Does Circumcision Cause Autism?

Danish study reports circumcised boys at 50 percent greater risk of autism.


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In January, some Scandinavian medical societies recommended that circumcision of male infants and young boys be banned. Some Scandinavian news reports have characterized the procedure as unconsented "mutilation."

Now a study in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine by Danish researchers find that circumcised boys are about 50 percent more likely to suffer from autism spectrum disorders (ASD) than their uncircumcised brethren. The researchers conclude:

We confirmed our hypothesis that boys who undergo ritual circumcision may run a greater risk of developing ASD. This finding, and the unexpected observation of an increased risk of hyperactivity disorder among circumcised boys in non-Muslim families, need attention, particularly because data limitations most likely rendered our HR estimates conservative. Considering the widespread practice of non-therapeutic circumcision in infancy and childhood around the world, confirmatory studies should be given priority.

Interestingly, another Scandinavian study found that autism rates are higher among lower income families (this contrasts with the prevalence of diagnoses in the U.S. that increase with income). Considering how often health outcomes correlate with income, it is troubling that the new study apparently did not look at the parents' socioeconomic status.

Although Danish government demographers do not gather information on the religious backgrounds of citizens and residents, the researchers suggest that most of the circumcised boys in the study are highly likely to be from Muslim background families. This could confound their findings since other research reports that Muslims in Denmark earn less on average and are more likely to be unemployed.

In contrast to the Scandinavians, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy statement in 2012 favoring circumcision for newborns. From the statement:

Evaluation of current evidence indicates that the health benefits of newborn male circumcision outweigh the risks and that the procedure's benefits justify access to this procedure for families who choose it. Specific benefits identified included prevention of urinary tract infections, penile cancer, and transmission of some sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.

It is worth noting that that ASD diagnoses in the U.S. have been going up even as the circumcision rate has been falling.