You hear the term “Cruelty Free” thrown around a lot when talking about personal care products, and on the surface the definition seems pretty strait forward. “We don’t torture living things to determine if this product is safe or not”. Right?
Well, I’m not so sure.
Recently I read this article about cells from infant foreskin being present in many cosmetics, including the facial cream Oprah uses and endorses. It addresses the issue of the cells being used to promote wrinkle reducing and youth increasing results, but also talks about how no infant foreskin is ever just thrown away after a circumcision. It is sold for growing new skin which is used mainly for reconstructive surgery, or for testing personal care items and medications. It is estimated that hundreds of thousands of dollars of profit is eventually made from the sale of one human infant foreskin.
Leaving aside the issue of whether or not its right to test on animals (after reading this article, I have become conflicted on the matter), I do think that this forces us to examine the term “Cruelty Free”, and whether its appropriate to use on products that aren’t tested on animals. Can we really consider a product to be cruelty free if it was tested on a piece of skin removed from a non consenting infant for cosmetic purposes?
Perhaps you don’t know much about circumcision. Perhaps you think it is a harmless procedure and no one comes to any real harm in it’s performance. Let me enlighten you.
Circumcision removes a functioning part of the male genetalia. The foreskin is not just a useless flap of skin. It plays a role in protecting the glans of the penis from irritation and infection, and many studies have found that it protects the natural sensitivity of the head of the penis, which is ultimately deminished after circumcision, when a permanent callous is formed over the glans. Yes, the head of a circumcised penis has a type of callous formed over it. Furthermore, the foreskin plays a role in sex as the penis’s only moving part. Without going into too much detail here, because it can be a little graphic to describe, the foreskin has as many nerve endings in it as the clitoris does (so imagine having sex without a clitoris, and you’ll have an idea of what a circumcised man is missing during sex), and it helps to maintain moisture in his partner’s vagina, making sex more comfortable for both. For more information, visit the site Sex As Nature Intended It.
When a baby boy is born, the foreskin is actually attached to the head of the penis much like a fingernail is attached to a finger. In order to perform a circumcision, the foreskin must first be ripped away from the glans. Then this part, which has as many nerve endings as the clitoris, is clamped and cut away with a scalpel. All of this is done with only a topical anesthetic (think Ambesol, or Baby Orajel), and sometimes a small dose of local anesthetic (imagine getting your clitoris cut off with only a tiny shot of Novocaine, and you’ll have an idea of what this must feel like). It has only been within the last 20 years or so that they used any pain relief at all, since they used to believe babies could not feel pain. At this point in time, the baby is returned to the mother with a few instructions for how to keep the wound clean (which seems like a pretty mighty task to me, considering that this baby is going to spend a good portion of its daily life sitting in it’s own urine and feces), and how to give the child baby Tylenol if he seems to be in pain.
Compare this to what happens if an adult man gets circumcised. His foreskin has already become detatched from the glans, so all the doctor has to do before cutting it off is gently slide it back. Of course, the man is under general anesthesia when all this happens, because circumcision is so incredibly painful that no doctor in his right mind would ever consider performing it on a conscious patient, no matter how much local anesthetic he had received. After the surgery, the man would be given a great deal of pain medication (stronger stuff than Tylenol), and would not be expected to resume normal activity for at least a week.
Big deal, some say, the baby isn’t going to remember it anyhow. Well to that I might respond that a rabbit probably isn’t going to remember the burning makeup put in its eye the next day, but still a large portion of the population thinks it’s cruel to inflict that pain on the rabbit, even if it doesn’t remember it later. Why is a human infant any different?
Well, the animal rights activist who is okay with circumcision might reply, that rabbit might have long term damage. To that I reply, so does the infant. Remember that the infant has lost a functioning part of his body that had nothing wrong with it. Circumcision is a cosmetic procedure. Furthermore, studies have been done to suggest that infants who have been circumcised tend to suffer from forms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Men who have been circumcised tend to have lower pain tolerances than intact men, and if you check out the website Sex as Nature Intended It, you can learn all about the long term damage circumcision has on the sex lives of not only circumcised men, but their partners as well.
