males for non-religious reasons. Routine circumcision practices in South Korea are largely the result of American cultural and military influence following the Korean War.

Medical circumcision

Circumcision may be recommended in cases such as phimosis (a very tight foreskin), balanitis xerotica obliterans or posthitis(an inflamed foreskin). Other treatments exist for phimosis [3] and balanitis [4][5][6], though these are not as successful in the case of balanitis xerotics obliterans [7] [8] [9]. Circumcision may also be advised in cases of recurrent balanitis and urinary tract infections, Zoon's balanitis, and penile cancer.

A recent South African study found that circumcision may reduce the transmission of HIV (the virus that causes AIDS) by 63%[10]. The study was terminated early so that circumcision could be offered to the control group. However, The Lancet, the most prestigious of all British medical journals, declined to publish the report. "At issue, Auvert and Puren told Science, is an ethical disagreement that involves how participants learned their HIV status and the counselling they received." The study was presented to an International AIDS Society conference in Brazil in July 2005. Some fear that if widespread circumcision is touted as an effective way to reduce HIV infection rates, people will develop a false sense of security and be more likely to engage in sexual intercourse without latex condoms, which would still carry significant risk if either partner has HIV or another sexually transmitted disease.

Statistically, uncircumcized men are several times more likely to be carriers of human papilloma virus than circumsized men. HPV is a significant cause of cervical cancer. Circumcized men are less likely to infect their partners. Further, some medical sources believe that being uncircumsized multiplies a man's risk of developing penile cancer.

Recommending circumcision for infants as a preventative measure is controversial. No national medical body recommends routine infant circumcision. Some argue that circumcision is a significant public health measure while others have asserted that there are no net benefits to the procedure, or that the drawbacks outweigh the benefits. Still others discourage the procedure altogether. The American Academy of Pediatrics argues that parents should make an informed decision based upon medical and other benefits and risks, [11]. For a detailed discussion, see medical analysis of circumcision.

Circumcision and body modification

Circumcision may be undertaken voluntarily as a body modification. (See also foreskin restoration).

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