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What is the medical evidence on non-therapeutic child circumcision?

Abstract

Non-therapeutic circumcision refers to the surgical removal of part or all of the foreskin, in healthy males, where there is no medical condition requiring surgery. The arguments for and against this practice in children have been debated for many years, with conflicting and conflicted evidence presented on both sides. Here, we explore the evidence behind the claimed benefits and risks from a medical and health-related perspective. We examine the number of circumcisions which would be required to achieve each purported benefit, and set that against the reported rates of short- and long-term complications. We conclude that non-therapeutic circumcision performed on otherwise healthy infants or children has little or no high-quality medical evidence to support its overall benefit. Moreover, it is associated with rare but avoidable harm and even occasional deaths. From the perspective of the individual boy, there is no medical justification for performing a circumcision prior to an age that he can assess the known risks and potential benefits, and choose to give or withhold informed consent himself. We feel that the evidence presented in this review is essential information for all parents and practitioners considering non-therapeutic circumcisions on otherwise healthy infants and children.

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Acknowledgements

We would like to thank Prof. Nicholas Watkin for his invaluable comments on this article. We would also like to thank the anonymous reviewers for the rigorous and detailed feedback they provided.

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Concept and structure: GHM. Drafting of the paper: MD. Critical revisions and re-drafting: MD and GHM. Supervision: GHM.

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Correspondence to Gordon Muir.

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Deacon, M., Muir, G. What is the medical evidence on non-therapeutic child circumcision?. Int J Impot Res (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41443-021-00502-y

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