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The Kindest Cut Was Almost Banned

A US judge recently ruled that a proposal to ban circumcision of male infants in San Francisco should not be put to a referendum later this year. Meanwhile, in Africa--where there is a plague of heterosexual AIDS--grown men are being circumcised. An international study shows that among Kenyan men, circumcision is associated with a lower prevalence of precancerous lesions of the penis caused by the sexually-transmitted human papillomavirus virus (HPV), which plays an important role in genital cancers in men AND women, including cancers of the penis and cervix.

Since San Francisco contains one of the country's largest gay populations--people who are especially vulnerable to AIDS--this is an odd place for such a law to be proposed, which would have made circumcision of a minor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine. It would have made San Francisco the first city in the US to put the circumcision of minors to a popular vote, rather than leaving it up to doctors and parents.

The backers of the proposal call male circumcision should be a matter for an individual, not parents to decide. The problem with this is that circumcision, when done on an infant, is a simple and fairly painless process, while circumcision of an adult is a much more complex--and painful--process. People who are against the procedure compare it to the type of female genital mutilation--where the clitoris is removed--that is practiced in parts of Africa and the Middle East.

In Yahoo News, Hannah Dreier quotes religious activist Abby Porth as saying, "The measure was divisive and was hostile to Muslims and Jews. This was a confirmation of the values that we both share and an opportunity to do something positive together."

Meanwhile, researcher Jennifer Smith says, "Our data are the first to show that male circumcision may reduce HPV-associated penile precancerous lesions. This represents an additional public health benefit of male circumcision. The percentage of men with HPV-associated precancerous penile lesions was substantially higher among those who were not circumcised--26%--compared to those who were circumcised (less than one percent). Interventions that reduce HPV-associated penile lesions could be important to both men and women, because such lesions may increase HPV transmission from men to their sexual partners."

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