Animal testing often kills the animal, or severely maims it (which, lets face it, often leads to the death of the animal anyway, since they are of little use for testing any more). Well, complication rates for circumcision are relatively high (about 1 in every 500 babies). There are whole branches of law that deal with circumcision malpractice, and yes, it’s not unheard of for baby boys to die from complications surrounding their circumcision. More common complications, however, include removal of part or all of the penis and infection. And while we don’t make a habit of putting down our maimed children, its hard to argue that the rest of a child’s life isn’t horribly affected by missing all or a part of their penis (most boys who lose all their penis during circumcision are given sex changes to turn them into girls! How well do you think that works out for them?).
But don’t babies really need to be circumcised? No. There is no reason why a child has to be circumcised, in most cases. If there is something wrong with the foreskin, yeah, but that is really rare. Honestly, do you think every baby boy in the world would be born with a part that he doesn’t need? With a part that’s bad for him? For those of us who believe in evolution, wouldn’t you think that a part that needs to be surgically removed would have eventually disappeared through the process of evolution? Only what works survives, right? For those of us who are religious, do you honestly think God would give every baby boy a part he doesn’t need? It seems obvious to me that if boys were meant not to have foreskin, they wouldn’t be born with it. And yet, no boy is born without his foreskin. They all are born with a foreskin. Its not like an abnormality that only some boys are born with. Foreskin is standard issue.
It’s not hard to keep foreskin clean, it doesn’t get infected all the time, and circumcision does not protect you from HIV or any other STD. You may be interested to know that only about 15% of the worlds men are circumcised, most of whom are Muslim. Obviously, 85% of the men in the world have no problem with their foreskins. The majority of the world’s Christians, Buddhists, Agnostics, Hindus, Taoists, Atheists, Pagans, etc., are all intact. There is even a movement in Jewish faith against routine circumcision. Routine circumcision is not performed in ANY OTHER FIRST WORLD COUNTRY, except the United States, and even here in the US, the rates of circumcision are dropping.
There really is no reason to circumcise baby boys, except that a few industries make a tremendous amount of money selling those infant foreskins and the products that result from their use. Do the families of the infant boys see a dime of this money made from the selling of their son’s foreskin? No. Every time a parent makes the choice to circumcise their child, they have donated a piece of base material to a corporation that will reap tremendous profit from it.
Can a grown man sell his foreskin for a hunk of that profit? No. Unfortunately, only infant foreskins can be used to grow high quality new skin, because older cells do not reproduce as well. Truthfully, any bit of human infant skin will grow new skin just as well as infant foreskin will, but it is not socially acceptable to cut off, say, an infant girl’s clitoris to grow new skin.
Why is it in our culture that female circumcision is considered genital mutilation, but male circumcision is not? Surely, if our cosmetic products were tested on human clitoral skin, people would not so easily call these products “Cruelty Free”. But what is the difference between these procedures? Both procedures remove a highly sensitive, functioning body part. Without these parts, sex and reproduction is still fully possible, though it is arguably less enjoyable and more disfunctional. Both procedures are incredibly painful, and for the most part, both procedures are performed on children and infants, neither of which are able to fully understand or consent to the procedure being performed on them.
If grown men were willingly donating their foreskins, or even selling them, for this purpose, I think we could fairly call these products cruelty free. There is no cruelty where there is consent. But just as an animal cannot consent to becoming a test subject, neither can a baby boy. Isn’t testing on his flesh just as cruel as the testing performed on an animal?
I love animals, and would prefer that they didn’t have to be tested on, but if it comes down to choosing between testing on animals, or testing on non consenting humans, I’m going to prefer that animals be tested on hands down. I really hope there is a way to avoid testing on either, honestly. There are some products you can use which have been used for centuries, before the idea of testing products for safety was even introduced, and these have been determined through extended human use to be safe (such as using oils for skin care), but beyond that, I am not aware of any kind of testing that can be done on personal care products that does not use either animal testing (which isn’t always accurate for human reactions anyway) or testing on infant foreskin (which I think is immoral no matter which way you cut it).
I don’t have the answer about how to make an item truly “Cruelty Free”. All I know is that I don’t think its fair to use the term if the item has been tested on animals, or on the skin grown from amputated infant body parts. I would prefer that companies who use the term would go back to saying “This product was not tested on animals” (although, even that is misleading, because aren’t baby boys also animals?), so as not to imply that no cruelty was inflicted so that this product could be put on a supermarket shelf.
Really, I mostly wish people would start educating themselves on circumcision.