Activists to American Doctors: Don't Circumcise 4-Year-Old; Consent Was Forced

Around the country, protesters have been speaking out against the practice of circumcision, especially on infants and children who are too young to consent.
Around the country, protesters have been speaking out against the practice of circumcision, especially on infants and children who are too young to consent.
Bloodstained Men via Flickr Creative Commons

Last week, Heather Hironimus signed a consent form to allow the circumcision of her 4-year-old son, seemingly putting an end to a months-long battle between her and her child's father, Dennis Nebus, who wants their son to have the procedure. Nebus was given permission by a Palm Beach judge to travel anywhere in the United States to have the child circumcised. 

But anticircumcision activists have not given up the fight to keep Nebus from having the boy circumcised, even though Hironimus, 31, gave the consent in court.

Hironimus, they say, was under pressure to sign the consent form. They argue that consent given under duress is not  valid, and are contacting doctors across the country to advise them not to perform the procedure if the boy is brought to them. 

On Friday, May 22, after spending a week in jail, Hironimus was given a choice by Judge Jeffrey Gillen of the 15th judicial district court in Palm Beach County to either sign the form or remain in custody indefinitely. Hironimus at first refused but then changed her mind and entered the courtroom handcuffed and in tears to sign the form.

"This was not a genuine consent, in our opinion," Jennifer Moose of The INTACT Network tells New Times. "Heather was under duress and in handcuffs. She was coerced."

The INTACT Network, which is a group that shares research-based information on intact care and circumcision, has started a letter-writing campaign to send to urologists across the country to educate them on the Hironimus-Nebus case.

"The warnings to the doctors is basically that Heather's consent was not a genuine consent," Moose says. "We're asking them to consider the medical ethics."

The letter argues that since the boy's circumcision is not medically necessary and because he's almost 5 years old, any doctor approached by Nebus should reconsider doing the procedure. 

Citing the Hippocratic Oath, the letter reminds respective doctors that the American Academy of Pediatrics, as well as a doctor who testified in this case, have said that circumcision is not medically necessary and not recommended.

The letter also claims that the boy has already verbally expressed how he doesn't want to be circumcised but that he wasn't given the chance to tell the court.

"As you know, a doctor should — by ethical and standard protocol — receive consent and approval from the owner of the body before performing any non-emergency medical procedure, circumcision notwithstanding," part of the letter reads. "The foreskin is an incredibly valuable organ with more than a dozen unique functions serving anatomical, sexual, hygienic, protective, and other purposes. It is not vestigial tissue."

Moose says the campaign began after the director of the INTACT branch in Houston mentioned sending letters to doctors outside of Florida who may not be familiar with the case. From there, it's grown, and INTACT has been getting support from activists and nonactivists alike. 

"We have gotten a lot of questions from people all over the country that want to get involved," she says. 

Of course, there are some activists who have been known to go get on the fringe of the issue, which is a genuine concern for Moose and those who simply want to get the word out.

Three Florida doctors were targeted by activists during the case when it was discovered they had been contacted by Nebus to perform the procedure. 

While under oath at a hearing in March, Nebus testified that the three doctors had removed themselves from performing the procedure after apparently receiving what Nebus called "threatening letters" from activists. Nebus claimed that he personally had received death threats from people involved with the activist groups.

During his testimony, Nebus also detailed an incident in which Hironimus herself burst into a doctor's office where the child was being examined in order to schedule a procedure. Nebus said she "threw a tantrum" and yelled at the medical staff that she had not given consent for the boy to be examined by the doctor. Nebus said their son, who had witnessed the outburst, was "visibly shaken."

Nebus did admit that the boy had expressed fear over getting a circumcision, but only because of what he said were "scare tactics" used on the boy by his mother. Nebus did not make clear what those tactics might've been.

"There's a lot of concern that some activists will go their own way on this," Moose says. "And that's counterproductive. For instance, there are some activists we know about that want us to only mail out letters written by Doctors Opposing Circumcision. But we need a letter that represents us all."

Moose admits that there's no way of controlling what a specific group might do. But since the letters are going out to doctors around the country, there isn't a specific doctor to target, such as was the case in Florida. 

INTACT is asking anyone who wants to get involved in the campaign to be respectful to the doctors they're mailing the letter to — to keep the language clean and nonthreatening.

The full letter and directions on how to get involved can be found here.

Moose says that this is an INTACT campaign and that Hironimus is not involved in any way.

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