The Plastibell Lie

By Robin Vaughn-Bortolus © 2012


After four days of labor to bring my sweet son into the world, he arrived perfect.

I was exhausted when a nurse came in and said that it was time for him to be circumcised. I had been preparing for my sons arrival for months. I had read everything I could to try and make sure that I made informed decisions on his behalf. I chose breastfeeding, no vaccines at birth, etc. I really thought I had covered ALL the things I would need to be prepared for.

But there I was faced with a procedure that I had failed to educate myself on: circumcision.

I told the nurse that I was not okay with my son being cut. She informed me that this hospital used a no-cut device called a Plastibell. She said that it was a pain free method for my son. It was in that moment that I made a decision on his behalf that I regret, and will regret, for the rest of my life. I signed off on the procedure.

I knew that I wasn't okay with a scalpel, knife, etc., being used on my newborn -- but here was a great cut-free, pain-free alternative, right? I could not have been more wrong.

When my son was brought back to me he was crying in such a way that shattered my heart. I knew in that instant that I had made a terrible mistake. It was only after getting home that I looked up the Plastibell method and discovered the terrible truth behind it. I was horrified at my ignorance.

Two weeks later my son had his check up and the physician told me that the Plastibell procedure had not been performed correctly - that my son's foreskin was still "to long." Without so much as asking my permission my son's doctor had his nurse begin to gather the necessary instruments to "fix the problem."

In that moment, I informed the doctor that my son was fine as he was and that we would NOT be "fixing" anything. He did not approve and we were forced to find another doctor. I failed my son when I signed those permission papers in the first place, but I refused to damage him further.

I can never take back what I subjected my son to by allowing him to altered. But hopefully by sharing this I can encourage other parents to be more informed than I was, and to not fall for the Plastibell lie.

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To learn more about the Plastibell method of circumcision, that many parents are told is 'cut-free' 'blood-free' and 'pain-free' please see: Plastibell Infant Circumcision.

Hear from other parents whose sons were circumcised before they had accurate information or support at I Circumcised My Son: Healing From Regret and Keeping Future Sons Intact.

Resources on intact care and circumcision are gathered at Are You Fully Informed? and the library at Saving Our Sons.

18 comments:

  1. These stories always sicken me. To give a new mama bad information to make a fast decision with lifelong implications...

    As a family physician, I was required to perform circumcisions during residency.

    I was horrified at how babies would suffer during the procedure. When I was sent in to get informed consent, I made sure to have the discussion with all parents about how its not medically necessary, describe the procedure, and so forth. Many people decided against it at this point. I was surprised how many parents were so afraid to make their own decisions. What would their friends say? All their friends' babies were circumcised. What would Grandma say? This is YOUR baby, I'd tell them. You get to make decisions for your baby. I worried what other decisions they'd make based on what others would say...

    If they still wanted one done I tried to have Dad come watch (as he was usually the one insisting on the procedure) and made sure I did it myself rather than let one of the others do it, to try to minimize any suffering for the baby. Usually, the baby is strapped to a plastic board, arms and legs splayed open, and not all doctors use anesthetic of any sort. I've seen babies scream hysterically or look shocky. This is the one time I would use a pacifier in a new baby--as a comfort to the poor lamb--and would swaddle their top halves instead of strapping their arms. For safety, we still had to strap the legs. I'd use EMLA (a numbing medication) prior to injecting lidocaine at the base of the penis (a penile block--to numb the entire organ). While I don't like giving medication to new babies and it was an additional risk, I couldn't see making the baby suffer unnecessarily. I'd always rock and cuddle the baby before and after. Many babies I circumcised slept through the entire procedure.

    But when they woke, it was a different story. Previously good nursers would stop, previously calm happy babies would fuss. And then there was the raw bloody organ in place of the healthy protected organ.

    I think I made a difference over time. I remember having long conversations with the nurses about it and made sure every resident under me was well versed in what informed consent REALLY means. After three years there, all the nurses were aware of the "other side of the story" of circumcision and I overheard on several occasions a nurse suggesting to a doctor, "Would you like to use emla before injecting?"

    Our son is intact and I am politely vocal about this to encourage others to protect their sons.

    While I'm sure for some doctors its about the money, for many doctors and nurses it really comes down to the routine. Just as a bank teller eventually gets numb to the ridiculous amount of money that passes through their hands daily or a sewage plant worker is able to eat lunch within moments of mucking around in something that would make the rest of us lose our lunch, doctors and nurses who spend all day delivering babies get into a routine and often forget that individual people are involved. One hospital may see hundreds of babies delivered in the course of a month. The nurses have checklists of what must be done prior to discharge and circumcision consent form is usually included on that list. What is such an incredibly precious, meaningful time for a family is just another day at work for many of their care providers. There are many exceptions to this as well. And that's not to say that healthcare workers are hard-hearted. They are usually overworked and exhausted and human just like everyone else. Ultimately, its a problem with the system, not the individuals.

