The Common and Not-So-Common Complications of Routine Infant Circumcision
by Mary G. Ray  ©1997
Last Modification:  10/17/98

Complications from Anesthesia  

       Many parents are led to believe that circumcision is safer than leaving the penis in its natural form. What they don’t know is that one out of every 500 circumcisions results in a serious complication. [Schmitt] About 4 out of 100 are either considered unsatisfactory or result in some sort of complication.

       One study was conducted that followed circumcised boys beyond the immediate post-operative period.  It concluded that complications occurred at an alarming rate of 55%. [Patel]

      “Some children end up with adhesions and/or skin bridges which can impede hygiene and actually precipitate infections.” [Morgan]  The most common complication is the removal of either too much or too little skin. [Williams] This may not become apparent until years later. Many circumcised adults complain that too much skin was removed. This can result in painful erections and bowing or curvature of the penis. Other common results not always noticed until later include extensive scarring, skin tags, and bleeding of the circumcision scar. Details & photos showing different types of damage (not usually apparent until adulthood)

       Many things can go wrong during a circumcision including hemorrhage, infections and damage to the penis. People tend to believe that the circumcised penis is less prone to problems. However, circumcised babies experience substantially more problems than the baby left intact.

       The glans is no longer protected by it's jacket -- the foreskin. The raw wound is exposed to fecal material and ammonia in urine. “Infection occurs after circumcision in up to 10% of patients.” [Williams] Repeated infections can cause a narrowing of the urinary opening (meatal stenosis). This may require surgical correction with the attendant risks yet again.

      A condition referred to as a trapped penis can occur as a result of circumcision.  This may be the same thing as what is called a 'concealed penis'  where the "the penile shaft, following circumcision, retreats into the surrounding skin and fatty area and cannot be seen." [Circumcision Information Resource Pages Library].   Read The Inconspicuous Penis for more information. There is a rare penile deformity known as buried penis.  If an infant with this condition is circumcised, the procedure could worsen the condition.  Search the term "buried penis" at the CIRP Resource Search Engine for more information.

         Botched jobs often call for additional surgeries as well. Although seriously botched jobs are rare, most malpractice suits are settled. In exchange for the financial award, the malpractice charges against the doctor must be dropped. As a result, statistics on this type of incident are under-reported.   See:  List of Articles on Botched Jobs

       Excessive bleeding can require a blood transfusion with the attendant blood supply risks for HIV and other disease organisms. *Deaths do occur, but are usually blamed on something else and are under-reported as well.  “Infections that lead to death are generally caused by tuberculosis, meningitis bacilli, systemic blood poisoning, or gangrene. These organisms enter the amputation wound because it provides easy entry, not because the child is predisposed to infection.” [Fleiss]    

       In  1985, two boys were victims of staphylococcal infections.  The port of entry was the circumcision wound. One boy died seven days later and the other is blind and a spastic quadriplegic. [NOCIRC] 

     Even though death and serious mutilation are rare and extreme results, doctors who recommend circumcision should notify parents that from time to time, these things can and do happen.  This would be a high price to pay for a procedure that has been proven to be neither medically or hygienically necessary.

       In the event an injury occurs, parents who had not been fully informed of the risks or who had been given false information prior to the procedure may file suit for personal injury. “Parents whose children have been damaged through wrongful circumcision, forcible retraction, or negligently performed circumcision have legal rights which they can enforce on behalf of their child.”  [Llewellyn]
Know Your Rights!
Attorneys for the Rights of the Child "works to change the legal standard to permit legal relief for males circumcised as children who later discover harm from their circumcision or who feel their civil and human rights were violated by a circumcision they did not choose."  Legal Remedies for Penile Torts by David J. Llewellyn, Attorney

        For additional information, visit Complications of Circumcision at the Circumcision Information and Resource Pages. There are descriptions of numerous Horror Stories prepared by Fathering Magazine. Be aware that many doctor induced complications that can occur from circumcision.

