June 13, 2006

Rabbis & New York State Health

New York State has reached a compromise with ultra orthothodox Jewish rabbis that will allow the rabbis to continue the practice of metzizah b'peh, in which the mohel, the religious figure who perfoms a circumcision, cleans the wound by sucking the blood and spitting it out. The practice came to the attention of the State after it learned of seven cases of neonatal herpes connected to the ritual. One of the infected children suffered severe brain injury from the virus and another died. According to the article in the Albany Times Union,
The new state guidelines require mohels, or anyone performing metzizah b'peh, to sanitize their hands like a surgeon, removing all jewelry, cleaning their nails under running water and washing their hands for up to six minutes with antimicrobial soap or an alcohol-based hand scrub.The person performing metzizah b'peh also must clean his mouth with a sterile alcohol wipe and, no more than five minutes before it, rinse for at least 30 seconds with a mouthwash that contains 25 percent alcohol. The circumcised area must be covered with antibiotic ointment and sterile gauze after the procedure.
New York State's Commissioner of Health and the rabbis are lauding the policy as one that respects both religious tradition and public health. I question whether a compromise is appropriate in this circumstance. Should newborn babies face even the slightest risk of contracting potentially lethal oral herpes on their newly cut penises? Some religious traditions should be outlawed; this is one of them. - Alicia Ouellette

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