Human Anatomy at Colby

Anonymous Student: Circumcision

February 23rd, 2015 · Comments Off on Anonymous Student: Circumcision


Dr. Peter Millard recently came in for a talk about HIV and preventative measures in Africa, specifically discussing circumcision and its effects in nations severely affected by HIV within Africa. Dr. Millard actively supports circumcision and has equated the procedure with vaccination. There are serious issues with this claim. Circumcision and vaccines can not be equated. The amount of mental acrobatics it requires to compare a quick needle stick with a 15-minute unanesthetized surgical alteration of the genitals is ridiculous. Unlike vaccinations, botched circumcisions are common. Immunization prevents disease but circumcision is 100% chance of mutilation (Rebecca Grey). Vaccination also does not deprive an individual of any functional body parts. The foreskin is not just skin as Dr. Millard alluded. It is composed of mucous membrane, also called a prepuce, analogous to the eyelid or the inside of the mouth. People designated female at birth have a foreskin equivalent called the clitoral hood which evolved from the same tissue as the foreskin. Circumcision within US history has been tied to various fleeting reasons. The procedure was popularized by Dr. Kellogs during the Victorian era (the same person who co-invented corn flakes) to curb masturbation. He said:

“ The operation should be performed by a surgeon without administering an anæsthetic, as the brief pain attending the operation will have a salutary effect upon the mind, especially if it be connected with the idea of punishment.”

This masturbation hysteria was then replaced by fear of sexually transmitted infections followed by prostate cancer, and now urinary tract infections. Parents believe that circumcision helps with cleanliness, but they do not realize that there is something called a bath or a shower. Taddio et al. performed a meta-analysis observing the pain responses to subsequent vaccinations of circumcised infants and uncircumcised infants. They found that circumcised infants showed a stronger pain response than uncircumcised infants. The trauma of circumcision has lasting effects on these children. This logic of removing a functional body part to prevent disease is the same as selling a car to prevent a car accident (Men’s Health). Safe sex practices are what stops HIV transmission.

Dr. Millard mentioned that circumcision decreased transmission of HIV by 50-60%, but did not mention that a vaccine has essentially a 95% efficacy rate. Vaccination is about immunization, circumcision is not about immunization. The US has the highest HIV transmission of all the westernized countries and the highest circumcision rates. Evidence points to insufficient education about safe sex practices. In 1992, 410,00 cases of chlamydia was reported, 20 years later, 1.3 millions cases were reported. In 2000, there were 31,618 cases of syphilis, 10 years later, 45.834 cases were reported. It seems sex education among the general population is low. Instead, doctors are telling parents to circumcise their children instead of teaching children safe sex practices. Media now takes over where various sitcoms commonly have circumcision as a plot device which actively shames those who are not circumcised. Circumcision has become naturalized and not questioned.

Within the US, infant circumcision is still endorsed and is now supported by the WHO and the CDC which is backed by data from adult circumcisions in African countries performed on “consenting” adults. Infant circumcision forcefully separates the fused foreskin from the glans which results in the tearing of the synechia (the tissue that connects the foreskin to the glans) and keratinization of the affected areas. Circumcision is commonly used as treatment for phimosis, but infants can not get phimosis as their foreskins are not naturally retractable. The loss of protective mucosal membranes and various nerves denies the child of their own bodies and decisions. Before a child can even consent to having sex, they have their bodies permanently altered.

The voluntary medical male circumcision in African countries which is backed by the WHO is packaged with connecting men to health care, access to safe sex education, condoms, HIV testing, counselling services, and links to HIV care and treatment. These incentives behind the procedure drive safe sex practices which prevent HIV transmission. Proper habitual condom-use alone prevents HIV transmission by 95%. Circumcision can not be considered voluntary when access to safe sex tools and practices that prevent HIV are contingent upon this procedure. The institutionalized industry of circumcision is backed by ministers of health, policy makers, program managers, health care providers, and donors (e.g. PEPFAR and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation) who fund supporting programs. HIV transmission can also be transmitted through circumcision if the tools are not sterilized. Stopping circumcision means stopping access to health care. Of course the HIV transmission rates decrease when patients are educated on safer sex practices. The studies done in Africa were decided to be unethical after two years, but did not mention the unethical issues behind the actual circumcision itself. Long term follow-up should be required for these patients.

