To some, it is a cultural ritual. Others consider it a cosmetic procedure that ensures a son will look like his father. A growing faction believes it can save lives. Still others say it is a desecration of the human body.

Male circumcision has long incited debate over its merit.

But the controversy over preserving an infant boy’s foreskin has reached a new frenzy as Canadian and U.S. health authorities are poised this summer to issue major evaluations on circumcision and its potential health benefits.

The reassessments by the Canadian Pediatric Society (CPS) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) are being welcomed by pediatricians who say the new guidance for parents is long overdue. Critics, however, are incensed the procedure — which they liken to genital mutilation — is even being talked about in medical circles.

“Proponents of circumcision have been chasing rationales for the last 150 years,” said Georganne Chapin, executive director of the advocacy group Intact America. “You cannot be cutting off healthy body parts from healthy babies and justifying it for some punitive medical benefits down the line.”

Currently, the CPS and the AAP say the procedure is not medically necessary. That stance could change in light of recent studies that have shown circumcised heterosexual males are less likely to contract HIV and other sexually transmitted infections than men whose foreskins are intact.

“We are looking at what recommendations may or may not be appropriate for adult heterosexual men, men who have sex with men, as well as infant males,” said CDC spokesperson Jennifer Horvath.

In Canada, rates of hospital circumcisions have dropped precipitously from 35,731 male infants in 1995-1996 down to 13,157 infants in 2008-2009, according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI).

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