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N.Y. health board proposes consent waiver on circumcision rite

June 13, 2012 | 10:21 am

Instruments used in a Brit Milah. Photo by DRosenbach/Wikipedia

Instruments used in a Brit Milah. Photo by DRosenbach/Wikipedia

New York City 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, Dr. Jay Varma, proposed the waiver for the use of direct oral-genital suction, known as metzitzah b’peh. The form would indicate that parents 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.

Varma said during the meeting, according to The New York Times, that two of the families whose babies contracted herpes after metzitzah b’peh was performed did not know it would be used. He added that since March, other families have called the department with concerns that their mohel would perform the rite.

A public hearing on the consent waiver proposal is scheduled for next month, with a vote by the board slated for September.

Last week, 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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