New York - At Hearing Rabbis Defend Controversial Circumcision Practice To City Health Officials
New York - At a hearing yesterday in Queens, New York City rabbis defended a controversial circumcision practice that has been blamed for infecting infants with herpes, in some cases causing their death.
The practice, called â€śmetzitzah bâ€™peh,â€ť requires the circumciser, or mohel, to suck the infantâ€™s wounds after circumcision, and has led to at least two cases of infant death in New York since 2000. The city wants to amend the health law to require mohels to obtain written consent from parents indicating they are fully aware of the risks involved in the ritual circumcision, or bris.
â€śI myself have performed 25,000 circumcisions, and, thank God, we have not had one single incident â€¦ our guidelines are, I think, much stricter than the medical profession,â€ť said Rabbi A. Romi Cohn, a mohel and a Holocaust survivor who represented the American Board of Ritual Circumcision at the hearing.
But Cohn admitted that some people who are not certified according to Jewish law masquerade as mohels in order to make money, sometimes as much as $500 to $1,000 per bris.
â€śThis is completely forbidden, but unfortunately they are doing it,â€ť Cohn said. â€śThese people donâ€™t know what sterility means. They donâ€™t know about infection. We try to tell parents that if they choose a circumciser, he should be board-certified.â€ť
Mohels argued the cityâ€™s proposed changes would infringe on their religious freedom, but city health officials are pushing back.
â€śThe concept of informed consent puts more of the decision-making power and more of the information in the hands of the parents,â€ť said Susan Blank, the assistant commissioner of the STD Control Program at the cityâ€™s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
Blank said she was confused by rabbisâ€™ opposition, which she argued allowed them their religious freedom while simultaneously allowing parents greater control over their childâ€™s welfare.
â€śThe Department has received multiple complaints from parents whose children may not have been infected who were also not aware that direct oral suction was going to be performed as part of their sonsâ€™ circumcisions,â€ť according to a notice from the New York City Board of Health.
The cityâ€™s interference in the ritual could lead to legal action, the mohels said.
â€śBeing a mohel is a religious statusâ€¦I cannot follow an outside authority,â€ť said Rabbi Levi Heber, the director of the International Bris Association.
Heber said that if the city enacted the proposed amendment the mohels would take legal action to stop it.
â€śIf we feel that our religious freedom is being restricted, we have the right to challenge it in court â€¦ we are ready, if needed, to challenge this,â€ť he said.
The Board of Health plans to reach a decision on the proposal in September.
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