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New York health board requires ritual circumcision consent form

By Pauline Kim, CNN
updated 7:13 AM EDT, Fri September 14, 2012
  • A parental consent form must include information regarding the possibly fatal risks of the ritual
  • The city estimates 20,493 infants in New York City were exposed to direct oral suction
  • The ritual, known as the metzitzah b'peh, is a particular type of circumcision
  • The mohel places his mouth on and sucks the blood from the baby's newly circumcised penis

Editor's note: The content of this story may disturb some readers.

New York (CNN) -- New York City's Board of Health voted Thursday to require parents to sign a consent form before having their child undergo a controversial ultra-Orthodox Jewish circumcision ritual after two children died from the herpes virus contracted during the procedure, authorities said.

The parental consent form must include information regarding the possible fatal risks of the ritual, according to Chanel Caraway, a spokeswoman from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. It's not clear if the form will absolve clergy from potential lawsuits.

The ritual, known as the metzitzah b'peh, is a type of circumcision in which the person performing the procedure, or mohel, directly places his mouth on and sucks the blood from the baby's newly circumcised penis.

The controversial ritual came under intense scrutiny earlier this year after health officials reported 11 babies had contracted herpes infections between 2000 and 2011.

Why I didn't circumcise my sons

The health department reported that an estimated 20,493 infants in New York City were exposed to direct oral suction in that period.

"There is no safe way to perform oral suction on any open wound in a newborn," said the health commissioner, Dr. Thomas Farley.

Baby boys who were reportedly circumcised "with confirmed or probable orogenital suction" between April 2006 and December 2011 had an estimated risk of contracting neonatal herpes (HSV-1) infection of 24.4 per 100,000 cases, 3.4 times greater than other infants, the health department said.

"The ethical duty to protect the interests of vulnerable infants and to support parents in making informed and responsible choices cannot be overridden," a group of doctors and bioethicists from the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics said in a letter to Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Yoram Unguru, a Jewish pediatrician, hailed the decision, saying authorities should protect children "from the consequences of unwise decisions."

"In my mind, the amendment doesn't go far enough -- getting parental consent for circumcision in general, that's appropriate and sufficient, but consent for the metzitzah b'peh should not be allowed," he said. It "should not be performed, period."

Top pediatrics group: Benefits of infant circumcision outweigh risks

Members of the orthodox community blasted the decision, calling it an infringement of constitutional rights.

"By telling a mohel he is prohibited from performing a religious ritual unless he tells the parents that, by the way, the child might die in the process, you are forcing us to say something which we are convinced is wrong," said Rabbi David Niederman of the Brooklyn-based United Jewish Organization of Williamsburg.

Niederman and other community members say they plan to contest the regulation.

"We want to work, we have tried, and we are committed to work with the Department of Health to address their concerns in any way, shape or form that does not conflict with our religious and constitutional rights," he said. "The practice will continue."

Why I decided to circumcise my sons

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