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Open Letter to Future Parents
An Angry North Dakota Mother
Cut first, ask later
Emails from an Unhappy Reader
Baby Died after 9 months

A Jamestown, ND, Couple's Open Letter To Future Parents

When I was younger I thought boys had to be circumcised. No one ever discussed it with me. I just thought, well, I'm Christian and that's what you do if you're Christian. I even had the most ridiculous thought that boys might somehow die if it wasn't done. I didn't know how it was done. Just that it was done.

When I was in labor [in 1985] with my first child, I was presented with a circumcision [consent] form by the nurse (I would like to stress that my labor was difficult in that it was all back labor)  She wanted me to sign a blank form between contractions. I read the consent form. The form stated I had been advised as to the nature of the procedure and the risks involved. "What risks?" I asked the nurse, Ruth Diede. I haven't been advised of any risks.  "I have never even discussed this with Dr. Lucy. I will not sign this." I gave the form to my husband. He read it and said, "I don't think it is really necessary that we sign this right now. We don't even know if the baby is a boy or girl yet."

They tried to get me to sign it the next day. But I told my husband that since it's a boy and that he's the father, he should decide. My husband again asked the nurse about the risks involved. Ruth Diede told him that the form is just a formality. There are virtually no risks involved. That is all we were told. So he signed it.

Three years later, I had another son [born under extreme stress: Apgar scores of 0, 4 and 6]. This time they gave me the consent form after my son was born, I never questioned it this time. I just signed the blank consent form. It was filled out later by the staff. I still never discussed it with my doctor. The doctor had circumcised our first son using the bell cap method. So that is what we thought they would do this time. We didn't know there were different procedures. We weren't given a choice.

Early the next morning, I heard a baby screaming and wailing down the hall. For some reason I became very anxious, and I could feel my breasts drip milk. When the nurse came into my room I asked, why is that baby crying so much? The nurse answered, "Oh, that baby is being circumcised." I said, "Boy, it must really hurt them." The nurse said, "Oh, it doesn't really hurt them that much. The baby is probably just cold."

About a half hour later, my son was brought to me to breastfeed. The nurse said, "He is really hungry. Babies are usually hungry after being circed." I was the only mother in the hospital with a baby boy.

The bell cap procedure was not used to circumcise my second son. My doctor didn't even do the circumcision. Dr. Johnson did. We weren't given a choice of procedures or even a choice of the doctor.

Three and a half years later I had a new doctor, James Torrance. During a prenatal visit, he asked me if I wanted to have the baby circumcised if the baby was a boy. I said, "I'm not sure, I read in a magazine there are some risks involved. Can you explain them to me?" The doctor asked hesitantly, "Well, are your other boys circumcised?" I said, "Yes, but no one has ever told me about the risks involved." His answer, totally avoiding my question was, "Well, you had better circumcise this one or your other boys will make fun of him. I was so amazed at his answer that I never asked anymore questions.

When I was in labor at the hospital, the nurses Maret Petrek and Darlene Struble brought the form in. Again it was blank.  I told my husband, "Here, you want this done, you sign it, because I won't sign it." My husband signed it at 3:30 PM, and our third son was born four hours later.  Again we were presented with the consent form during labor before we even knew whether it was a boy or girl.

This time I insisted I wanted to watch the circumcision. The doctor tried to talk me out of it saying  mothers don't really want to watch this. It makes them upset to see the baby cry. I said, "I don't care. I am going to watch. I never even got to look at my other sons before they were circumcised, and I did not like that. This time I am going to watch. He is my baby."

So, even though I had insisted on watching this time, I heard the nurse tell the doctor outside my hospital room door, "She's probably still sleeping. Let's just get it over with."  The doctor stuck his head into my room and was surprised to see me awake. He told me that he was going to do the circumcision if I still wanted to watch.

I went down to the nursery. The nurse was already holding my naked son. Right before the doctor came in, the nurse whispered to me, "It takes Dr. Torrance a damn half hour to do a circ. It takes every other doctor five minutes max. He doesn't know what he is doing."  I never said anything.

The doctor put my son on a blue molded plastic board and placed a blue cloth over the lower half of his body. The cloth had a hole in it for the penis. The doctor looked at me and said, "Usually we don't let the parents watch this." "Why not?" I asked. "He is my son. A parent should be able to watch if they want to."

Then the doctor separated the foreskin from the end of the penis and cut a slit. Then he clamped it and cut around the clamp with a blade. While the doctor was doing this, I saw my son quivering uncontrollably and watched his eyes roll back in his head. I asked the doctor, "Why is my baby shaking so much?" The doctor answered, "Oh, he's probably cold." I remember thinking, "How can he be cold? It's hot outside, the air conditioner isn't on. We're on the fourth floor and everybody know heat rises." But being the obedient and cooperative patient, I said, "Oh."

