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SELECTED ARTICLES
from
CANADIAN NEWSPAPERS

 

1903 — Dec. 1
JEWISH INFANT'S DEATH

The Globe
Toronto, December 1, 1903, p. 12.

Body will be exhumed for an inquest

Child of Louis Greisman died after circumcision—Jacob Halpern performed the operation.

AN INQUEST, which it is expected will have far-reaching results, will be opened to-night at police headquarters on the body of the infant son of Louis Greisman. The child died on Sunday night at 49 Chestnut Street and was buried yesterday in the Jewish Cemetery on Pape avenue. This morning Chief Coroner A. J. Johnson will apply to the Attorney General for an order permitting an undertaker to exhume the remains. Had the remains not been buried the inquest would have been opened last night. Chief Coroner Johnson will himself conduct the inquiry.

The report on the case made to the Chief Coroner by Dr. Walter McKeown states that Jacob Halpern, a butcher at 59 Chestnut Street, was called in by the father on Sunday to perform the Jewish rite of circumcision. After the operation bleeding was so profuse that Halpern applied carbolic acid, with the result that the child died in terrible agony.

Dr. McKeown, who was called in a short time before the infant's death, refused the death certificate and referred the whole matter to Chief Coroner Johnson.


1903 — Dec. 2
BABY GREISMAN'S DEATH

The Globe
Toronto, December 2, 1903, p. 12.

Isaac Halpern applied too much carbolic acid

Was ignorant of its use—claims to be a rabbi—had 23 years' experience as a circumcisor.

THE DEATH of baby Greisman was investigated last night by Chief Coroner A. J. Johnson and a jury, who sat for over three hours. The body was viewed at Millard's undertaking rooms, and, after Dr. McKeown had been examined, an adjournment was made to the Police Court. H. H. Dewart, K.C., represented the Crown.

Dr. Walter McKeown explained to the jury that he issued the burial certificate. Death was due to acute disease of the kidneys caused by the excessive use of carbolic acid. He was present at the birth of the child and at the circumcision. The day after the operation he was called in again to see the child and attended the infant until death occurred on Sunday night. Dr. McKeown thought that Isaac Halpern's attempt to treat the child without a sufficient knowledge of antiseptics caused the death.

Rabbi Jacobs of the Holy Blossom Synagogue pointed out that under the Jewish law circumcision has to be performed the eighth day after birth. He described at length the mode of operation which had been in existence for 3,000 years. The Chief Rabbi of the British Empire twelve years ago formulated a set of rules for the guidance of circumcisors. In Canada there is no special training. All that is required is that the circumcisor be a conscientious Jew.

Isaac Halpern, who performed the circumcision, told the jury how he did the operation on baby Greisman. He had 23 years' experience and never had a death before. Although he had no certificate to act, he believed that he was full qualified. He had performed three operations last week and had a like number for this week. Halpern declared that he was a Rabbi. When there were very few Jews in Toronto he performed the marriage ceremony and other duties of a Rabbi. At the present time he kills all the cattle for his congregation to see if the meat is fit food.

Dr. John Caven, who conducted the autopsy, said that the condition found in the body was consistent with death from carbolic acid poisoning, the poison having been applied externally.

The jury's verdict was as follows: "That the child came to his death from the excessive application of carbolic acid, and that Isaac Halpern was culpably ignorant of the use of carbolic acid."
 

1945
PREPAYMENT PLAN OF SURGERY CARE
APPROVED BY OMA

The Globe and Mail
May 24, 1945 p. 4

A prepayment plan of surgical care for residents of Ontario was approved yesterday by the Ontario Medical Association, which decided at its convention session to seek a charter for a subsidiary corporation to operate the plan. Rates were set at $1 per month for single persons, $2.25 for a family, including children under 16.

...surgical services given in a doctor's office shall be cutting procedures only and will include lancing of a boil, tonsillectomy, circumcision, etc.
 

1971
DOCTORS RALLY
TO REPEL SPREADING ATTACKS
ON MEDICAL PROFESSION

The Globe and Mail
June 3, 1971, p. 7.

