Miami Hospital Circumcises Baby By Mistake

Miami mother sues hospital for irreversible procedure against her culture.

September 13, 2010, 4:03 PM

Sept. 14, 2010— -- Eight days after her son was born and was still being cared for in the neonatal intensive care unit, Vera Delgado went home briefly to take a shower and change her clothes.

When she came back to South Miami Hospital, she found her baby, Mario Viera, had been circumcised –- by mistake.

Now, Delgado is suing the hospital, not for a medical mistake, but for assault and battery on her newborn. She is asking for $1 million for the "deformity" the circumcision caused.

"This is not medical malpractice," said her lawyer, Spencer Aronfeld. "We are suing for battery, an unauthorized assault on this baby. They took a knife to him without his parent's permission."

"The baby was in neonatal intensive care with complications from a birth-related infection," said her lawyer. "They took the baby out and amputated healthy tissue from the penis in an irreversible procedure."

Delgado, 30, who is unmarried and Latino, is culturally opposed to circumcision, according to her lawyer. He says the baby's father, who is of Cuban descent and helping to raise Mario, agrees.

"It was horrific, quite frankly," said Aronfeld. "The parents were very explicit they did not want him circumcised, and [the hospital] had asked the parents repeatedly."

Since announcing Delgado would sue, Aronfeld said he has received countless supportive e-mail messages and seen social network postings from so-called "intactivists" who oppose circumcision.

"People who are passionate about not circumcising their children are sending me Facebook messages, like, "I love you. You are my hero!"

"We are the only country in the world that routinely does non-religious and non-medical circumcisions," said Aronfeld. "Americans need to learn circumcision is not the way penises were meant to be."

South Miami Hospital, whose automated answering message says it is "recognized for nursing excellence," admitted staff members "misread" the consent forms.

In a prepared release, the hospital said the circumcision was an "unfortunate mistake." The procedure itself was performed following "appropriate" surgical guidelines and the baby had no complications.

"It was essentially a mistake and we admitted it to the family and worked with them, as well as ourselves, to come up with procedures that prevent this from happening again," said Bethany Rundell, marketing manager for the 476-bed hospital, which serves diverse Dade County and many Latinos. "We are deeply sorry that this happened."

The Stop the Infant Circumcision Society (SICSociety), a group whose credo is "The foreskin is not a birth defect," has said it will hold a demonstration at the hospital on Friday.

Anti-Circumcision 'Intactivists' Protest

David Wilson, a 57-year-old yard landscaper from Cocoa Beach and founder of SICSociety, has been protesting American circumcisions for decades.

"There is no medical reason," he said, arguing that boys, as in female circumcision, lose some of their sexual nerves.

What happened to Mario Viera is "an absolute outrage," said Wilson. "Even if they couldn't read the form, what stopped them from going into the mother's room and asking her?"

"This poor child in the intensive care unit," he said. "To drag him out, what were they thinking?"

"More parents are asking the question, 'Why do we need this?' And more doctors are waking up," said Wilson.

The rate of circumcisions in the United States has dropped significantly in the last three years, from 56 percent in 2006 to 33 percent in 2009, according to a recent review of data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

For the past 10 years, the American Academy of Pediatrics has remained neutral on the issue, recommending that "parents should determine what is in the best interest of the child."

The AAP cites studies that there are medical complications in only 0.2 to 0.6 percent of all circumcisions.

When the AAP changed its guidelines, Medicaid and insurance companies in some states stopped covering the procedure.

"Inactivists" like Wilson have been told they helped convince parents that circumcision is psychologically traumatizing and serves no medical purpose, despite at least three randomized control trials in Africa that have suggested it can help prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Other experts say that the decrease may be because of the increase in the Latino population.

Biggest Drop in Circumcisions Is Among Whites

Parents choose or decline the procedure for cultural norms, religious and health reasons, according to Dr. Ari Brown, an Austin, Texas, pediatrician and author of the pregnancy guide, "Expecting 411."

"Statistically, as far as the Latino population, they tend not to circumcise and that has not changed," said Brown, who has practiced medicine for 15 years. "African Americans are a mixed bag. The biggest change is in Caucasians. They do it a bit less now."

Some make their choice based on family: "I want to look like Dad, or I want my kid to fit in to the locker room," she said.

"It's a personal decision what to do with the child's penis," said Brown. "You give the parents the rationale for why they should from a health perspective, and then the risks caused by the surgical procedure. It boils down to what you choose."

Other than emerging data on HIV transmission and other sexually transmitted diseases, there are other "small benefits" to circumcision, she said.

Boys who are circumcised have lower risks for bladder infections and penile cancer. "Both are extremely rare," said Brown. "Is it worth circumcising?"

As for Mario Viera, now five weeks old, Brown says he had no choice.

"It's like cutting off the wrong leg when someone has surgery," said Brown. "That shouldn't happen. They should have checked the wrist bands with the consent forms. That medical error should never have happened for an elective procedure. Shame on them."

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