The governing body of American pediatricians has decided that the health benefits of circumcision outweigh its potential risks, according to a new policy announced this week.
While the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has stopped short of recommending that circumcisions be routinely performed on newborn boys, it cleared the way for insurance coverage for the procedure.
The ruling results from a plethora of studies from 1995 to 2010 which show that circumcised males are less likely to contract HIV, penile cancer and other life-threatening illnesses.
Half of all baby boys in the US are circumcised, with higher percentages in areas with high Jewish and Muslim populations, for whom the brit or khitan is a fundamental religious rite.
Overall, however, circumcision rates have been declining in the US since the 1980s, as increasing numbers of parents, including many secular Jews, have foregone the procedure for religious, cultural, ethical and cosmetic reasons.
In addition, 18 states do not cover circumcision under Medicaid, the federally funded health-care programme for poorer members of society.
Dr Andrew Freedman, who is a urologist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Centre in Los Angeles, was on the team that authored the new policy. “We’re not recommending circumcision,” he said. “We want parents to decide what’s in the best interests of their child.”
A potential ban on circumcision in San Francisco was narrowly averted last year when a judge ruled that legislation governing medical procedures should be left up to the state, not to the municipal government. But anti-circumcision sentiment remains strong, especially in the Bay area, where a dozen activists protested against the new ruling this week outside the AAP’s regional office.