Foreskin intact, heart missing

I understand that a tragic story is a more powerful way to convey risk than any set of statistics will ever be. That’s why I post stories of homebirth deaths, to illustrate that childbirth is inherently dangerous, that childbirth emergencies occur in low risk situations, and that being close to a hospital is often not close enough to matter. There’s nothing wrong with circumcision activists illustrating their concerns with stories of circumcision gone wrong, but there is something wrong with posting this on a mother’s website:

My heart sure doesn’t break for her. On the contrary, she got exactly what she deserved. If every baby who was mutilated died, it might put a stop to the practice. This so-called tragedy is good publicity for outlawing genital mutilation. I hope she feels guilty for the rest of her miserable life & my sympathy for her is ZERO.

This is just one of a long series of vicious comments posted by intactivists on the mother’s website in the hours following her baby’s death. That’s not education; that’s hatred. Anti-circ activists may revel in intact foreskins, but they should also have a heart.

Should circumcisions be banned? Well meaning people may think so, claiming that mothers who circumcise DESERVE dead babies in something else altogether. And bemoaning the fact that only a very tiny fraction of babies die from circumcision complications makes no sense at all. If intactivists oppose circumcision because it is purportedly too dangerous, they should not be wishing that it was more dangerous.

Baby Joshua was born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, a severe, often fatal, heart defect. He had already survived two heart surgeries and was still in the hospital having a rocky recovery from his second heart surgery. His parents had been requesting circumcision, but it had been postponed repeatedly because doctors did not think he was stable enough to withstand the surgery, and because medications for his heart condition put him at greater risk for bleeding complications.

I can’t imagine why anyone thought that this was a good time to perform a circumcision. A first principle of surgery is that elective surgery should never be performed in the setting of an acute event. For example, it might be convenient to have that tummy tuck at the same time you are undergoing open heart surgery, but no doctor in his right mind would consent to do it because it dramatically increases the risk of complications and death.

There was no religious imperative for circumcision, and, in any case, Judaism is quite clear on the point that circumcision should not be done if the baby is ill or has a bleeding disorder. Long term protection against HIV is not really an issue in a baby struggling to survive a major cardiac defect. Therefore, this was essentially cosmetic surgery. I can’t envision performing cosmetic surgery on anyone recovering from heart surgery.

The baby did suffer bleeding complications and bled enough that a transfusion was being contemplated. Ultimately the baby suffered a cardiac arrest, and while it is not clear that the circumcision led to the cardiac arrest, it certainly didn’t help. Indeed, the stress and blood loss certainly could have been too much for a baby with a compromised heart to handle.

Is this a cautionary tale about circumcision? I’m not sure. It seems to me more like a cautionary tale about performing elective surgery on critically ill newborns. Nonetheless, it is entirely legitimate for “intactivists” to use this as a cautionary tale. It is entirely heartless, however, for them to post hateful comments on the mother’s website.

If this story illustrates anything, though, it is not the perils of circumcision, but rather the perils of posting on the internet. People who maintain personal blogs don’t seem to understand that they are not posting merely to a close circle of friends. Rather, they are posting to the WHOLE WORLD. If they do not want the whole world to be aware of their personal lives and to discuss their personal lives, they should not be posting details on the internet, at least not without password protesting their sites.

I am horrified and frankly incredulous that this tragedy has occurred. I wish it had not happened, but failing that, I wish the mother had not publicly posted it on the internet, exposing herself to the misery of having her personal decisions criticized by everyone from coast to coast.