Then the doctor took the chopped-off foreskin and threw it in the garbage like he couldn't wait to get the foreskin off his hands.  I was surprised that he just threw it in the garbage. I wondered if that was the proper procedure to dispose of human flesh. Somehow it just didn't seem right.

When the doctor finished, he said, "Gee, I guess I should've asked you which procedure you wanted."  At this time I didn't know there were different procedures. So I asked. This is how I found out that my first son was circumcised differently from my other two sons. I told the doctor, "OK, that's OK. I guess it really doesn't matter." But in my mind I was angry, and I thought, "A little late to ask me after you've already done the procedure you obviously prefer." The doctor left and the nurse said, "My, your baby took the twenty-five minute procedure remarkably well. He didn't even cry."  I felt sad and tired.

About two months later, I discovered  you don't even have to circumcise your boys. I read a section in the 6th edition of Dr. Spock's Baby Book. that I found in K-Mart. So, I finally found the information I had asked the doctor about during my prenatal visit; the information he couldn't or wouldn't tell me. I had to find the information in a book at K-Mart (of all places!). I also read a chapter out of Mother's Favorites by Catherine Young.

I decided to do more checking into this. I read where serious mistakes have been made. Yes, I realize it's rare. But if it happens to your son, it's not rare! Obviously, my doctor was inexperienced. A twenty-five minute procedure! My poor son. I thank God the doctor didn't slip. I supposed everyone needs to practice. Anybody want to volunteer their son for a guinea pig?! Then I found out that the males lose some of their sexual pleasure because it has been cut off. It's like cutting the clitoris from the female.

I showed my husband all of this and asked him why we did this to our sons. My husband said the only thing he had considered was that they should look like him, even though our oldest son was circumcised differently.

We talked to our parents about this. My husband's father, upon hearing my husband's reason, laughed and said, "That's ridiculous. I'm not circumcised and you and your three brothers never even noticed." My husband's father is seventy-three years old and has never had a problem being uncircumcised. My mother told me, my father wasn't circumcised and never had any problems either.

We asked our parents why they weren't circumcised, and they thought it was probably because they were all born at home. Then we asked, "Why did you circumcise your sons?" and our parents told us, "We never had a choice back then. The hospital just did it."

Learning all this after the fact, my husband and I are very angry because if we had been informed, we would never have circumcised our sons. And you can be sure that if we have another son, he will not be circumcised.

We just hope our sons will forgive us.

November 1992,
Kathy and Paul Burkle,
A Mother and Father of Three sons,
Jamestown, North Dakota

P.S. We have heard about the possibility of penile cancer as a reason for getting circumcised.  But breasts have the possibility of getting cancer. Should we cut off those too?!

P.P.S. He is not my doctor anymore.

         *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *

The following edits and comments made in 1992 are by Duane Voskuil, Ph.D.

Attached to this letter are three consent forms  The form for the first baby includes the following: "I have been advised as to the nature of the procedure and the risks involved and I realized that neither the physician nor Jamestown Hospital can guarantee any result."

The initial part of the second son's form before the parent signs the consent for circumcision reads, "I hereby consent to necessary medical care of...." Emphasis added.

The form for the third baby also reads, "I consent to necessary medical care... and for use of such surgical procedures and anesthesia as may be necessary...." 

The  complete Operation Report written in 1992 is as follows: 

 "CIRCUMCISION. Informed and written consent was given to the mother for a circumcision. Bleeding, possible infection were listed as possible complications of this procedure. The patient was prepped and draped under sterile technique with mother in attendance. Adhesions were removed and an anterior slit was made. 1.5 large Gomco was placed over the glans penis and excess foreskin was removed with a 14 blade. There was less then [sic] 5 cc. of bleeding. The patient tolerated the procedure well. Procedure performed by Dr. Torrance." Signed:  "James R. Torrance, M.D.

         *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *

Circumcision is not a Christian rite. The mother is having a painful labor which is aggravated by laboring on her back,  a birthing posture which decreases her pelvic capacity, increases her pain and is more dangerous for the baby. She is ill-prepared to deliver her baby the easiest  and safest way. She experiences discomfort as her choices are limited and communication with her is minimal or lacking. The technological birthing system is assuming control of the mother and her child even as she sees it displaying indifference to pain. Yet, her body knows the appropriate response is to comfort.

