Federal health officials have finally taken a stance on circumcision, one of the most divisive parenting topics out there. In a draft of guidelines released on Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention threw its weight behind circumcision after medical evidence showed it can cut down on the risk of HIV, sexually transmitted infections, urinary tract infections, and some types of cancer. The CDC even went so far as to say the procedure should be covered by health insurers, but drew the line at recommending it to parents. Instead, moms and dads should talk it over with their physician.
Sound familiar? It should. The CDC's guidelines hew closely to those issued a couple of years ago by the American Academy of Pediatrics. But unlike the AAP's policy, which applies only to infants, this one is intended for older kids too, including uncircumcised male teenagers. That's because three separate clinical trials have concluded that removing the foreskin from the tip of the penis can reduce the risk of HIV infection by 50-60 percent over time and lower the risk of herpes simplex virus type-2 and types of human papilloma virus that can lead to penile and otheranogenital cancers by a whopping 30 percent.
Still, a later-in-life circumcision doesn't come without some degree or risk. According to the CDC, circumcision is safer for newborns than older boys -- the complication rate is 0.5 percent in babies and rises to 9 percent in kids ages 1-9. So again, parents and older kids are urged to talk over the risks and benefits with a physician before making a decision.
Before it's finalized, the draft will undergo peer review and be up for public comment for the next 45 days. Some of its supporters have said the official recommendation couldn't come at a better time -- the percentage of parents who opt to have their babies undergo the procedure in a hospital has dropped in recent years.
Personally, when our son was born, the question whether to circumcise him wasn't even on the table. Because of my husband's religious beliefs, we chose to have our kiddo's foreskin removed before we even left the hospital. But I know the decision isn't always so easy for parents to make. For many, this is about more than cutting away some skin. Depending on which side you're on, circumcision could be a preventative measure for better health, an adherence to a cultural or religious tradition, a move to have him look like most other boys (and/or Daddy), or a socially acceptable form of genital mutilation. Or something different altogether. But what I appreciate about the CDC and AAP's guidelines is that they offer advice but then leave plenty of room for parents to decide what's best for their child.
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