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The intactivist hero who committed bank fraud and money laundering for the Hollywood Madam

Published January 16, 2018

Updated March 10, 2021

Dr. Paul Fleiss is considered a father of the anti-circumcision movement. While his influence on intactivism continues posthumously, those who treat him as a medical authority would be wise to consider his unorthodox career path, controversial actions, and detrimental medical advice.

Fleiss began his career as a pharmacist and osteopath in Michigan. In 1962 the state of California eliminated the practice of osteopathy and allowed osteopaths to obtain a Doctor of Medicine degree by paying a nominal fee and attending a brief seminar. Taking advantage of this loophole, Fleiss moved to Los Angeles and obtained an MD degree without any traditional medical education or training. [1]

With his practice in L.A., Fleiss attracted several Hollywood celebrities and children of celebrities as patients. For example, he delivered pop superstar Madonna's daughter, Lourdes in 1996. [2] He served patients whose poor families couldn't afford to pay, and he was one of the last remaining doctors to make house calls. He became known as an unconventional pediatrician, even a “medical renegade.” Fleiss promoted the consumption of raw, unpasteurized milk. He was strongly opposed to formula feeding and swaddling babies. He recommended vaccinations for patients, but didn't insist on them. [3]

Fleiss achieved prominence in the intactivist movement when he wrote a 1997 article for Mothering magazine, "The Case Against Circumcision". Notably he stated that "circumcision cuts off ... more than 20,000 nerve endings." [4] This is the earliest known reference to the 20,000 nerve endings myth. Fleiss cited a 1932 paper that doesn't actually provide enough information to support the figure. [5] Five years later he coauthored a book in which he claimed that American doctors have deceived parents about the risks and benefits of the procedure. [6] He assured parents, “In all my years of practice, I've never had a patient who had to be circumcised for medical reasons.” [7]

He had gained notoriety in the 1990’s as the father of Heidi Fleiss, the infamous Hollywood Madam. Fleiss laundered hundreds of thousands of dollars to hide profits from his daughter's prostitution ring. [2] He lied on a loan application, falsely claiming that Heidi was an employee of his medical practice. He pled guilty to federal conspiracy and bank fraud [8] and could have received a lengthy prison sentence. Instead he was sentenced to just 1 day in prison, 3 years of probation, 625 hours of community service, and a $50,000 fine. The Medical Board of California placed him on probation and reprimanded him for dishonesty and unprofessional conduct.

On the medical front, Fleiss was the subject of an investigation for gross negligence in the death of 3 year-old patient Eliza Jane Scovill. Eliza's mother had tested positive for HIV, but Fleiss refused to accept the link between HIV and the AIDS virus. The Medical Board of California investigation revealed that

Fleiss did not take steps to ensure that Eliza Jane was tested for HIV or, alternatively, note in her chart that her parents had refused testing. Fleiss also did not offer to treat the girl with antiviral therapy to reduce the risk that the virus would be transmitted through breast milk or recommend that Maggiore stop breast-feeding while the child’s HIV status was unknown. [9]

As a result of his misconduct, he was again placed on probation in 2007, this time for failing to maintain proper medical records. [10]

Fleiss was a militant promoter of breastfeeding. In one malpractice complaint, “the parents contended that Fleiss was so insistent that they breast-feed their infant, despite the mother’s difficulty in producing milk, that the child eventually became dehydrated and went into hypertensive cardiac arrest. The baby ended up losing a kidney.” Parents in another case "charged that Fleiss had been too lax when their 3-year-old developed a fever. The doctor, they said, told them it was nothing to worry about. Then the child suffered a seizure resulting in irreversible brain damage." [1]

Despite these scandals his status as an anti-circumcision legend remains intact. Upon his death in 2014, Intact America posthumously honored Fleiss with its “Intactivist of the Month” award. The gushing tributes make no mention of his disgraceful legal and medical legacy. [11] Character doesn’t matter to intactivist leaders. Honesty doesn’t matter. Nothing matters except the foreskin.


[2] "Pediatrician father of former Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss dies after cycling accident aged 80"; Daily Mall; July 20, 2014 [3] William M London; “Medical Renegage Paul M Fleiss, M.D. Dead at 80”; Healthy Skepticism; August 12, 2014

[4] Paul M. Fleiss MD; “The Case Against Circumcision”; Mothering Magazine; Winter 1997, pp 36-45 [5] Stephen Moreton PhD, “10,000, 20,000, 70,000 nerve endings”: a myth that keeps on growing";; November 2016

[6] Paul M. Fleiss MD and Frederick M. Hodges; “What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Circumcision: Untold Facts on America’s Most Widely Performed – and Most Unnecessary - Surgery”; Warner Books Inc.; 2002

[7] Dr Paul M Fleiss; “Protect Your Intact Son: Medical Advice for Parents When Your Doctor Says to Circumcise”; Peaceful Parenting; August 2009

[8] “Hollywood Madam’s Father Pleads Guilty”; New York Times; May 12, 1995

[9] Charles Ornstein, “D.A. Won’t Charge HIV Skeptic”; Los Angeles Times; September 16, 2006

[10] Carla Hall, “Fleiss (the father) is put on probation”; Los Angeles Times; October 9, 2007

[11] “Intactivist of the Month: Dr. Paul Fleiss”; Intact America; August 2014


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