A brief history of circumcision

Editor’s note:  This article is reproduced from our friends at Men’s Human Rights Ontario

BY Jacqueline Hooman

As you read this, you may be sitting to breakfast eating your morning Cornflakes.  But have you ever stopped to think about the man behind the cereal?  Born in 1852, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, of Cornflakes fame, was a nineteenth century puritan.  His ideals about health and hygiene are some of the most oppressive to women and men alike.  He attained his medical degree in 1875 and was hired by the Adventist Church as a Health Reformer.  Among many controversial practices, one of the most highly debated treatments recommended by Kellogg was circumcision of males.

Kellogg recommended male circumcision as a cure for masturbation, impure thoughts, and sexual desires.  He is quoted as saying, “A remedy which is almost always successful in small boys is circumcision… The operation should be performed by a surgeon without administering an anesthetic, as the brief pain attending the operation will have a salutary effect upon the mind, especially if it be connected with the idea of punishment, as it may well be in some cases.” It was important that the boys not be infantile, so as to be mature enough to understand the “punishment”.  His remedy for females was, “…the application of pure carbolic acid to the clitoris an excellent means of allaying the abnormal excitement, and preventing the recurrence of the practice in those whose will-power has become so weakened that the patient is unable to exercise entire self-control.”

The circumcision techniques performed by Kellogg and colleagues are practiced the same way today. However, modern circumcisions are performed on infants as opposed to older children or teens.  But the method remains the same.  The male is strapped down or restrained, his penis is clamped, crushed, and the foreskin is sliced away from his body.

Many may argue that modern circumcision is an effective way to prevent infections or diseases.  But it is no more effective now than it was in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The procedure remains the same while the reasons for it continue to evolve. It was once recommended to cure everything from epilepsy to blindness.

The concept of circumcision is almost as old as recorded history. There are hieroglyphics of Ancient Egyptians performing circumcisions. It is even mentioned in the Bible and other religious texts. Circumcision thousands of years ago was a vastly different procedure than the one practiced today. In Biblical times, and previous to them, circumcisions involved either a prick of the foreskin to draw blood, or a small slice of the skin. Little to no tissue was removed.  Alternatively, modern circumcisions remove up to half of the penile skin, along with more than a dozen immune, protective, and sexual functions, as well as twenty thousand highly sensitive nerve endings found nowhere else on the human body.

Even in this modern world of medicine, antibiotics, doctors, and hospitals, circumcisions are still being performed as preventative medicine. The fact remains that less than 1% of intact males will ever need to be medically circumcised. The male prepuce (foreskin) is fused to the glans (head) in infancy in childhood. Its sole purpose is to keep out dirt and bacteria, thus preventing infections. There is no other healthy body part, on males or females, which is legally allowed to be amputated without immediate medical need. Parents cannot authorize, or consent to, appendix removal at birth on the chance that it may become infected later in life. Nor can they request that a male child have his breast buds amputated at birth as prevention for breast cancer, of which he is more likely to die than penile cancer.

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees that “Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.” (Section 15-1.) While females are protected from even a prick of their foreskin, males continue to be subjected to ancient barbaric practices with no medical or legal basis. The Canadian Medical Association’s Code Of Ethics maintains that medical personnel have a duty to “consider first the well-being of the patient” and “refuse to participate in or support practices that violate basic human rights.”

Furthermore, the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons deems that for consent to be valid it must be “related to treatment, informed, voluntary, not be obtained through fraud or misrepresentation.” In Layman’s terms, the Physician is obligated to inform the patient of all potential risks associated with a procedure, along with the risks of not performing said procedure.  But infants are incapable of giving consent.  In the instance of proxy consent (parental consent) to treatment, the O.C.P.S. states, “A physician must provide the substitute decision-maker with the information that would otherwise have been given to the patient to enable him or her to make an informed decision as to consent.”  (18.) and that “A physician must consider whether the substitute decision-maker is complying with the principles set out in the HCCA. If a physician is of the view that the substitute decision-maker is not acting in accordance with the HCCA, he or she can call the Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee.”  In other words, doctors are not allowed to amputate healthy, functional body parts just because the parents request them to do so.

The rights of the parent end when they infringe upon the rights of the child.

So why are circumcisions still being performed if they violate the law and medical ethics?  One word: money.  As per The Human Tissue Act which states, “A person shall not buy, sell or otherwise deal in, directly or indirectly, for a valuable consideration, tissue for a transplant or a body or part of a body, other than blood or a blood constituent for therapeutic purposes, medical education or scientific research” it is illegal to sell human tissues.  They must be donated with written and informed consent.  Consider the appalling fact that forcibly amputated foreskins are (illegally) sold to cosmetic and pharmaceutical companies to make everything from skin grafts to anti-aging skin cream, and can fetch up to a whopping $100,000 each in sales and subsequent profits.  There is money to be made, hand over fist.  A prime example would be an enthusiastic public endorsement by Oprah Winfrey of a skin moisturizer by SkinMedica.  Its not-so-secret ingredient?  Foreskin.  And the fibroblasts are not hard to come by, if one knows where to look.  Anyone with a credit card can buy them online.  There is also a market for foreskin fibroblasts with uses in skin grafting and cosmetic testing.  Circumcision is a billion-dollar-a-year industry.  It is a business, nothing more.


The Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons (Consent):

The Canadian Medical Association Code of Ethics:

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (in its entirety):


John Harvey Kellogg:


The Sale of Foreskins to Cosmetic Companies:


Functions of the foreskin.  As published by John R. Taylor, MB, MRCPEd, FRCPC in the British Journal of Urology:


Medically Necessary Circumcisions (less than 1%) and common myths debunked:


Human Tissue Act (Official Version):


Foreskin fibroblasts used in cosmetics:


Foreskins used in skin grafting:



Recommended Content

%d bloggers like this: