NYT on MBP
Today's NY Times has a piece about Metzitzah B'Peh. It basically recaps the most recent developments on the issue between Hasidic leaders and NYC health officials. They don't seem to see eye-to-eye on the topic:
Some Orthodox Jewish leaders are calling on city health officials to end their campaign to educate parents about the alleged health dangers associated with an ancient form of ceremonial circumcision. But officials say they will not oblige.The Hasidim were not happy with the recommendations of the Health Department officials.
... Early last year city officials said the procedure might have led to three recent cases of herpes in infants, one of them fatal. But the city put off taking any aggressive action as it continued to investigate the cases, though it said even then that it would most likely not ban the procedure because it did not want to violate religious freedoms and a ban would be impossible to enforce.
But after concluding last month that the procedure had indeed caused those three cases along with two others - one in which the infant suffered brain damage - the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene said it would recommend against the procedure and begin a public education campaign about its risks. The practice is nearly universal in many Hasidic sects.
Several Hasidic rabbis, arguing that the city was unconstitutionally interfering with their centuries-old religious practice, met on Friday with Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, the commissioner of Health and Mental Hygiene, asking him to stand down, city officials and religious leaders who were there said yesterday. The leaders, who maintain that the practice is safe and that the evidence that it causes herpes is not definitive, had even threatened to protest at Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's inauguration on Sunday, the attendees said.I posted here about my feelings on MBP. I come down firmly against any efforts at regulation of it by government agencies at this time. I simply do not feel that any study has been produced that shows that the few infants that have so tragically died from HSV-2 had been infected through MBP. I agree that the studies have shown that some sort of correlation between the practice and the deaths - but showing a possible correlation is far from proving causation. There are many practices that have shown correlation to a risk on infant safety, that have not been regulated by government safety boards. For example, putting an infant on his back to sleep instead of his stomach has shown to greatly reduce the numbers of babies dying from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. The causation has been shown to a much more incontrovertible degree than it has been with MBP. Yet I don't hear people sounding the cry for government regulation of the sleeping positions parents choose. All the more so, in a case like this, when there are such thorny issues at stake like religious freedom, I don't think the government has any place attempting to restrict a practice that has not shown any firm evidence of being fatal. That said, I do not fully agree with the stance of the Hasidic community against the education campaign by the city health boards. Public education is a perfectly reasonable tool for the health officials to use if they feel that a practice is potentially dangerous. That is the approach they have similarly taken against SIDS, with a "Back to Sleep" campaign which educates parents to protect against SIDS by putting their children to sleep on their backs. I'm not even sure what the Hasidic groups got so worked up about. I don't think that an education campaign would have been in the least bit effective against the firmly entrenched beliefs of the Hasidic community anyhow.