Which parent gets to decide on circumcision?

Divorced parents of an 8-year-old boy go to court over whether their son should be circumcised.

Published June 19, 2006 12:49PM (EDT)

The Associated Press reported last week on an interesting court case out of suburban Chicago in which the father of an 8-year-old boy has sued his ex-wife over her decision to get their son circumcised.

The mother of the boy, whose identity was not released, claims that her son needs the procedure to relieve a recurring inflammation in his penis. She testified that he has pleaded with her to help him. "My child was in the bathroom crying. He asked me to come in because his penis did not look normal," she said in court, explaining that the five bouts he has suffered were so painful that he couldn't get dressed and could wear only loose pajamas.

But his father said his ex-wife is violating their 2003 divorce agreement that gives him authority to help decide on his son's medical matters. He says the boy is healthy and fears circumcision would cause physical and psychological harm. "I do not want any doctor to butcher my son," he told the AP.

The changing consensus over whether the procedure is medically advisable prompted the American Academy of Pediatrics in 1999 to change its position on routine infant circumcision -- questioning whether it was beneficial and could lead to decreased penile sensitivity. Only 60 percent of baby boys currently get the procedure, compared with 90 percent in 1970.

The lawyer for the boy's father, who is originally from Poland, called it "a bizarre American custom." But a pediatric urologist, who performs about 20 circumcisions a year on boys between the ages of 5 and 10, told the judge it could help a child with a recurring inflammation or infection.

Whether circumcision could help an older child is a question for the medical community, but so far, this case has degenerated into a series of personal attacks.

Of course, a child's heath should be the concern of both parents. Let's hope this kid's parents can learn to agree to disagree outside of court and just figure out what's best for their son.

By Sarah Elizabeth Richards

Sarah Elizabeth Richards is a journalist based in New York. She can be reached at sarah@saraherichards.com.

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