CHICAGO – Groups opposed to circumcision are watching the case of an 8-year-old suburban Chicago boy whose divorced parents are fighting in court over whether he should have the procedure.
The child's mother wants him circumcised to prevent recurring, painful inflammation she says he's experienced during the past year. But the father says the boy is healthy and circumcision, which removes the foreskin of the penis, is an unnecessary medical procedure that could cause him long-term physical and psychological harm.
"The child is absolutely healthy," the father said during a break in a court hearing on the matter Wednesday. "I do not want any doctor to butcher my son."
The mother testified that her son has had five bouts of painful inflammation and has begged her to help him. Her son cannot wear underwear or jeans during the bouts and is comfortable only in loose-fitting pajamas, she said.
"My child was in the bathroom crying. He asked me to come in because his penis did not look normal," she said, describing one of the episodes.
The couple's 2003 divorce decree gave the father the right to offer input on medical decisions. Earlier this year, he sued to block the surgery and Cook County Judge Jordan Kaplan ordered the mother not to have the boy circumcised until he could hear from both parents and the opinions of doctors who've examined the boy.
The Associated Press is not naming the parents to protect the child's privacy. The father was born and raised in Poland. She is from Slovakia.
The case reflects a national debate over the medical necessity of circumcision. In 1999, the American Academy of Pediatrics reversed its support for routine infant circumcision, citing questionable benefits and medical and anecdotal evidence that circumcised men have less penile sensitivity.
David Llewellyn, an Atlanta attorney who specializes in circumcision cases, is helping the father's attorneys without fee. He called the surgery "a bizarre American custom."
Most U.S. newborn boys are circumcised before they leave the hospital. But a growing number of parents are opting against the surgery. The percentage of male babies circumcised has fallen from an estimated 90 percent in 1970 to about 60 percent today.
Roger Saquet, director of the Non-Circumcision Information Center in Belmont, Mass., said he heard about the case from others who promote leaving boys' foreskins intact.
"I can't imagine an 8-year-old boy to be forced to go to a hospital and have his genitals mutilated," he said.
Saquet criticized the parents for letting their dispute escalate.
"They're using the kid as a weapon against each other," he said. "It's really sad. My heart goes out to that kid."
Tracy Rizzo, the mother's attorney, said religion, not medicine, is the father's concern. Rizzo said the father disagrees with circumcision because he resents the fact that his ex-wife has remarried a Jewish man. The mother lives with her new husband, her son and her husband's son from a previous relationship in Northbrook.
The father, an Arlington Heights resident, denies he's concerned about the religion of his ex-wife's husband.
The mother testified Wednesday that she wanted the boy circumcised when he was a newborn, but her then-husband refused. She quoted him as saying at the time: "There is no way my son is going to be circumcised. He is not a Jew."
But the judge would not allow Alan Toback, an attorney for the father, to ask the new husband, who also testified Wednesday, if he is circumcised.
"We're not going there," the judge said.
In a March 1999 policy statement that was reaffirmed this year, theAmerican Academy of Pediatrics said there are "potential medical benefits" to circumcision, including a reduction in risk of urinary tract infections. However, existing data "are not sufficient to recommend routine ... circumcision" of newborns, the statement says.
The group estimates that 1.2 million newborn males are circumcised in the United States a year at a cost of between $150 million and $270 million.
Dr. David Hatch, a pediatric urologist who testified Wednesday, said he performs 250 circumcisions a year, including about 20 on boys between the ages of 5 and 10.
Hatch testified his own three sons are uncircumcised because he does not think it is normally medically necessary. But he said he would recommend circumcision for a son with a history of recurring inflammation or infection.