See also Chapter 11, Complications of Circumcision, from the book, Circumcision: The Painful Dilemma, by Rosemary Romberg

Complications from Anesthesia

       Many parents believe their child can be anesthetized during circumcision, but this is very risky. In August 1994 a Canadian hospital issued a strong warning against the use of Prilocaine and EMLA cream upon newborns. Their hospital experienced a case where a few hours after his circumcision, a baby developed significant Methaemo-globinaemia [which can cause brain damage and death in small infants]. Two other cases of Methaemo-globinaemia due to Prilocaine have occurred in British Columbia. [Canadian] Lidocaine has been know to cause the same results.

       The injection of local anesthesia into the penis has risks as well. It can cause permanent vascular and nerve damage. The shot itself can be very painful.

       Even when anesthesia is attempted, it is not always effective.

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*Bleeding deaths following circumcision on November 20, 1982 and June 26, 1993 reported in the Des Moines (Iowa) Register and the Miami Herald, respectively.


Canadian Nurse, August 1994, pp. 5-6.

Fleiss, M.D., Paul M., and Hodges, Frederick, The Foreskin is Necessary, Townsend Letter for Doctors and Patients, April 1996.

Llewellyn, Esq., David, Legal Remedies for Penile Torts, Intact Network Newsletter, Vol. 1, No. 4, November 1995.

Morgan, Donald, Circumcision: The Pros, The Cons, and The Bottom Line.

NOCIRC Newsletter 1988; 3(1):2, Circumcision Nightmare.

Patel, H., The Problem of Routine Circumcision, Can Med Assn J 95; 576-81, 1966.

Schmitt, Barton D., Your Child’s Health, Bantam Books, Revised Ed. 1991.

Williams and Kapila, Complications of Circumcision, Brit J Surg v80, Oct 1993, p1231-1236.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Copying of any kind, including but not limited to publication, posting on other web sites, or commercial exploitation, is strictly prohibited, without the express, written permission of Mary G. Ray. Any exceptions are noted if and where applicable.

Here is a list of some documented examples:

Links to Graphic Photos of Botched Jobs

Anesthesia Overdose: Death

Baby Bleeds to Death

Penis Shortened/Disfigured

Two Botched Babies - Same Hospital, Same Day

Boy Loses Penis - Sex Change Recommended

Coma and Death

Circumcision Mishap

Adult Required Plastic Surgery for Botched Job

Circumcision Performed Without Consent

Additional Horror Stories

Common and Not-So-Common Complications

Complications from Anesthesia

Anesthesia Overdose: Death

Spartanburg, South Carolina

       A boy who was in a coma for more than six years after complications during a circumcision died in 1992. During the six years he was in a coma, a lawsuit was being fought. The child went on life support in December 1985, when his brain was damaged from oxygen deprivation.

       The case had been settled for $435,000 plus lifetime payment of his medical bills.

       "Allen's medical problems began when oxygen was pushed into his stomach, instead of his lungs, court records showed. Anesthesiologists inserted a tube into the baby's stomach to relieve the pressure but administered three times the recommended dosage of a drug to slow his abnormally high heart rate, stopping it."

The State (Columbia, South Carolina)
July 10, 1992, Page F21
The Associated Press

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Baby Bleeds to Death

Miami, June 26, 1993

       A six month old died when he bled to death after being circumcised. "It's something I'll never get over. This was my last child," the mother said. The child was circumcised in the doctor's office which is something that occurs quite often. Once home, the mother saw he was bleeding from the incision. She called the doctor several times and was instructed to "put Vaseline around the penis area to stop the bleeding." Finally paramedics were called, but the child was pronounced dead at the hospital.

       The autopsy "revealed a seemly normal circumcision." The doctor who performed the surgery said the circumcision had gone well and said that he would not have let him go home if he didn't think so.

       The article said they would investigate whether the baby "suffered from some rare disease that prevented his blood from coagulating. It's also possible that [the mother] did not understand the extent of the bleeding, especially because a baby has a fraction of an adult's blood supply," said the Dade County Chief Medical Examiner.

       He went on to pose two questions: Why was the child bleeding? And: What was the level of communication if the mother said he's bleeding but didn't say how much.

MIAMI HERALD, June 21, 1993

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Penis Shortened/Disfigured

[as reported on FOX TV, New York City]

       In 1990, a three year old boy was circumcised at the Brook Plaza Surgical Ambulatory Center in Brooklyn. The clinic, a doctor and the rabbi who performed the operation were sued for causing "permanent shortening and disfigurement of the penis." It was also alleged that the boy lost part of his penis during the procedure. The case was settled for $1.2 million.

