Intactivism news

Intactivism News
February - May 2001

To more recent items than this
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May 11, 2001, Marilyn Milos wins a Nurseweek award for patient advocacy.

Marilyn Milos
Marilyn Fayre Milos

(Read her acceptance speech.)



Charter equality for males sought

National Post,
Thursday April 12, 2001, A12

By Adrian Humphreys

A Canadian group called the Association for Genital Integrity has been declined public funding to launch a court challenge aimed at banning the routine circumcision of baby boys. The group's contention is the Criminal Code, which prohibits female genital mutilation, discriminates against men by not providing equal protection under the law.

The association sought $46,639.50 from the Court Challenges Program of Canada, a federally funded agency that provides money for equality-related test cases, to prepare a challenge based on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

However, the program's Equality Rights Panel disagreed with the group's claim of discrimination, said Melina Buckley, acting executive director of the program.

"They are looking at it from a legal perspective in terms of whether or not this is a test case that is going to advance equality for a disadvantaged group and we're not convinced that this was the case," she said.

[The Panel seems to have taken on itself the role of a court, judging the case rather than just deciding whether it has sufficient merit to proceed to a court for judgement.]

Ms. Buckley said the group's application did not show to the satisfaction of the panel that the Criminal Code could not already apply to infant male circumcision if circumstances warranted it.

[This is also true of females. It is not the point at issue. There is a law specificially against modifying female genitals, but no corresponding law for males.]

The anti-circumcision lobbyists who propose the challenge are considering an appeal of the panel's decision, said Dr. Arif Bhimji, a Newmarket, Ont., physician and spokesman for [the] group.

"The panel seems to be saying there is no discrimination against boys because the Criminal Code already protects males from aggravated assault such as circumcision, but the panel may have made factual errors in other areas of its response," Dr. Bhimji said.

B'nai B'rith Canada, a Jewish advocacy organization, and the Canadian branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, attacked the group's proposal, saying that such a ban would impose undue harm on both the Muslim and Jewish communities in Canada. The funding program received several letters of protest against the application.

"Circumcision, as an age-old practice of both Canadian Muslims and Jews, is supported by mainstream medical evidence," the Council on American-Islamic Relations argued in its letter to the Court Challenges Program.

Ms. Buckley said the panel was aware of the letters but could not say what impact they had on the decision. Neither would she say which applications for funding were successful. There were 30 applications evaluated and nine were refused funding.

The Association for Genital Integrity points to Section 268 of the Criminal Code of Canada, where the offence of aggravated assault is defined. It specifically names only the components of the female genitalia in a subsection prohibiting genital excision.

The group contends that distinction violates Section 15 of the Charter, which guarantees equality before and under the law and equal protection and benefit of the law.

Circumcision remains North America's most common surgery.

Earlier story


The Advocate
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
April 10, 2001

Woman circumcised by ex-husband awarded $35,000

Advocate staff writer

A judge awarded $35,000 Monday to a woman who claimed her former husband conspired 29 years ago to circumcise her without her consent.

In the same ruling, Judge Pro Tempore John Perry Jr. assessed the woman, Mary Ann Turner, the costs of a 1996 mistrial in the case. Perry didn't say how much that would be.


Turner sued her former husband, local anesthesiologist Dr. Alan Ostrowe, claiming he conspired with the late Dr. Anthony Leggio to remove the skin covering her clitoris [an operaton exactly analogous to male circumcision] during other routine surgery at Woman's Hospital in 1972.

She said she didn't find out about the procedure until 1988, when another physician who was at the operation told her about it.

Ostrowe contended his wife agreed to the operation as a possible way to overcome problems she was having with intercourse.

He claimed she filed suit only after he threatened to cut off alimony payments.

In 1996, the case went to trial before a jury.

A judge halted the trial ...

The case was tried again this year solely before a judge.

In his ruling, Perry said the case boiled down to one issue -- whether Ostrowe participated in a scheme to have an unauthorized surgical procedure performed on his wife without her consent, or whether Turner was a knowing and willing participant.

Perry said he found it "difficult to imagine someone in her situation, immediately following the birth of her third child, in her early 30s, would have ever consented to such a bizarre procedure."


Witnesses testified that Turner "was stunned and extremely upset when she allegedly learned for the first time in 1988 what occurred," Perry wrote. Experts testified that Turner's hospital record showed she was given high doses of medication, Perry said. They also testified that the consent form was suspect, he said in his ruling.

The ruling concludes by saying some people might feel a higher award is justifiable under the circumstances. But he added that he is concerned about the implications of the couple's divorce and Turner's motives in the case.

"It is time to conclude this matter and allow these parties to reconstruct their lives in a productive way without being burdened further with this litigation," he said.