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    1. "I remember having long conversations with the nurses about it and made sure every resident under me was well versed in what informed consent REALLY means."

      Yeah, it means the owner of the body is the ONLY one legally allowed to make decisions about elective, cosmetic surgery. Proxy consent is ONLY valid in life-threatening situations. Also, the rights of the parent END when they infringe on the rights of the child. THIS IS THE LAW. And you broke it. You should be ashamed of yourself.

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    2. Thank you, thank you, thank you! We need more physicians like you so parents can be adequately informed. I also love that you are compassionate towards these little ones when parents still make the choice to cut. Hopefully more parents will see this is an unecessary procedure because of individuals like you :)

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    3. You just gave me faith that not EVERY doctor is the enemy. I wish I my family could find a doctor like you.

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  2. Wow. Thank you for sharing this. We just had a little girl, but for our next child this is nice to know. A friend of mine kept mentioning the plastibell that her son had and I googled it, to find this. I had no idea, and had I not read this I don't know my reaction to the plastibell if we have a son. Thanks.

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  3. A circumcision without any cutting is like a murder without any killing.

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  4. They lied. That is not uncommon in circumcision.

    The Plastibel Device requires the same amount of cutting as any other circumcision. They also probably didn't tell you that the Plasstibel device is also associated with a high rate of infection or that these infections can be fatal.

    They also probably didn't tell you that the foreskin has to be separated from the glans. It is adhered by the exact same tissue that bonds the finger nails to the nail beds and is equally painful to ripping off finger nails. They lied and lied. There was money to be made and they were at the front of the line.

    When money gets involved, honesty is usually the first thing to go out the door. Your (your son's) case adequately illustrates it.

    .

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  5. The Plastibell is actually associated with a lower risk of infection than Gomco or Mogen circumcisions. It does involve cutting, and is no more or less painful than any other type of circumcision. All circumcisions should be performed with anesthetic since they are painful. Unfortunately the anesthetic is often inadequate since babies can't tell you if its working until its too late, and doctors don't want to overdose the anesthetic. Refusing circumcision is a perfectly reasonable choice and a health care worker should not judge you for it. Its very sad that you were rushed into a decision with inaccurate information. You should take some comfort, however, in the fact that over 60% of males in the U.S. are circumcised and the vast majority suffer no long-term ill effects.

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    1. I would consider a desensitised penis with half of it's skin amputated to be a rather long term ill effect actually. There is a raft of problems associated with circumcision, ranging from a dried, split glans to erectile dysfunction, to 'hairy penis', the list goes on. Even without these problems, losing the main erogenous zone of your sex organ is a huge loss. Absolute madness, only perpetrated by the religious and the Americans.

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  6. What a ridiculous statement- ALL circumcised males suffer long-term ill effects. It is that type of denial that perpetuates this barbaric practice.

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  7. At least you didn't let them do anymore damage and he still has some foreskin.

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  8. I refused to have my newborn circumcised. This really through one of the nurses for a loop. She couldn't understand why I wouldn't consent. When I told the doctor about my decision, he had one word to say -- GOOD!

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  9. When my son was born I refused to even think about having him circumcised, my wife was pro. As his father I took a stand, and refused consent, explaining to the nurses that if any procedure was done to him, I would lay charges against them and my wife for assault on a minor. My wife now after doing some research agrees that it was the best thing I could have ever done, and is happy we have a normal intact happy son.

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  10. I'm glad you didn't consent to any further operations due to the fact they didn't cut enough off. The same thing happened to my nephew and I told his Mom it is good to do nothing right now...he can choose later to restore, which does not require any surgery or even a visit to the doctor especially in his case where most of his foreskin is still there, or he can consent to having surgery to finish the job at an age where he can be knocked out completely and take pain medications after. I really feel sorry for the mothers and father and babies who have this done, only to regret it later. You are doing what you believed was best at the time.

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  11. This was not a failure on your part. You were outright lied to. If it were me in that situation, the names of the nurse, the doctor, and the hospital would be splashed all over the internet.

    I wonder if your son would be able to sue when he turns 18, on the basis that you received no informed consent.

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  12. I'm glad you are educating people about this horrible procedure. I think it's wrong to put such an innocent child who has gone through enough of a rough time being born, only to endure this. I think it is wrong to make a life decision that they have no input in. As far as I see it, its not my body so I do not have the right. I put my foot down from the time I found out I was having a boy. Even after he was born I made certain everyone knew he was not to be circumcised. They even put a note inside his bassinet that specifically stated he wasn't suppose to be. I'm glad they respected my wishes, but I know there are many uneducated people who didn't know before the moment came. I was against the procedure in general, but I didn't know about this plastibell and am even more horrified after learning more about it. Thank you again for bringing up awareness.

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  13. I was shocked today at the horrors that infants go through on circumcision after taking my first son for the so-calked painless plasticbell. It is nothing but barbaric. I hope my son will be able to forgive me for the pain he went through. It's really terrible and horrific.

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  14. The barbaric act should be out rightly outlawed

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