       Experts testified that when the boy reaches maturity, the mutilation would make sexual intercourse difficult.

       The boy and his family were Russian immigrants. They were referred to the clinic by agencies that help new Jewish immigrants. Apparently, bris which is performed on 8 day old infants, was not commonly available in the former Soviet Union. Some families also waited because it could make them targets of prejudice in communities where Jews were victims of anti-Semitism. So they waited until they came to the U.S. and had the circumcision performed when he was older.

November 30, 1995.

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Two Botched Babies

Same Hospital, Same Day

       An infant at Northside Hospital in Atlanta was severely injured in a circumcision accident in August, 1985, the day of his birth. The child, who is now 5 years old, had his penis severely burned during the mishap. It is believed that he "will never be able to function sexually as a normal male and will require extensive reconstructive surgery and psychological counseling as well as lifelong urological care and treatment by infectious disease specialists."

       The case, at least at the time of the article in 3/91, was one of the the largest settlements ever even in a medical malpractice case, with Northside agreeing to pay in excess of $22.8 million.

       "Attorneys alleged violations of hospital protocol and the use of inappropriate equipment for the circumcision. The hospital's usual equipment for circumcision was out of service the day the infant was born, and doctors instead used an electrosurgical unit "that was contraindicated for use" in infant circumcisions, the lawsuit alleged."

       As of 1991, the child had undergone several operations, including a series of reconstructive operations which are expected to continue until he is 15 years old.

       ANOTHER INFANT at the same hospital on the very same day was so severely injured that the child, known as "Baby Doe", underwent a sex-change operation. The lawsuit filed on his behalf was settled for an undisclosed amount.

For the article reporting this incident, see:
ATLANTA CONSTITUTION, Tuesday, March 12, 1991.
By Charles Seabrook

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Boy Loses Penis

Sex Change Recommended

       In Feb., 1984, a 2 year old boy was to undergo a routine circumcision at W. O. Moss Regional Hospital. His penis had to be amputated after it was severely burned. The family was awarded $2.75 million.

       An electrosurgical instrument commonly used to stop bleeding during surgery, was used. The device can cut tissue through heat transmitted by an electric current. During the surgery, the boy's penis was severely burned. "Internal damage to blood vessels apparently also occurred and kept vital oxygen from reaching the tissue of the organ, which had to be removed later after the child was transferred to a New Orleans hospital.

       Doctors recommended a sex change operation on the toddler, but the parents refused. The boy underwent several subsequent surgeries and his urinary tract was rerouted. "He now urinates through a hole located where his penis had been."

       At the time this article was published, it said that the family's attorney was certain the defendants will appeal the decisions to higher courts.

For article, see:
ATLANTA CONSTITUTION, Tuesday, March 12, 1991.
LAKE CHARLES AMERICAN PRESS, Wednesday, May 28, 1986.
[Lake Charles, Louisiana]
by Vincent Lupo

Coma and Death

Houston, Texas

While being circumcised on 7/18/95, a 5-year-old boy went into a coma at Doctor's Hospital. He died a week later. A legal action is pending.

Circumcision Mishap

Los Angeles County, CA

A newborn, 12 hours old, was undergoing circumcision at Oak Knoll Naval Hospital, Oakland, CA on 7/3/93. The doctor cut off one-third of the baby's glans. The severed glans was "reattached," but the child is permanently disfigured. A lawsuit was filed and the Court awarded $256,000.00.

Adult Required Plastic Surgery for Botched Job

Vancouver, Canada

"A urologist was ordered to pay $40,000 in damages to a patient who required plastic surgery as an adult because of a circumcision performed when the patient was 12." Canadian Medical Association Journal, June 1995. [Legal Action. NOCIRC Newsletter 1995]

Circumcision Performed Without Consent

Montgomery, AL

On July 22, 1995, Jackson Hospital was found guilty of medical negligence. The hospital had circumcised a day-old boy on February 7, 1992, without his parents' consent. His mother said, "It's not necessary. There is no proof for me in any way that it is medically necessary." A $65,000.00 judgment was awarded in the case.

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WARNING:  Contains Graphic Photos of Adults w/Complications

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