February 22, 2017
Circumcision has broken the internet... or so it's been said. Healthcare providers, including pediatricians like myself, are prepared for many of the challenges we face in treating disease, but rarely for the crazy professional and personal attacks happening over routine neonatal circumcision. Parents, doctors, nurses, and hospitals who are in the way of the anti-circumcision activist agenda are being blind-sided by the recent phenomenon. Everything online, from the websites of physician offices to the innocent posts by proud parents on social media, is under attack when it comes to circumcision. Even writers at the New York Times have experienced it. Throw balance and informed decision making under the bus. The crazy train of "intactivism" is frenzied, fanatical, and about one second away from knocking on your virtual door. Just say the "c" word if you dare... if you say it, they will come. Not that I would recommend it! Here is my story and what I've learned from it.
I'm a pediatrician. I take care of lots of sick babies and children in the hospital, and yes, my practice includes routine neonatal circumcision. I spend a third of the days of my life taking 24 hour shifts of call for a large community hospital. That's 1 out of 3 days, 1 out of 3 nights, 1 out of 3 weekends... without fail. I do it because I love taking care of sick kids and well newborns. I love the flexibility of seeing my patients in the hospital without constricting appointment times. Weekends almost always have the highest patient volume and often seem cursed with the most difficult or craziest cases, and of course, also with the nuttiest parents! It's not always fun but it's what we do in my practice.
One of these crazy weekends, something really strange happened on pediatric rounds! A mom unexpectedly turned the unrelated hospital visit into a discussion about circumcision. She quoted a circumcision statistic that was so absurd that it was hard to know how to respond! As a pediatrician who tries to make parents feel comfortable about their reasonable health care decisions, I reassured the mother that it's perfectly fine to keep her son uncircumcised. I still made my case as to why the statistic she had heard was not accurate. I treated the patient and sent the family on their way when their child was feeling better. I thought the situation was over and chalked it up to yet another crazy weekend experience. This was my first encounter with "intactivism."
I really had no idea what might come next!
In come the intactivists!
Two days later, odd posts about circumcision started popping up on my Facebook page. Within hours, dozens of anti-circumcision fanatics swarmed over my public posts with multiple comments, shares and tags to other intactivists, links to intactivist misinformation, and accusations of everything from breaking the Hippocratic Oath to rape & pedophilia. I thought it was funny as first. After 4 years of college, 4 years of medical school, 3 years of pediatric training, and a lot of years of pediatric practice experience, I should be able to stand up for myself, right? That didn't work out very well for me, or for my family and friends!
I quickly I realized that everyone who stood up to the horde of anti-circumcision trolls was ridiculed or harassed. I couldn't keep up a fight when Facebook photos and personal information of friends and family were being mined for use on intactivist Facebook Pages. Within a couple hours, I felt I needed to "go dark" on social media. It took about a week for my name to go viral on intactivist posts and websites; YouTube videos, yep, those were made too! My practice was reported as being "closed" in websites that had local business listings. Negative online reviews popped up with nothing to say except that I was a horrible doctor only because I performed circumcision. A charitable website managed by a family member had it's inbox blasted with anti-circumcision propaganda and some down-right evil personal attacks. I have over 20 years of training and practicing as a pediatrician... of trying my best to always be compassionate. Oh well.. nevermind any of that! If any physician performs circumcision, or if anyone even supports routine circumcision, then they are obviously a monster! That is the message everyone is expected to believe.
Dealing with a bunch of anti-circumcision fanatics was a traumatic experience! It changed my outlook on everything online pertaining to me or my practice. In the past, I publicly posted on social media to advocate for child healthcare issues; not any more. Now it is "Friends Only" posting for me and I deleted my well-established "professional" Twitter account. Dreading what I might find, I have learned to look up my own name on sites that provide locals with information about physicians and their practices. I look out for the word "circumcision" on Facebook and Google hoping new attacks on healthcare providers are not directed at me and my livelihood. I had to notify hospitals and clinics where I work to do the same. I have spoken with "Risk Managers" and received advice from attorneys. It's been a hassle to say the least! I realize now that I was naïve about these things. Social media can be really, really nasty for everyone, even physicians!
It was a painful lesson but I did learn a couple pretty good things! First and foremost, most good people know these online encounters with intactivists are ridiculous! I had an outpouring of sympathy from nurses and people in my community after the attack. Most healthcare providers and reasonable people realize routine infant circumcision is just, well, routine! No one, who is not a fanatic, really believes it's normal or good to hysterically attack a healthcare provider's reputation over circumcision! You might be opposed to circumcision, breast implants, blood transfusions, immunizations, or a whole host of other medical procedures. That's fine. It is no excuse to demonize people who disagree. We physicians and nurses are doing so many other good and important things every day. We need to remember that! Thankfully, many friends and acquaintances have reminded me!
There are good people trying to combat the misinformation, bullying, harassment, and anti-Semitism of intactivism's Bizzaro-World!
The people who founded CircumcisionChoice.com came to my aid when I was attacked and I'm happy to now be a part of their team.
We will try to help!