Circumcision Secrets - Part 1

, Posted: Tue, May 21 2013 at 9:42 PM, Updated: Wed, May 22 2013 at 6:38 PM

Tonight, we reveal the little known facts behind a well known procedure performed on millions of little boys in hospitals and doctors offices every year. Here's NBC 5's Jennifer Elliott with this special report.

Each year circumcisions are done across the country on infant boys. It's considered a routine procedure, and you've likely heard the benefits... but do you know there are risks... risks as severe as death.

We want to warn you some of the material in this story may be considered graphic.

Circumcisions have been going on for thousands of years. "I was circumcised as a kid," says Ashland resident Koeby Johnson was circumcised as an infant.

Medford mother Dee dee Morgan wanted all her sons circumcised too. "I wanted them to look like their dad," says Morgan.

So what's the big deal?...

"Baby's actually die from circumcision relatively often," says author and investigative journalist Jennifer Margulis. She tells us in less than the 40 minutes it takes to do a circumcision, everything can go wrong.
"We think of circumcision as a routine operation, and in the majority of cases nothing goes wrong," says Margulis, " ...but things can go wrong with circumcision, and unfortunately they go wrong more often than is reported in the medical literature."     

She tells us each year 1,250,000 boys are circumcised -- 117 die from complications related to the surgery.

"A baby was circumcised in an American hospital in Sacramento. It turned out he was a hemophiliac and he died of blood loss. The death from that circumcision will be listed as death from hemophilia," Margulis tells us.

"Yes there is, there is a risk of death. There is a lot of other risk factors also involved," says Doctor Taylor Drake. She walks us through a circumcision. "It is a painful procedure," she comments.

The baby's legs, and sometimes arms, are strapped into a 'Circumstraint.' While there, he is given a sugar water pacifier and a shot of Lidocaine to numb the area.

"The foreskin is being held between this device and the bell and the head of the penis is right in here," says Margulis as she shows us the procedure. "Pull the foreskin up, and this is where the estimation of how much foreskin you have to take off comes in. And then you clamp this down, all the way down as tight as you can. Then you use a scalpel and cut the foreskin around this piece and that's it."

However, she states removing foreskin involves estimation, and sometimes too much or too little skin can be removed, resulting in another risk: a botched surgery.

"I did have a case a few years ago where the foreskin- so the baby was in between two and three weeks, which we like to do it before two weeks old, because otherwise you have a lot of trouble with skin separation.This one was between two to three weeks and the skin separated and I had to put in seven stiches," Drake tells us.

In the last four years, she says she's also seen a partial circumcision. The outer layer of foreskin removed, the inner layer missed.

"You can't redo it. It's a one time deal," comments Drake.

Still the American Academy of Pediatricts says, " Evaluation of current evidence indicates that the health benefits of newborn male circumcision outweigh the risks."

Uncircumcised boys have a 1 in 100 chance of developing a urinary tract infection in the first year. While circumcised infants have only a 1 in 1000 chance.

Circumcisions also lower the risk of penile cancer and may reduce contraction of some sexually transmitted diseases, up to 35 percent.

"When you look at the data, it looks like there are some things  that it does reduce the incidence of, but they're things that are incredibly rare anyway," says Johnson.
There are religious, ethical, cultural, and medical reasons to circumcise. For father Koeby Johnson, despite being circumcised himself, he decided not to circumcise his four boys.

"The concern of, 'Oh, I'm going to look different than my dad,' or 'I'll look different than the other guys in Middle School shower, it doesn't really come up that much," says Johnson.

To him, medical benefits didn't outweigh the risks.

Tomorrow, as we continue this story: the capitalization behind circumcisions. Hospitals and doctors can make big bucks off the procedure, especially since the foreskin doesn't always go out with the biohazard--- sometimes it's sold for a profit. We'll tell you what for tomorrow night on NBC 5 News at 6.

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