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December 7, 2005

History, Circumcision

JAMA. 2005;294(21):2771-2772. doi:10.1001/jama.294.21.2771

Circumcision in American society is still performed on the majority of male children, though the rate is down from the post-WWII high of 90%. Opposition to the practice from medical and lay sources is growing, despite the inertia of medical opinion supporting the procedure for a number of purportedly hygienic reasons. In the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand, where circumcision was once widespread, it is now disappearing from the medical armamentarium.

Apart from Jewish ritual circumcision, which has been practiced from ancient times, the cutting of the foreskin has never been popular outside Anglo-American culture. The most interesting historical question, therefore, is why circumcision flourished when and where it did, not why it is now in a decline that simply returns English-speaking lands to the global and historic norm. That is the question to which Robert Darby addresses himself.

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