Attorneys for Turner and Ostrowe couldn't be reached for comment late Monday.


Medicaid wastes millions of tax dollars on circumcisions - lobby group

SANTA CRUZ, Calif. April 2 (U.S. Newswire) -- Medicaid pays more than $35 million every year for unnecessary circumcision surgeries, according to a lobby group - and the more doctors are paid for each circumcision, the more they do, the group claims.

The International Coalition for Genital Integrity (ICGI) has sent a comprehensive report to every member of Congress, supporting these claims.

"Medicaid is wasting tens of millions of dollars a year funding a harmful, unnecessary surgery simply so physicians and hospitals can profit at taxpayer's expense," said Rio Cruz, ICGI founder and report co-author. "It is time this fraud and abuse came to an end. Almost half of American parents decide to not circumcise their son. Increasingly, Americans are morally opposed to medically unnecessary circumcisions, and they should not have to fund parental choices that they do not agree with, especially when it offers no significant medical benefit to the child."

Congress members will also receive a petition signed by the heads of 47 human rights and genital integrity organizations and centers asking that the government immediately cease the use of federal tax dollars for medically unnecessary circumcisions.

Circumcision, cutting off the foreskin from a baby boy's penis, is a hotly contested issue. Advocates claim it reduces a wide variety of problems, opponents that these benefits are minimal or illusory, and that the operation is painful, risky, reduces sexual pleasure as an adult, and breaches the boy's human rights over his own body. All non-medical modification of underage female genitals is illegal for those reasons.

"Medicaid programs that paid physicians more to circumcise reported almost double the circumcision rate as states that pay physicians less," said Amber Craig, report co-author. "It is shocking that whether or not a poor child is circumcised has more to do with how much money a physician is reimbursed than with the child's health."

J. Steven Svoboda, founder of Attorneys for the Rights of the Child and report co-author commented, "Medicaid funded circumcisions represent the misuse of taxpayer dollars to directly support a medically contraindicated surgery which has serious complications including an estimated 200 deaths per year and which also violates the newborn infant's statutory and human rights. This report is important because it documents the extent of this waste of scarce government revenue, a waste which also adds to lifelong harm for many."

Congress members are receiving the report this week, April 1 -7, because it has been designated Genital Integrity Awareness Week. April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. The ICGI and other child rights advocates are holding daily demonstrations in Washington against circumcising infants.

Now that the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Association have stated that routine circumcision offers no significant health benefit, a number of states are reconsidering coverage of the operation. Six states' Medicaid programs have dropped it - California, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, North Dakota, and Mississippi - as well as private HMOs serving Medicaid-covered children. Michigan is considering legislation that will prohibit Medicaid coverage of circumcisions. Many other states are currently considering dropping circumcision as well, said Craig: "This trend to eliminate coverage for a cultural and sometimes religious procedure will free up millions of dollars for health care to poor children."



Capital Demonstrations against Circumcision

March 31, 2001 - The Stop Infant Circumcision (SIC) Society has held daily demonstrations on the steps of the Capitol, Washington DC, building up to the Genital Integrity Conference, March 31 - April 1, the beginning of Genital Integrity Week.

SIC Society on Capitol steps
Van Lewis (NOCIRC of Florida) and David Wilson (SIC Society) on March 28, 2001.
Wilson has demonstrated alone here every year for eight years.
(The graphic originated on this site.)


Four days later...

SIC Society and friends on Capitol steps
...they were joined by a few friends.

More pictures (This link takes you offsite.)


National Post (Canada)
Thursday, March 8, 2001

Ontario: Circumcision botched: suit

WINDSOR - A family has launched a malpractice suit against a former city doctor, alleging he left the husband depressed, disfigured and unable to have sex after a botched circumcision. Tadeusz Szewscyk, 47, was convinced by his wife to undergo the circumcision after experiencing discomfort during sex. Dr. Paul Hanson, a family practitioner, performed the operation in 1997. Since then, Mr. Szewscyk, who used to have sex "four or five times a week," has been unable to maintain an erection, his wife says.

(See the sexuality page)


Challenge to make Canadian Charter gender-neutral

[Actually, to make the Canadian Criminal Code gender-neutral]

TORONTO (Reuters Health) Feb 27

Canadian anticircumcision activists are challenging a law that protects women against genital mutilation to draw attention to the practice of male circumcision.

The court challenge, led by Dr. Arif Bhimji, has sparked a heated debate that pits subscribers to modern human rights tenets against followers of age-old religious traditions.

"We are saying that this section is discriminatory because it provides protection to females but it does not provide the same protection to males," said Dr. Bhimji, an emergency room physician and a Muslim who heads the anticircumcision Association for Genital Integrity.

