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Pediatricians: Circumcision pluses outweigh risks

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CHICAGO >> The nation’s most influential pediatricians group says the health benefits of circumcision in newborn boys outweigh any risks and insurance companies should pay for it.

In its latest policy statement on circumcision, a procedure that has been declining nationwide, the American Academy of Pediatrics moves closer to an endorsement but says the decision should be up to parents.

“It’s not a verdict from on high,” said policy co-author Dr. Andrew Freedman. “There’s not a one-size-fits-all-answer.” But from a medical standpoint, circumcision’s benefits in reducing risk of disease outweigh its small risks, said Freedman, a pediatric urologist in Los Angeles.

Recent research bolstering evidence that circumcision reduces chances of infection with HIV and other sexually spread diseases, urinary tract infections and penis cancer influenced the academy to update their 13-year-old policy.

Their old stance said potential medical benefits were not sufficient to warrant recommending routinely circumcising newborn boys. The new one says, “The benefits of newborn male circumcision justify access to this procedure for those families who choose it.” The academy also says pain relief stronger than a sugar-coated pacifier is essential, usually an injection to numb the area.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Convention has estimated circumcision costs range from about $200 to $600 nationwide. Coverage varies among insurers and several states have stopped Medicaid funding for circumcisions.

The new policy was published online Monday in Pediatrics. It comes amid ongoing debate over whether circumcision is medically necessary or a cosmetic procedure that critics say amounts to genital mutilation. 

Meantime, a recent study projected that declining U.S. circumcision rates could add more than $4 billion in health care costs in coming years because of increased illness and infections.

Circumcision involves removing foreskin at the tip of the penis. The procedure can reduce germs that can grow underneath the foreskin, and complications, including bleeding and infection, are rare, the academy says.

Despite the U.S. decline, about half of baby boys nationwide still undergo circumcision, or roughly 1 million each year. The country’s overall rate is much higher than in other developed nations, but U.S. rates vary by region and are higher in areas where it is a cultural or religious tradition, including among Jews and Muslims.

Psychologist Ronald Goldman, director of an anti-circumcision group, the Circumcision Resource Center, said studies show circumcision causes loss of sexual satisfaction — a claim the academy said is not supported by the research it reviewed — and can be psychologically harming. Goldman contends medical studies showing benefits are flawed and that the academy’s new position is “out of step” with medical groups in other developed countries.

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