The second baby was born in extreme distress and yet circumcised. The  Jamestown Hospital Progress Notes dictated 11/5/88 and typed three days later read:  "Burkle, Baby Boy--Attending physician, Larry  E. Johnson, M.D.-- Baby boy had Apgar's of 0-4 and 6. I explained to mom essentially the scoring of the Apgar and that the infant had cardiac compression and oxygenation by mask. I explained to her that the infant was essentially dead and brought back to life. This was discussed a couple of times so that this information was pressed upon her." Signed:  Larry E. Johnson, MD.

The doctor's reason to circumcise her third son, namely, to avoid teasing, probably says more about his own state of anxiety than the real state of the newborn's siblings. It certainly is not a medical reason which a surgeon ought to be concerned with. Yet his response, coming from one who should know, succeeded in causing doubt in her value system. He did not answer a direct question about the risks.

Though she herself is working hard to deliver her child, she uses the passive voice appropriate in the medical setting. The doctors assume they deliver the child. Her courageous reassertion of her parental right to be with her child, if only to observe, during the circumcision is a direct challenge to the system which assumes it is their baby to birth and control. Historians point out that the rite of circumcision is one loyalty oath parents give to the dominant system. A parent is saying, in effect, that he or she is willing to bow to the will of the system when asked, even when it is dangerous and painful to do so. The vulnerability of the exposed glans and the life-long scar are the oath's exacting symbols and constant reminders that the amputee has also been pledged to the system. Against this wide emotional background, the real circumcision debate is carried out, not on the so-called medical reasons.

The hospital staff conspires to circumvent her assertiveness. Perhaps one reason the nurse suggests going ahead without the mother is the difficulty of handling her own pain. The nurse's pain comes out in her comment to the mother about how long the doctor takes to do a circumcision. Every moment is a felt or suppressed pain for all involved. The mother continues to question the system's procedures, but is eventually silenced. A frightening thought would be that the doctor really thinks the baby is doing well when it seems likely that he had lost consciousness, "checked  out.".

 The modern circumcision ritual which trashes the foreskin, even fails to treat the valuable sacrifice with respect as it once did. Sadness is the only appropriate emotion apart from anger. Her comparison of circumcision to clitoridectomy is not far off and an observation most Americans are not yet able to make. Female forms of circumcision are desensitizing for the 100 million girls who have this procedure performed on them for many of the same reasons given for male circumcision.

Believing the violation done to us is OK is how we protect ourselves from facing our own pain. The older generation knows the pro-circumcision rationalizations are propaganda but has also been silenced by the prevailing medical myths. Time has come to stop propagating the myths which make parents carry or suppress so much guilt. She is, fortunately, still able to think clearly about the pros and cons. Twice as many men die from breast cancer as from penile cancer. As many babies probably die from the complications of circumcision as old men do from penile cancer (1 in 100,000). There are no justifiable medical reasons.

Though the parents signed the consent forms, it  is obvious they were not informed even though they tried to get information. A most disturbing document is the  Operation Report which states that the parents were given information when they claim otherwise. Even if the information about bleeding and infection had been given to the parents, this would be completely inadequate information considering that there is much pain, scarring, often disfigurements in addition to the amputation itself, the possibility of loss of the penile shaft and even death. There is also loss of sensitivity and long-term psycho-physical trauma according to many.

The so-called "adhesions" that "were removed" was the natural attachment of the foreskin to the glans that seldom separates, nor is expected to separate from the glans which the foreskin is protecting, for several years. What is the "excess foreskin" that was removed? What medical term is this for what kind of pathological problem? It must have been a normal foreskin or it would not be "routinely" amputated as physicians well know. Men's mammary glands are far more excessive. The presumptuousness of this expression is unbelievable.

The editorial comment by the doctor about the baby tolerating well the violation to his penis can only mean that he didn't fight back. Of course, he couldn't since he was totally restrained physically and in isolation from any human comfort. He did what he had to do to survive, namely, become unconscious or nearly so.

One thing the Operation Report has correct, however, is who the "patient" is. This is not a trivial matter since the head of the Fargo Clinic's neonatal intensive care unit and many others say the "patient should have the right to chose" circumcision. Who has heard of a newborn male that has chosen to have the foreskin of his penis amputated?

One can only hope more parents will be as open and brave as these two so fewer males will be unnecessarily harmed by the small, radical pro-cutting minority. Hopefully, the US will get in step with the 85% worldwide majority, including all of Europe, and stop this unnecessary and dangerous amputation?

Those of us who have been violated unnecessarily by this ignorance, including physicians, feel at some level the loss. I can only hope we can be strong enough to deal with the pain rather than denying it and passing it down to others, with the belief that since "I'm OK, I'll make you OK too."

