Pinned Rebecca Dekker, Anna Bertone: Evidence and Ethics on: Circumcision

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    • Rebecca Dekker, Anna Bertone: Evidence and Ethics on: Circumcision

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      Cultural Bias in the Medical Research

      As we conducted our literature review, it became clear that most researchers based in the United States, where the majority of medical research is done, took the cultural and ethical acceptability of male circumcision for granted. Accordingly, the explicit goal of most studies was to ‘verify’ the perceived benefits of the surgery. This research approach contrasts sharply with U.S.-funded studies on female genital cutting (FGC) practices throughout Africa, the Middle East, and parts of Southeast Asia. As we’ll discuss, some types of FGC are much more invasive than male circumcision and have devastating health consequences, and other types are much less invasive (a “prick” without tissue loss), but all types of FGC have been defined as unethical mutilations by the World Health Organization (Darby, 2016).

      Indeed, the Western research community on male newborn circumcision seems, as a whole, to be biased towards emphasizing benefits to newborn male circumcision, while downplaying risks or harms. This bias may even be quite personal, down to the circumcision status of the researcher conducting or interpreting the research. In a survey of 572 doctors, Muller (2010) found that “although most respondents stated that they based their decisions on medical evidence, the circumcision status of, especially, the male respondents played a huge role in whether they were in support of circumcisions or not. Another factor that had an influence was the circumcision status of the respondents’ sons.”

      On a wider scale, if a research community consists of a majority of circumcised men (or circumcising parents), it may simply view the practice as normal or expected. This kind of bias can in turn influence what variables are studied, how the studies are carried out, and even whether or not potential harms or risks are studied at all (Earp and Shaw, 2017). As Darby (2016) notes: since no official body is interested in researching the harm and long term adverse consequences of [male circumcision] definitive knowledge in this area remains elusive.
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