...The second part of this letter is directed to our Health Minister, Mr. Lawrence—Big Papa Doc himself (as the Haitians called their deceased dictator). I was pleased to read that Ontario has had the highest tonsillectomy rate in the country. This can only mean that Ontario has had the highest standard of health care in the country. Really, sir, you are a charlatan...

Next time you consult your computerized crystal ball at OHSIP (Ontario Health Services Insurance Plan), ask it about another unnecessary operation—circumcision. I'm sure you will find that the vast majority of male children in the province are circumcised, and in 95 percent of these cases there is no medical indication whatsoever. Circumcision is a much more flagrant example of a "surgical procedure of questionable necessity" than tonsillectomy. Why then, have you not ranted about circumcision, Mr. Lawrence? Perhaps it is because it is usually the parents (and not the doctor) who decide upon circumcision, and therefore it might not be politically expedient to make a fuss about that.

—J. Montagu Clark, MD
Oakville


1975 — March 6
BABY'S HEART STOPPED DURING
CIRCUMCISION

The Globe and Mail
March 6, 1975, p. W2.

Special to the Globe and Mail

ABSTRACT

Doctors at South Waterloo Memorial Hospital in Cambridge had to revive an infant on the operating table last spring after his heart stopped beating during a circumcision operation.

A coroner's inquest was told yesterday that the 7-month-old boy's heart was restarted by external massage and breathing induced by aerating his lungs. But Chino Burrell, son of Mr. and Mrs. Reginald Burrell of Cambridge, died three days later in the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto.

There was no testimony on the first day about the cause of death. The inquest continues this morning.
 

1975 — October 7
CIRCUMCISION NOT NECESSARY, MDs SAY

The Globe and Mail
October 7, 1975, p. 11.

ABSTRACT

Evanston, Ill. (AP) — A panel of pediatricians says circumcising baby boys routinely, done in many hospitals, is not essential if good personal hygiene is used and may pose an unnecessary surgical risk.

Their report came in October's issue of the journal Pediatrics, published by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

It says: "A program of education leading to continuing good personal hygiene would offer all the advantages of routine circumcision without the attendant surgical risk.

"Therefore, circumcision of the (newborn) male cannot be considered an essential component of adequate total health care."
 

1976
CMA UPHOLDS CIRCUMCISION

The Globe and Mail
June 25, 1976, p. 15.

ABSTRACT

OTTAWA (Staff)—Routine circumcision of the newborn will not be discouraged by the Canadian Medical Association, despite reports from paediatrics groups that there are few medical reasons for doing it and some hazards.

General Council was told yesterday that the Canadian Paediatric Society, the American Paediatric Society and the Canadian Cancer Institute all advised that "the tradition of routine circumcision, as presently practiced in North America, should be subjected to critical review."

However, Dr. L. J. Genesove of Toronto said that a Second World War study among Canadian soldiers showed that the incidence of a variety of venereal diseases was much less among the circumcised than among the non-circumcised.

General Council rejected a motion to discourage routine circumcision.
 

1978
8 SEXUAL ASSAULTS
COST MAN
MORE THAN 3 LIFE SENTENCES

The Globe and Mail
December 13, 1978, p. 5.

ABSTRACT

The so-called bus stop rapist of Scarborough received three life sentences plus 26 years after he was convicted yesterday of committing three rapes, three attempted rapes and two indecent assaults last fall and winter.

Judge Purvis said the use of a knife in the attacks was one reason for the severity of the sentence.

Dr. Jerry Cooper, a Toronto psychiatrist, said the divorced Mr. Jones was not mentally ill but had a character disorder related to abuse he had suffered as a child. Among other things, he was circumcised at home at age 6 after he was caught masturbating.
 

1980
NO REASON FOR MAKING UNKIND CUT

The Globe and Mail
September 20, 1980, p. FA2.

By Alan Stewart

Perhaps the most intimate surgical operation that men ever undergo is circumcision, yet very few of us have any say in whether we want it. Except for those who have it done for religious reasons, and the handful who decide as adults, we are circumcised as a result of a decision made by our parents. In my own case, my mother decided, on the advice of her woman doctor.