Given the questionable reasons these parents were given for the operation and the sentiment of the parents' last  sentence, physicians would do well  to reconsider their beliefs and approaches to this issue before more harm comes to their reputations and incomes.


An Angry North Dakota Mother

April 6, 1996

Dear Mr. Voskuil,

You recently came to our college to educate us on circumcisions, male and female, and why they should be stopped.

I am behind you 100% because I had this cruel surgery performed on my two sons. Both were done for "hygienic" reasons and my second son's circ. was not performed "properly" and had to be medically corrected after he turned one year of age. He is permanently scarred. Both my babies screamed and cried from the pain in an IHS [Indian Health Service] hospital. I pray they will lead healthy and productive lives as they grow older.

What I want to know is where the hell was all this information nine years ago when my first son was born?!! I am so sorry my first two babies went through this unnecessary procedure but never will my future babies experience this torture.

Thank you for educating me when no other would.

Mother of three, 2 boys and 1 girl
United Tribes Technical College
Criminal justice Student


"it was already done"

Hi, Jody,
It's been a while since we talked.  My sister had her baby--a boy on November 21st [2001].  She had a c-section because he was a footling breech. I was able to go home since it was Thanksgiving.   She was to the point that she did not want to circumcise her baby, but her husband told her not to fight him on this one--he wanted the baby to look like him.  I gave it one last try the night before the circumcision was to take place.  With my sister's permission, I talked to my brother- in-law and described the circumcision procedure in great detail.  He didn't say anything except goodbye and hung up the phone.  At my sister's request, I went in to be with her at the hospital.  She and I reminded the nurse that she wanted to talk to the doctor before it was done.  The nurse said she knew and that there was a note on the chart.  The doctor came in a little while later and when my sister started to ask questions he told her that it was already done!  I wanted to punch him!  My sister broke down crying.  I can't believe he would do that.  There are many other horrible events that day-like the doctor telling her to "stop your fussing."  It's been over a month and I can't get it out of my mind. What horrible memories my sister will have of the birth of her baby for the rest of her life. I have been trying to think what I should have done differently.  I think I should have never let the baby out of our sight.  My sister did hold him all night the night before since I told her not to let him out her sight.  I guess I foolishly thought the nurse and doctor would actually answer her questions beforehand. I realize I have to reach people BEFORE they are in the hospital to know about their choices and rights in childbirth.  I hope many of them will be able to do the hard work it takes to birth outside the hospital. Thanks for letting me vent in cyberspace! Barb


Emails from an Unhappy Reader

To: <>
Date: Sunday, May 19, 2002 6:24 PM
Subject: sick and tired

I am sick and tired of everyone telling me that my circumcision is a seperations of me...and that I am lacking as a man in the sexual department. You can tell the ladies group who started this nonscence that they are dead wrong.

I see men who are "intact" as you put it. The head looks nasty and red and wet all the time. And from what I have been told smells. I am a clean cut american male who is more than proud to be "seperated" as you put it. So is my son.

I think you are full of rederict that make no sense whatsoever. I am fully and happily sexually active with a great deal of sensitivity.... So, put this in your letters
Tony Stout.. Proudly a "cut" above the rest.

--And later--

Subject: SO STUPID!!!
Date: Friday, November 1, 2002 8:31 PM




Dear Tony--
You are posted, as you requested. There are many cut as adults who know what life is like with and without all of one's body parts who say there is loss. We also know what is anatomically lost. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately for people like you, those cut as infants have no experience of a whole body, so they cannot, as you say, know the difference. I am not the one who is using  "normal" and "mutilated" in strange ways.  


Everyone says it won't happen to them, what if, just what if you do become that statistic how would you feel. My God-brothers son he was born on January 15th, 2004 he was a perfect, and healthy baby boy. When he was three days old they had him circ'd and he was in and out of hospitals with an infection in his genitals and body for the next 9 months. They almost lost him twice in that time. Every doctor told them the infection was a 'side effect' of his circ, it was not mentioned as one to them before hand. They swear they will never circ again. The doctor who did my God-brother's son was the most highly recommended in the area they live, they talked to many people, doctors, nurses and other patients to find a good one. He has many circ's under his belt, yet still the baby has almost died twice from the infection and spent the majority of his life in hospital.

On September 18th this little boy lost his fight and passed away. His body was just to small to fight of the infections, his organs slowly shut down, my mom said she could see the pain in his eyes those last few days. Do you/why would you want to take chance that this could be your son?? Is any child's life worth the risk of a medically unnecessary surgery? Don't say this won't be you, that is exactly what my god-brother told me before he had this done, and guess what, it was him and his family.



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