The New York City board of health has unanimously passed a regulation requiring that parents sign a consent form before the circumcision practice known as metzitzah b’peh can be carried out by a mohel. The rite, in which the mohel uses his mouth to remove blood from the incision, is a prevalent custom in some ultra-Orthodox communities.
In recent years, the practice has come under fire from doctors and health officials.
Infectious disease experts widely agree that the oral contact creates a risk of transmission of herpes that can be deadly to infants, because of their underdeveloped immune systems. Between 2004 and 2011, the city learned of 11 herpes infections it said were most likely caused by the practice. Two of those babies died; at least two others suffered brain damage.
In recent months, rabbis, citing infringement on religious practice, have threatened to sue the city if measures against the rite are enacted. On the other side of the issue, a number of medical professionals have spoken out heatedly against the practice being allowed at all. After the measure passed (which has seemingly toothless penalties), one of the panel members, Dr. Joel A. Forman said that “it’s crazy that we allow this to go on.”
In many ways, this measure is a happy medium between allowing a controversial religious custom to continue unfettered and banishing the practice altogether. As expected, neither side is happy though.