CIRCUMCISION of newborn boys, a procedure that has polarised Western medical opinion, has got the tick from the influential American Academy of Pediatrics.
The surgical removal of the foreskin, now not routinely performed in most Australian public hospitals, offers more health benefits than risks, an evaluation of 10 years of evidence by the academy has found.
The US findings will be considered as part of an Australian review into Medicare coverage of paediatric surgery including circumcision, a Department of Health spokeswoman said.
In a statement released yesterday, the US academy said benefits from male circumcision included the prevention of urinary tract infections, transmission of HIV and some sexually transmitted infections, and penile cancer.
It said the procedure ''does not appear to adversely affect penile sexual function-sensitivity or sexual satisfaction''.
The new stance is a significant change from the academy's neutral position on the issue, which was last stated in 1999. That position did not deem the procedure to be a medical necessity for the well-being of the child.
The revised policy is a ''huge'' blow to opponents, said a longtime supporter of newborn male circumcision in Australia, medical scientist Brian Morris.
Professor Morris said the US academy had stated for the first time that benefits exceeded risks and that education, financial and other facilitators must be put in place to allow circumcision.
''The new policy represents a major turnaround for the better,'' he said.
But the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, which in a 2010 statement declared the medical benefits did not warrant ''routine'' circumcision, was less excited by the US change.
A spokesman for the college's division of paediatrics and child health, David Forbes, said the college noted that the US academy did not recommend routine circumcision of all boys.
The college's position was evidence-based, and balanced, drawing on both international and local research to conclude that the frequency of diseases modifiable by circumcision, the level of protection offered by circumcision, and the complication rates of circumcision did not not warrant routine circumcision of healthy infant boys, he said.
While the academy was influential, the circumcision issue would need to be thoroughly debated in Australia, he said.