Nontherapeutic circumcision of minors as an ethically problematic form of iatrogenic injury

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Abstract

Nontherapeutic circumcision (NTC) of male infants and boys is a common but misunderstood form of iatrogenic injury that causes harm by removing functional tissue that has known erogenous, protective, and immunological properties, regardless of whether the surgery generates complications. I argue that the loss of the foreskin itself should be counted, clinically and morally, as a harm in evaluating NTC; that a comparison of benefits and risks is not ethically sufficient in an analysis of a nontherapeutic procedure performed on patients unable to provide informed consent; and that circumcision violates clinicians' imperatives to respect patients' autonomy, to do good, to do no harm, and to be just. When due consideration is given to these values, the balance of factors suggests that NTC should be deferred until the affected person can perform his own cost-benefit analysis, applying his mature, informed preferences and values.

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Steven Svoboda, J. (2017). Nontherapeutic circumcision of minors as an ethically problematic form of iatrogenic injury. AMA Journal of Ethics, 19(8), 815–824. https://doi.org/10.1001/journalofethics.2017.19.8.msoc2-1708

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