NYC Puts at Least One Restriction on Mohels Sucking Freshly Circumcised Baby Penises

Call me crazy, but I don't think it should be legal for adults to suck the blood from freshly circumcised baby penises. Alas, doing just that is a very important ritual for some Orthodox Jews. Called metzitzah b'peh, the process involves the mohel snipping away the foreskin and then sucking the blood from the penis to "cleanse" the wound. Obviously putting saliva on an open wound isn't considered an antiseptic practice in any realm of modern medicine, especially when that open wound belongs to an infant with a barely there immune system. Indeed, since 2002, metzitzah b'peh has been responsible for spreading Type 1 herpes, a very common condition in American adults, to 11 different babies, killing two of them and giving two others brain damage, according to ABC News.

All that in mind, the New York City Board of Health voted on September 13 to require mohels to get written consent from a baby's parents before performing metzitzah b'peh. They don't want to ban the ritual, mind you—though they really probably should—they just want the mohels to notify parents of the risks associated with sucking blood from a newborn's cut penis. Apparently, though it may seem impossible, some parents had no idea the mohels were even doing that, let alone the grave possibilities for disease transmission. "I never watch it, I'm scared to watch it," one woman with four circumcised sons told the New York Times in an interview earlier this month. "I don't know what they are doing there."

Many mohels are against having to get parental consent for metzitzah b'peh, arguing that they gargle with Listerine and wash their hands well before the procedure. But health experts say those are insufficient precautions when it comes to putting your mouth on a newly circumcised penis. "There is no safe way to perform oral suction on an open wound in a newborn," Dr. Jay K. Varma, New York City's deputy commissioner for disease control, told the Times. One might think that might go without saying in 2012. And yet, no.

It should be noted that not every Jewish person condones metzitzah b'peh, with some rabbis going so far as to say it should be banned altogether. The ones who continue to promote the practice despite its danger, however, are steadfast: Jewish organization Agudath Israel of America says it's considering suing the city of New York for infringing on its rights, arguing in a recent email statement that the new regulation "interferes with both freedom of religion and speech (the latter, because it requires the mohel to distribute certain information to parents)."

[Image via AP]