NYC health board proposes consent waiver on circumcision rite

(JTA) — New York health officials have proposed requiring that Jewish parents sign a consent waiver in order to use a controversial circumcision-related rite.


At a city Board of Health meeting on Tuesday, the department’s deputy commissioner for disease control proposed that the board require all parents who want direct oral-genital suction, known as metzitzah b’peh, to be used to sign a consent form indicating that they are aware of the risk of infection.

The controversy over metzitzah b’peh was reignited in March after it came to light that an unidentified infant died Sept. 28 at Brooklyn’s Maimonides Medical Center from “disseminated herpes simplex virus Type 1, complicating ritual circumcision with oral suction,” according to the death certificate.

Health Department investigations of newborns with the herpes virus from 2000 to 2011 have shown that 11 infants contracted the herpes virus when mohels, or ritual circumcisers, placed their mouths directly on the child’s circumcision wound to draw blood away from the circumcision cut, according to a statement from the department. Ten of the infants were hospitalized, at least two developed brain damage and two babies died.

Dr. Jay K. Varma said during the meeting, according to the New York Times, that two of the families whose babies got herpes after metzitzah b’peh was performed at their circumcisions did not know it would be performed. He added that other families have called the department since the issue came to light, concerned that their mohel, or ritual circumciser, would perform the rite.

A public hearing on the proposal is scheduled for next month and a vote on it in September. 

Last week, New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley called for an end to metzitzah b’peh, and said that several hospitals, including those serving the haredi Orthodox Jewish community, have agreed to distribute a brochure that describes the risk of contracting the herpes virus from the practice.

The rite is not used in most Jewish circumcision ceremonies, but many in the Haredi Orthodox community still adhere to it. Haredi leaders have resisted calls to replace direct oral suction with alternative approaches used by some mohels, such as the use of a sterile tube or gauze to take the blood from the circumcision wound.

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