A few days ago I wrote (here) that “no ethics committee would ever sanction a trial of infant circumcision.” I was worse than wrong. Although there hasn’t been a controlled trial, i.e. an experiment with half the babies circumcised, there has been one where all babies were. It reported last year. Click here.
The study happened in Western Kenya, where 1,239 infants were circumcised; 308 “research” and 931 so-called “non-research”. The “research” parents had more follow-up reminders. The aim was to measure adverse events. Eighteen (2.7% of the 678 reviewed) had a complication – mainly bleeding or infection, although one poor chap had a bit of his glans penis chopped off!
According to the authors “the University of Illinois at Chicago Institutional Review Board and the Kenyatta National Hospital Ethics and Research Committee provided ethical approval for the research study.”
The researchers would surely claim that they were just collecting data, and that the circumcision was part of normal medical care for the babies. Had it been performed in a setting where circumcision was a cultural norm, they might have had a case. But this experiment was done in Nyanza province where the majority Luo tribe do not circumcise males at any age. For them circumcision of newborn boys is a mass experiment. Sure it’s based on trials in adults, and done with good intentions, but it’s still an experiment. It might not work and might do harm. That’s why the Illinois researchers, who are organising it all, are monitoring the programme carefully and writing other research papers about the results. Here‘s one more.
This is experimental research on children. The University of Illinois at Chicago Institutional Review Board members should ask themselves if they would sanction a randomised trial of infant circumcision in Kenya. If not, it’s a double standard to allow researchers to cut off every baby boy’s foreskin because they’ve had the bright idea that it might later protect them against AIDS, but not do the experiment on half the boys to test if it does more good than harm.