He argues that the section of the criminal code concerning aggravated assault violates the Canadian Charter on Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees equality between the sexes.

Male circumcision is common in North America and elsewhere for religious and cultural reasons, and to prevent disease. Circumcision can [allegedly] help prevent urinary tract infections, sexually transmitted diseases and penile cancer.

More is at risk with this procedure than most people think, said John Antonopoulos of the Montreal-based Information Center on Circumcision. "It is not a small, useless piece of skin. There is a whole world of sensations in the foreskin," he said.

"There are potential complications and it's not medically necessary," said Dr. Debra Davis, a member of the Canadian Pediatric Society. In 2% to 10% of circumcisions, minor complications such as bleeding, infection and inflammation can occur and, more rarely, damage to the penis can lead to amputation, she said.

Given those concerns, she said there was a "real push" from the medical community in the mid-1980s to decrease the rate of circumcision, which fell to 60% from almost 90% in the US and to 20% from 50% in Canada.

Dr. Davis said no new medical evidence has arisen that would justify recommending a return to circumcision.

The view of most human rights, children's aid and religious groups is that, unlike female genital mutilation, male circumcision is not a deliberate attempt to injure the child.

"Male circumcision does have recognized medical benefits," said Carole Morency of Justice Canada. Female genital mutilation, in contrast, was never medically accepted [Not so!] and all colleges [of physicians and surgeons] have banned the practice."

Male circumcision cannot be compared to female genital mutilation, often mistakenly called female circumcision, which generally involves the complete removal of female genitalia and poses serious health risks, Morency added.

"We amended the code in 1997 to avoid any uncertainty that the criminal law in Canada does clearly prohibit the practice of female genital mutilation," she said, rejecting Dr. Bhimji's argument that the section violates the Charter's requirement of equality of treatment.

The Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC) immediately said it would oppose any court challenge to the law.

"Circumcision is a divine commandment. It's not an optional kind of thing and it doesn't depend on logic," CJC communications director Rubin Friedman said. If a child is not healthy, the only exception would be delaying the rite, usually performed on the eighth day following birth, he said.

If the court challenge were accepted, he said, "I think it would be a huge issue."

See also:


Globe and Mail, Toronto
Feb 19, 2001
page A5 National section.

Baby foreskins used in military tests

Edmonton. The foreskins of hundreds of baby boys in Alberta are being used by the military to help develop an antidote in the event of chemical warfare. The Defence Research Establishment at Canadian Forces Base Suffield in southern Alberta has collected hundreds of foreskins over the last decade of circumcised babies from a hospital in nearby Medicine Hat.

The foreskins themselves are not used, said Cam Boulet, head of chemical and biological warfare defence at Suffield. A few skin cells are scraped off into petrie dishes to create cell cultures used to test the effects of various chemical warfare agents.

The program was cleared by ethics committies at the base and the hospital. CP.



Monday, February 19, 2001

Ethics council says military should have parental approval to use foreskin


An Alberta-based military research team using newborns' foreskins for chemical warfare research and the doctors who supply the raw material should have the parents' consent first, the president of the National Council on Ethics in Human Research told The Edmonton Sun.

One of the Medicine Hat doctors involved in providing the foreskins to the Defence Research Establishment at CFB Suffield said parents were only told about the fate of the flesh if they asked.

But Dr. Jan Storch, the president of the ethics council, said that isn't good enough.

"About 10 years ago excess tissue was regarded as something that was quite useable for research purposes without asking consent," she said.

"But the climate has changed and now the guidelines are that, as a mark of respect, permission should be sought to use the tissue for research.

"I would think any university researcher applying to one of the granting authorities who did not follow the guidelines would be refused funding."

The head of the chemical and biological warfare defence section at Suffield, Dr. Cam Boulet, said the project had been passed by both the ethics committee at the base and the Medicine Hat hospital about 10 years ago.

"The hospital is responsible for supplying the tissue, but in view of what you have told me, we will be revisiting the arrangement," he told The Sun.

"Until now I haven't been aware of a concern, but it is our policy to be as open as possible about our work."

The Suffield scientists use cell scrapings from foreskins supplied by the hospital to grow cell cultures.

The cultures are then used to test antidotes to various chemical weapons.

Boulet estimated around 50 to 100 foreskins were used every year for the research over the last decade.

Storch, director of the school of nursing at Victoria University in B.C., said it appeared the project had been approved before the guidelines on human tissue use and the need for express consent from donors were clarified.

"This one appears to have slipped by so far but perhaps someone should look at it again in the light of current ethical thinking," she said.

Medicine Hat is 600 km south of Edmonton.

(Not only are the parents not "donors", nor are the babies, since they do not give their foreskins, but have them taken from them.)

(See the Law and Ethics pages.)


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