In the United States, female circumcision (the removal of the clitoral hood) and clitoridectomy (the removal of the external nub of the clitoris) are nearly always regarded as practices that happen someplace else. When their presence within the United States is acknowledged, these procedures are positioned as having come from the outside, as originating with immigrants from… Read more →
By Elizabeth Reis
The previously obscure ultra-Orthodox Jewish rite of metzitzah b’peh (oral suction) has burst into the news lately and raised critical questions about genital surgery, consent, First Amendment rights, tradition, and the representation of Jews.
I would guess that most Americans, even Jewish-Americans, had never heard of metzitzah b’peh (oral suction) until the recent controversy between ultra-Orthodox Jews and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. It refers to a custom performed after a circumcision in which a mohel (ritual circumciser) orally sucks the blood away from the baby boy’s penis. To insure the requirement that blood be shed and then hygienically removed (sucking was deemed the best means of achieving this hygiene anciently), metzitzah b’peh became part of circumcisions in the 2ndcentury, according to scholars. Most Jews, even observant Modern Orthodox Jews, have abandoned the practice. But a small minority adheres to and defends it, based on the First Amendment – somewhat surprisingly now on free speech grounds in addition to its religious liberty provisions.
This is a guest post by Elizabeth Reis, professor of women’s and gender studies at the University of Oregon. Professor Reis is the author of Bodies in Doubt: An American History of Intersex (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009). This year (2012-2103) she is a visiting scholar in the History of Science Department at Harvard University.
The American Academy of Pediatricians recently released a statement saying that the health benefits of circumcision outweighed the risks. This pronouncement contradicts the Academy’s earlier ruling, just thirteen years ago in 1999, which stated unequivocally that the health benefits of the procedure were slim. The 1999 statement reversed a previous one made in 1989 that said there were good medical reasons for it; but a few years earlier, in 1971, the Academy had officially concluded that it was not a medical necessity. Clearly, circumcision is one of those surgeries about which opinion shifts back and forth over the years.
Welcome to our new regular feature, “Adventures in the Archives!”
In this reoccurring series, Nursing Clio bloggers will share interesting finds in the archives and ask our readers for feedback, ideas, and analysis. It’s just like you’re sitting in the dusty archives with us!
Earlier this summer I was enjoying a productive day in the archives of the Dittrick Medical History Center in Cleveland, Ohio. After lunch, I decided to take a break from the materials I was focusing on (the institutional records of Women’s General Hospital, 1878-1984) and spend a little time skimming through an interesting journal titled “Record of Operations, Woman’s Hospital, September 1, 1920.” The volume looked like an old-fashioned hotel registration book. But the lines of each page were not filled with sloppy signatures and addresses. Instead, someone with very neat handwriting had been tasked with keeping a detailed accounting of every surgical procedure performed by the hospital’s staff.