The exporting of circumcision results in growing acceptance of this procedure “in communities, among men and their partners, adolescents and parents” (WHO). Although studies have been done on adult men, the WHO supports influence on adolescents who are not given complete informed consent especially when their parents and the institutions manipulating the conditions favor circumcision. Many nations curtail to the US when it comes to health policies. Circumcision has become tool to normalize and impose Western standards of bodies on peoples that can not fully consent.

Circumcision in African countries are funded by western imperialism which exports this practice outside to different nations only to import the “results” back into their own countries to continue non-consensual practice of genital mutilation. This dangerous cycle impacts bodies in very specific ways to normalize cognitive dissonance. Babies do not have consent over circumcision. Continued practice of circumcision normalizes a dangerous environment for those designated male at birth. Why must this procedure be made by doctors paid to cut off foreskin? The infant has no agency over their bodies. Circumcision is a practice that attempts to manage disease, but does not answer the question of how disease can best be managed. Cultural bias coming from Dr. Millard reflects normative nontherapeutic circumcision sentiments within the US.





Tags: Guest Speakers · Human Health

Arianne Thomas: My JanPlan Experience – pt. 1

February 22nd, 2015 · Comments Off on Arianne Thomas: My JanPlan Experience – pt. 1


This JanPlan gave me many unique opportunities, and I learned so much about the human body in so many different ways beyond just classroom lectures. We spent hours in lab studying models, histology slides, real bones, and a real pig heart. We went on “field trips” to the art museum, where we identified different anatomical features in pieces of art, and to the athletic center, where we learned about our own heart rates, respiration, and metabolism. We completed a Grand Rounds project, which is where medical professionals present a patient’s issues and treatment for the purpose of educating medical students as well as other doctors. We were given the opportunity to work with high schoolers interested in the sciences during a mentoring session where we were taught them a little bit about what we were studying in class and helped them plan out science fair project ideas.

Some of my favorite learning experiences organized by Dr. Klepach was bringing in different speakers who talked to us about what they do in their day to day lives and the issues they seek to fix. The first speaker was Dr. Zak Nashed, a radiologist who specializes in peripheral artery disease. PAD is a circulation problem where arteries that supply blood to the extremities get clogged by the hardening of arteries, often times leading to a stroke or a heart attack. It can cause damage to the endothelial lining of the arteries, an increased permeability and adhesion of molecules, and if it goes untreated there could be a complete obstruction. One treatment option is medical management, where the risk factors could be modified (by exercising, losing weight, or stopping smoking) or a pharmacologic intervention could be used to regulate hypercholesterolemia, hypertension, or diabetes. Another treatment option, which Dr. Nashed specializes in, is interventional radiology through endovascular techniques. These are minimally invasive procedures where medical professionals use image guided tools to perform balloon angioplasty and place stents to open up narrowed arteries due to plaque build up. The third and most extreme treatment option is to perform a bypass graft or an amputation.

The other speaker who came to talk to us was Dr. Peter Millard who is an epidemiologist, someone who studies causes and patterns of diseases in different populations. He talked to us about his work with diseases in Africa, making the interesting point that where he worked in Mozambique is about the same distance from Liberia as it is from New York, but in reality New York is a lot closer because there is more traffic between the two places. He explained that geographic proximity is different from travel patterns and the way disease spreads has a lot more to do with traffic than geographic proximity. He also talked about the prevalence of HIV across different parts of Africa, and possible correlation between these rates of HIV and circumcision. Another interesting aspect of epidemiology he talked about was the importance of disease prevention on economic and social levels.

Having these speakers come in to talk with us was an integral part of my learning experience in the Anatomy and Physiology class because it opened my eyes to all the various aspects that the sciences, biology in particular, encompass. Having both parents working in the medical field has always fostered an interest in a profession in the medical field, but I have never had a concrete idea of what I specifically would like to do. These opportunities of having two very different speakers come talk to us made me more aware of the various directions my degree in biology can take me and interested in looking into different careers that I would have never thought about before.


Tags: Bi265j · Guest Speakers

Dr. Peter Millard, Epidemiologists Comes to Speak.

January 30th, 2015 · Comments Off on Dr. Peter Millard, Epidemiologists Comes to Speak.

The last day of class we had the pleasure and honor of hosting epidemiologist Dr. Peter Millard, an MD PhD based in Belfast Maine, for a thoroughly engaging hour as he spoke about a wide range of epidemiological issues. The topics covered spanned his work on HIV infection in Africa, to the political, media and social components of disease right here in Maine.

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For all of the students in Bi265j I would like to thank Dr. Millard for graciously donating his time to come and speak to us. Watch his interesting and informative presentation below.

Tags: Guest Speakers