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British media hysterical over report on complications

January 21, 2023

On Thursday a British tabloid published a frantic and hysterical headline over a report on circumcision complications in the United Kingdom. The Daily Mirror screamed: "Exposed: the horror statistics behind ritual circumcision of baby boys in the UK." [1]

The National Secular Society generated the hysteria with its post based on a Freedom of Information act request to the General Medical Council. According to the NSS, the GMC "dealt with 39 complaints relating to 30 doctors regarding circumcisions between 2012 and 2022."

Several of the complaints involved substandard care. "In one case a doctor reportedly used 'inappropriate restraint techniques', including 'using non clinical staff to restrain child patients.'... Some complaints referred to patients suffering 'excessive pain' or a lack of adequate pain relief. Other complaints involved doctors using unsterile equipment, and several said patients suffered infections after being circumcised." Furthermore, "allegations against one doctor related to eight children." [2]

Putting the story into perspective, Rabbi Hayim Leiter observed that 39 complaints "is far from a horror statistic. Of course every botched circumcision is tragic and this doctor should be prosecuted for his crimes. But if we take the low estimate that there were 9,500 circumcisions per year in the UK, [3] that means the rate of complications is a mere 0.00041%. That is most likely less than any standard operation... The most common complication is bleeding which is quickly rectified with no long lasting effects." [4]

British researcher Stephen Moreton called the NSS report highly misleading. Moreton wrote that the "report refers to 39 complaints... out of how many thousands, or tens of thousands [of circumcisions]? And what were the actual complications? The most common is bleeding, which is easily dealt with, and without permanent damage. The problem is more likely unfamiliarity, or lack of training. Contrast with the USA where the procedure is routine on newborns. There the complication rate is about 0.4%, mostly trivial things that are easily and fully resolvable. Truly serious complications are vanishingly rare. [5] In experienced hands, circumcision really is “simple and safe”. [6][7]

[1] Andrew Penman; "Exposed: the horror statistics behind ritual circumcision of baby boys in the UK"; The Daily Mirror; January 19, 2023

[2] "Boys face serious complications from circumcision, complaints show"; National Secular Society; January 19, 2023

[4] Rabbi Hayim Halevy; Magen HaBrit Facebook post; January 19, 2023

[6] Stephen Moreton; comment on National Secular Society Facebook post; January 19, 2023

[7] See also: Stephen Moreton; "Circumcision: regulation not prohibition"; Pink Humanist; Spring 2018


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