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Surprising Science

Should Circumcision Be a Crime?

An anticircumcision group in San Francisco is the latest to join the fray over the alleged health benefits of the practice by pushing for a ban—is it simply a barbaric procedure?

What’s the Latest Development?

After banning toys in MacDonald’s children’s meals, the nation’s most progressive city is considering a ban on circumcision: “A proposal to ban circumcisions in San Francisco has moved forward as proponents of the ban delivered more than 12,000 signatures to the Department of Elections this week. If the petition has enough valid signatures from registered voters, the ban will appear on the ballot in the November election. The ban would make circumcision of any male under the age of 18 a misdemeanor and carry with it a fine of up to $1,000 and jail time of up to one year.”

What’s the Big Idea?

While circumcision began as a cultural ritual, dating as far back as 2500 B.C., today its defenders refer to medical benefits. “Circumcision is widely believed to prevent diseases, such as H.I.V., and there is some evidence that it reduces the risk of male-to-female HIV transfer. The proposed mechanism is that circumcision removes what are called Langerhans cells in the foreskin, which are more susceptible to HIV infection.” Studies carried out in African countries conclude that circumcised men are less likely to contract H.I.V., but is this a valid reason to continue the practice in the U.S. where incidences of H.I.V. are much lower?


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