Who’d have thought a celebrated Ivy League medical center would sanction and host the practice of genital cutting on infants and small children? At the Children’s Hospital of New York Presbyterian – Weill Medical College of Cornell University, Chief of Pediatric Urology Dix Poppas is performing nerve sparring ventral clitoroplasties on children with their parents’ consent for primarily cosmetic reasons, claiming that the surgery allows female patients to “undergo a more natural psychological and sexual development.”
The website Feministing recently reported the findings of Alice Dreger and Ellen Feder of Bioethics Forum, who wrote last week that because there is no evidence that a large clitoris will increase risk of psychological problems, the surgery is likely wholly unnecessary. In fact, the operation is found to increase the risk of psychosocial problems and decreased sexual function. It’s almost purely cosmetic and based on the false importance ascribed to the size of a female’s clitoris. As a related post at Alternet recently noted: “These procedures seem motivated mostly by an obsession with having ‘normal’ genitalia—and normal kids.”
Moreover, perhaps as frightening as the idea of cosmetic clitoral cutting being performed by a chief doctor at a world-renowned university medical facility is that the pre and post-operative testing runs the risk of inflicting more psychological harm on the child than the enlarged clitoris because it constitutes what most would consider sexual assault. Dreger and Feder detail on the procedures:
At annual visits after the surgery, while a parent watches, Poppas touches the daughter's surgically shortened clitoris with a cotton-tip applicator and/or with a "vibratory device," and the girl is asked to report to Poppas how strongly she feels him touching her clitoris. Using the vibrator, he also touches her on her inner thigh, her labia minora, and the introitus of her vagina, asking her to report, on a scale of 0 (no sensation) to 5 (maximum), how strongly she feels the touch. Yang, Felsen, and Poppas also report a "capillary perfusion testing," which means a physician or nurse pushes a finger nail on the girl's clitoris to see if the blood goes away and comes back, a sign of healthy tissue. Poppas has indicated in this article and elsewhere that ideally he seeks to conduct annual exams with these girls. He intends to chart the development of their sexual sensation over time.
So Poppas is effectively conducting what would elsewhere be considered serious sexual molestation in order to track how a needless clitoral surgery might affect the sensitivity of the patient, who probably isn’t yet fully cognizant of what her parents have decided for her.
An advocacy group on Facebook called “End Female Genital Mutilation Cutting at Cornell” has recruited over 2,000 members in just a few days, calling on members to educate themselves, spread the word, alert the media and contact Dr. Poppas in every way that doesn’t involve personal threats. Feministing also suggests contacting Cornell’s Office of Research Integrity and Assurance directly. Join the Facebook group here or contact members of the Research Integrity and Assurance team directly by e-mail and let them know that human rights violations like genital cutting should not be tolerated.