Date: May 08 2012
The long-running debate on circumcision is set to return as the federal government considers whether the surgical practice should continue to qualify for Medicare payments.
The Health Department has put circumcision under the scrutiny of an expert committee as part of a Medicare quality and safety review of paediatric surgery. The review comes amid widely diverging views on the need for the removal of boys' foreskins soon after birth.
Most public hospitals have dropped the operation in Australia. But a group of senior medical experts have called for a government re-think, declaring there is now strong evidence that circumcision reduces risk of infectious diseases and cancer.
About half of uncircumcised boys will suffer an adverse medical condition as a result of their undetached foreskin over their lifetime, says the Circumcision Foundation of Australia, whose members include several professors of medicine.
The foundation, led by a Sydney University medical scientist, Brian Morris, has written to state and federal health ministers appealing for an end to the ban on elective male circumcision in public hospitals and for a substantial increase in the Medicare benefit for the operation. The rate is currently less than $40 when performed on boys under six-months-old, leaving uninsured parents with high gap charges.
Critics say there is little medical reason to circumcise an infant and that it should be withdrawn from Medicare coverage unless found to be medically necessary.
An opponent, Simon Harris, a non-doctor who runs a web-based group called Circumcision Doctors Australia, says about 12 per cent of newborn boys in Australia have circumcision attracting the Medicare benefit. ''I suspect that many doctors are falsely claiming a condition called phimosis, which is commonly known as having a tight foreskin,'' Mr Harris said.
The Circumcision Foundation, whose members include a professor of sexual health medicine, Adrian Mindel, HIV expert Professor David Cooper and public health leader, Professor Stephen Leeder, says the arrangements put elective circumcision beyond the reach of low-income families. As well as protecting infant boys against painful urinary tract infections that can led to permanent kidney damage, circumcision protected against penile inflammation, foreskin constriction and inferior hygiene, it says.
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