Perhaps if women managed this responsibility better I would not be concerned. However, a recent study in the United States, where 80 percent of baby boys are circumcised, showed that even the current vogue for natural childbirth has not changed mothers' predilection for carving up their male offspring when they are far too young to have a say in the matter. Most mothers who opted for circumcision were vague about just why. Some mothers believed it was required by law, required by the hospital, or even required for admission to the armed forces. Others thought it would make the penis look better. Still others felt the operation would prevent masturbation, although many of us could testify to the speciousness of that argument.

The main reason seemed to be social. Mothers wanted their little boys to look like all the other little boys. To be fair, it is not only mothers who are concerned with this. I used to teach in West Africa and found out that, at least in Konongo-Odumasai Secondary School, you were nobody unless you were circumcised. One of the things little Form I boys must have demanded of Santa Claus for their first Christmas at school was a circumcision, because any previously uncircumcised Kofi, Kwaku, Kwabena, Kojo, Kwarme, or Kwasi came back from Christmas holiday with a brand new look.

Some people advocate circumcision on the grounds of health and hygiene. It was previously thought that women married to uncircumcised men were more likely to suffer from cancer of the cervix, but doctors now think that the biggest factor is hygiene, not circumcision. Perhaps parents wish to avoid the embarrassment of teaching their son how to wash his penis. They probably realize that saying he should not be touching himself down there and saying that he should take care to be clean down there, will naturally result in some confusion.

A drawback to circumcision is that in addition to possible complications of hemorrhage and infection, it is quite painful, especially for a newborn baby. Although it is difficult to prove, some people claim that the pain is traumatic and can have long-term effects on his psyche. One woman, who is also a doctor, explains why she left her son's foreskin intact: "If he was born with it, I didn't see any reason why he shouldn't keep it, as long as we taught him proper hygiene. The trend among paediatricians is against any unnecessary surgical procedure that isn't done for medical reasons, and circumcision isn't usually medical; it's usually more a matter of custom.'

I thought I had come to terms with my own circumcision until a few weeks ago when I received a letter from my mother. She records books for blind university students, and being a woman, she can quite easily talk and be thinking of something else entirely. So, while taping a 600-page volume on child psychology, she was free-associating about the early childhood of my sister and me. She wrote: "Last night, as I read on automatically, I thought about being in a maternity home when you were born. Dr. Gill said it was imperative that you be circumcised (I don't know why) and this was the time to do it, so I did. Next day when you were being nursed I saw that there was a lot of blood on your blanket. They sent for Dr. Gill, who re-stitched the wee peter and she was really upset, as of course I was."

Easy for them to be upset. What about little Alan? If circumcision is supposed to leave psychic scars, imagine the damage caused by two. I believe I should be proud that I have come so far after such a disastrous start. When people tell me how they worked their way up from the slums to where they now own three dry-cleaning establishments, or how they managed to attain mental health in spite of a childhood spent being compared unfavorably to the family spaniel in terms of intelligence, table manners, and general appeal, I now have a hard luck story of my own.
 

1983 — April 14
PARENTS DEMAND MALE CIRCUMCISION

The Globe and Mail
April 14, 1983, p. 20.

Although the Canadian Paediatric Society opposes circumcision except on medical or religious grounds, some parents still insist on the precedure for their male infants.

The main reasons given by such parents are to make hygiene easier and to match the newborn boy with other males in the family, a New Brunswick study indicates.

But the study of 50 couples who insisted on circumcision found that in more than a third of the couples the father had not been circumcised. However, the great majority of the couples already had one son who had been circumcised.

Dr. Paul Taylor of the Everett Chalmers Hospital in Fredericton also found in his study that mothers under the age of 20 rarely insist on the procedure for their newborn sons.

—Canadian Press


1983 — May 12
NORTH AMERICAN MYTH

The Globe and Mail
May 12, 1983, p. 7.

Your correspondent M. Barbara Cadbury (letter—April 29) deplores female circumcision as practised by African women.

I suggest that she would do better to concern herself about the ongoing practice of routinely circumcising Canadian boys soon after birth. There seems to be a myth in the North American psyche that men should be circumcised, which is found nowhere else in the world's white population except Australia.

The practice is condemned by the Canadian Paediatric Society and the American Academy of Pediatricians. In the last decade, the incidence has fortunately declined in Canada to 40 percent of boys being circumcised; this compares favourably to the 85 percent rate in the United States, but it is a long way off the 5 percent rate in Britain.

