Circumcising babies increases risk of cot death, contested new study suggests


(JTA) — An Israel-born genetics scholar from Britain published a study claiming that circumcision of boys increases the risk of cot death, but a prominent Dutch pediatrician dismissed his findings as “nonsense.”

The study that Eran Elhaik of the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom published last month states that the global perseverance of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS, and non-medical circumcision of very young boys “are strongly and significantly correlated.”

An increase of 10 percent in the prevalence of such circumcision “is associated with an increase of 0.1 per 1,000 SIDS cases,” states the study titled “Adversarial childhood events are associated with Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.”

Anglophone countries practice significantly more non-medical circumcision of boys than other countries and “have significantly higher SIDS prevalence than non-Anglophones,” states the study, which was published last month on the website Biorxiv.


The results are based on a study comprising 15 countries and over 40 U.S. states during the years 1999-2016. Elhaik’s team looked at the relationships between SIDS and what the researchers said was two common causes of stress in very young infants: Male neonatal circumcision and premature birth.

In the United States, circumcision accounted for some 14.2 percent of the prevalence of SIDS in males, the researchers wrote, adding that this is “reminiscent of the Jewish myth of Lilith, the killer of infant males.” Prematurity makes babies three times likelier to die of SIDS than babies that had spent nine months in the womb, according to the study.

SIDS rates are significantly lower in U.S. states where Hispanic people make up more than eight percent of the population, the researcher wrote. Circumcision is relatively rare in Latin America.

SIDS prevalence was the lowest in the Netherlands, with 0.06 deaths per 1,000 births, and highest in the United States, with 0.82 deaths. According to the World Health Organization, at least 61 percent of American circumcise their children. In the Netherlands, that figure is lower than five percent of the population, with almost exclusively in Muslims and Jews having the procedure performed.

Hugo Heymans, one of the Netherlands’ foremost pediatricians who for decades had worked at the Amsterdam Academic Medical Center, dismissed Elhaik’s study as “flawed, biased and unreliable,” the Reformatorisch Dagblad daily reported earlier this week.

“Jewish parents have nothing to worry about,” said Heymans, who is himself Jewish.

Jews typically have boys circumcised when they are eight days old. Among Muslims, circumcision mostly occurs later in childhood but before the child enters adolescence. SIDS can occur only during the child’s first year of life.

Heymans cited the fact that Elhaik’s study does not take into account the potential impact of additional factors that may influence SIDS. “There are many social-economic differences between Hispanics and White Americans, as well as different eating habits” that are not factored in Elhaik’s study, Heymans said.

Non-medical circumcision of boys is a subject of debate among medical professionals.

In 2014, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, recommended circumcision as a means of reducing HIV contraction. In 2012, the American Academy of Pediatrics stated that the health benefits of newborn male circumcision outweigh the risks.

But the children’s ombudsmen of all Scandinavian countries said in 2014 that circumcision of boys violates their human rights needlessly because it does not provide proven medical benefits, according to several studies.

The custom of circumcision of boys is under attack in Western Europe from left-wing activists who cite children’s rights issues as well as right-wing ones, who say circumcision is a foreign import that should be limited.

In 2016, Elhaik and a colleague published a study suggesting that today’s Ashkenazi Jews originate from converts to Judaism in what today is Turkey. Leading scholars of Ashkenazi Jewry dismissed that study as flawed and unsubstantiated.