NYC officials suggest law change after Jewish circumcision is tied to infant herpes and death

The health department says that around 20,493 infant boys were involved in the metzitzah b'peh in the month of June.
Health officials in New York City are asking for Orthodox Jews to accept a proposed regulation on a circumcision ritual after it has been linked to spreading herpes to infants and causing the deaths of at least two newborns.

The New York City Board of Health wants ultra-Orthodox parents that subject their children to the "metzitzah b'peh” ritual to be forced to sign a consent waiver before the circumcision procedure is performed. The reason, they argue, is that which can be potentially fatal.

While circumcision is considered commonplace in many religions, the specific metzitzah b'peh done by Orthodox Jews has caused concern in New York health officials because it doesn’t end with a simple snip. The health department says that around 20,493 infant boys were involved in the ritual in the month of June alone, which requires the person performing the procedure to orally suck blood from the wound on the boy’s circumcised penis after an incision is made on the foreskin.

Ancient Hebrew holy texts mandate that newborn boys go under the knife when they are eight days old, but sections of the Talmud scripts have been interpreted for centuries by some Orthodox Jews to necessitate the sucking of the blood. City officials fear that continuing this with interpretation could cause more fatalities in the future, though.

"There is no safe way to perform oral suction on any open wound in a newborn,” New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley says in a statement.

The health department wants parents to sign a consent waiver before bringing their newborn boys under the knife after linking the procedure to two deaths in recent years. According to the department’s latest findings, rituals that involved either “confirmed or probably orogenital suction” of the penis between April 2006 and December 2011 led to the contracting of neonatal herpes (HSV-1) in 24.4 per each 100,000 cases.

“Parents considering ritual circumcision need to know that circumcision should only be performed under sterile conditions, like any other procedures that create open cuts, whether by mohelim or medical professionals,” adds Dr. Farley.

The city’s Department of Health is currently entertaining opinions from the public on how to go about regulating the procedure. Actually imposing that parents sign a consent waiver is expected to go up for vote later this fall. Across the country in California, last year anti-circumcision protesters tried to have the city of San Francisco pass a ban on the act altogether before Governor Jerry Brown intervened and ended their crusade.