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Local activists crusade to cut circumcisions

Protesting male circumcision
By CHRIS FARAONE  |  July 29, 2009

What do William Shakespeare, Don Johnson, Sean Hannity, Redd Foxx, and Ralph Nader have in common with Jenna Jameson flicks and 70 percent of men worldwide?

They're all uncut.

"Martin Luther King Jr. was never circumcised either," says John Iozza, a foreskin-bearing operative with the Boston-based Circumcision Resource Center (CRC) (and its corresponding Web site, "Elvis had all his parts, too — I'd say he did pretty well for himself."

Iozza and CRC Executive Director Ronald Goldman, PhD, have protested male circumcision for more than 20 years, during which time they've participated in symposiums worldwide, and, in the latter's case, published several journal studies condemning genital mutilation. They claim that they have largely been marginalized by the media due to the fact that their pet cause involves the taboo of penises, and also by the fact that, for fear of angering religious groups, most news outlets wouldn't want to touch this story with a 10-foot . . . er, you know. But now they see a media moment thanks to the current economic meltdown.

"MassHealth currently pays for circumcision," says Iozza, who has a habit of asking pregnant strangers if they plan to snip their male offspring. "And there's never been a better time than now to argue that tax dollars shouldn't pay for needless procedures." (According to a reasonable estimate by Goldman, Massachusetts — which is one of 34 states in which Medicaid pays for circumcision — spends nearly $7 million on the procedure annually. The state disputes that figure, putting it closer to $344,000.) Legislation to ban circumcision in the Commonwealth altogether has been kicked around since 2007 and is currently unscheduled for hearing in the Joint Committee on the Judiciary.

"Dr. Goldman is a sincere, dedicated person with deeply held views on the matter of circumcision," says MassHealth Commissioner Dr. Roger Snow. "[But] at this time, the professional opinion about non-therapeutic circumcision is so diverse and inconclusive that the course most in the interest of MassHealth members is one that maximizes their autonomy."

"The problem is that this is disguised as a medical issue," says Goldman, a cut Jew who has been secular "since his Bar Mitzvah." Though different research both supports and rejects claims that circumcision is medically prudent, one prevailing effort by University of Illinois-Chicago Professor Robert Bailey dramatically shifted the international dialogue. Since Bailey's 2006 study showed that circumcision lowered HIV-infection rates in Southern Africa by nearly 60 percent, the United States government and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation have thrown more than $50 million at the cause.

"That's not a credible argument here in Massachusetts," notes Goldman. "You know what really helps protect against HIV/AIDS? Condoms. . . . [Y]ears ago, circumcision was promoted as a preventative cure for masturbation . . . and we know that didn't work."

Studies aside, the greatest impediments to anti-circumcision crusaders are religious and family traditions. "One argument we always hear is that fathers who are circumcised want their sons to look like them," says Iozza. Adds Goldman: "But that logic falls on its face when you apply it to anything else; if the father was missing a finger or an ear or a toe, would he want his son missing one, too?"

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