—W.A. Day
Ottawa


1983 — December 22
ARE BENEFITS OF CIRCUMCISION WORTH RISK?

The Globe and Mail
December 22, 1983, p. L8.

By Sidney Katz

People often cling to long-held beliefs, even to those that may have been disproved. A case in point is the issue of circumcision.

The medical arguments in favour of circumcision are far from conclusive—so much so, in fact, that doctors increasingly question whether the alleged benefits are worth the risk. Yet circumcision continues to be one of the most commonly performed operations in Canada and the United States. Would parents change their mind if they knew the facts?

A research group headed by psychologist Cynthia Rand at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore attempted to answer that question. They conducted an educational program about circumcision among pregnant mothers and new mothers. Later, it was found that 72 percent of the "educated" group had had their male babies circumcised, as compared to 94 percent of a "non-educated" group.

While some of the mothers did change their minds, Rand notes that "the decision to circumcise newborns is deeply ingrained and very resistant to persuasive information." Many of those exposed to the educational program gave vague (and untenable) reasons for still wanting to circumcise, such as "for health reasons" and "parents' desire." Concluded Rand: "Many women believe that circumcision is as natural as cutting the umbilical cord."
 

1985
MAN ALLOWED TO SUE FOR CIRCUMCISION

The Globe and Mail
March 13, 1985, p. 8.

VANCOUVER (CP) — A suit by a welder who claims a circumcision by a Burnaby urlogist left him with a "sexual dysfunction" will go ahead in B.C. Supreme Court, despite the doctor's bid to have the action thrown out because the operation was performed 10 years ago, when the plaintiff was 12. Mr. Justice Ross Lander said that, under the six-year limit for medical negligence suits, "the time did not begin to run" until the man was old enough to find out he had a sexual dysfunction. Judge Lander ruled that "applying the ultimate limitation period of six years would imply an infant suffering damages at birth would have his right of action extinguished at age six. This, in my view, would be an injustice."
 

1986
EVE CASE CREATES CLOUD OF LEGAL UNCERTAINTY

The Globe and Mail
November 17, 1986, p. A4.

By Dorothy Lipovenko

ABSTRACT

Non-therapeutic medical practices, including drug-testing in children and use of restraints on the elderly in nursing homes, are under a cloud of legal uncertainty after a Supreme Court decision outlawing sterilization of the mentally incompetent for no medical purpose.

The court's ruling in the Eve case has opened up a legal minefield for non-therapeutic medical research on those who are legally incompetent to consent: children, the mentally retarded, and old people incapable of understanding the risks or nature of a procedure.

Many legal experts are concerned the Supreme Court decision casts a much wider net, setting the legal standard for anyone not legally competent to defend their rights against being used for any medical procedure that is of no benefit to them. Such procedures can range from the innocuous—putting a blood pressure cuff on a child in a hospital emergency room for research purposes—to the more extreme, such as compulsory abortion of the mentally handicapped.
 

1991
CIRCUMCISION:
ROUTINE OPERATION ON NEWBORN BOYS
ON THE INCREASE AGAIN

The Globe and Mail
Saturday, June 22, p. A1.

Is this minus a plus?

By Alanna Mitchell
Social Trends Reporter
Toronto

ABSTRACT

About 40,000 baby boys were circumcised in Canada during the past year for reasons other than religion, even though paediatricians condemn the practice and it is increasingly seen in some circles as child abuse.

There are some signs the procedure is becoming more common in some parts of the country, after a couple of decades of waning popularity.

The rate of routine circumcision of newborn boys (excluding those to whom it is done for religious reasons) runs as high as 40 percent in some provinces, although it varies widely across the country. In Quebec and Newfoundland, for example, the practice is virtually nonexistent.

The rate gradually fell—until the past year or so. Statistics from Vancouver's Salvation Army Grace Hospital, one of the biggest birthing centres in Canada, indicate that more than 19 percent of newborn boys were circumcised last year compared to 17.8 percent in 1989, the first significant jump since the mid-1980s.

About 60 percent of newborn boys leave Ottawa Civic Hospital circumcised, said Dr. William James, a paediatrician and media coordinator of the Canadian Paediatric Society. He said the figure has started rising marginally after several years of decline.

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