Children in Peril in New York: Another Infant Dies Due to a Risky Circumcision Practice, and More Needs to Be Done Regarding Child Sex Abuse

Updated:
Posted in: Criminal Law

On Sunday, the New York Daily News reported that another infant had died from herpes, likely contracted from a mohel who had performed oral suction following Orthodox Jewish ritual circumcision.  Oral suction is the practice of “sealing” the circumcision by placing the penis in the mouth of the rabbi, who then suctions the blood from the wound, in a centuries-old tradition.

Oral suction is a controversial practice in the Jewish community, and has fallen out of favor with many in that community.  In ancient times, the practice was thought to contribute to hygiene, but as it was learned that the practice could spread disease, it was mostly abandoned.  Moreover, those Jewish people who do still practice oral suction typically employ a glass tube in the process, to avoid direct contact and disease transmission.

This is not the first death of its kind, but it should be the last.  The City of New York has criticized the practice in the past, following other infant deaths that have resulted.  (See the New York Times stories here and here.)  But neither the city nor the state has yet instituted procedures to ensure that this never happens again.

Now, the Brooklyn District Attorney, Charles Hynes, has rightly opened an investigation into the infant’s death.  It is up to him to apply the laws of the State of New York to these facts.

Unfortunately, however, Hynes has thus far been ineffective in deterring or halting child sex abuse in the Chasidim community—hardly a good sign when it comes to his likely future effectiveness in investigating and prosecuting the ritual circumcision death.  Thus, there are those who are concerned that this death will go unpunished.  It should not.

The Fact That the Dangerous Practice of Oral Suction Is Traditional Provides No Legal Defense

Importantly, religious belief is no defense when one follows a ritual that is known to cause infants’ death.  The practice of exposing an infant’s fresh surgical wound to the risk of herpes (or any other potentially lethal disease that is capable of being spread through contact with saliva) should be outlawed, if it is not adequately covered by the State of New York’s criminal and tort law.  At a bare minimum, the New York state legislature must institute its own independent investigation into the practice, the related risks, and possible solutions—including the solution of outlawing the practice of oral suction if it cannot be performed safely.

There is also a role here for the Attorney General, Eric Schneiderman.  The mohels who persist in this practice need to be subjected to the full extent of the criminal law.  And this is the time to bring the law to bear, before more infants die an easily preventable death.  Infants are not expendable resources that religious groups have a right to sacrifice to ancient or contemporary practices.  They are persons who have a right to life.

As a Letter to the Editor in yesterday’s Jewish Week noted, more than one adult is responsible for the death of the infant who recently passed away.  The parents, too, may be culpable, if they knew the risks.  The mohels only get their power through the willingness of parents to hand off their infant sons to the mohels’ care during the circumcision.  This couple is in mourning, no doubt, but if they were aware of the risks and went forward anyway, they are also the authors of their own tragedy.

The city, the state, the religious organization, the mohel, and possibly the child’s parents as well, are responsible for this latest death.  Right now, it is the District Attorney who has the power to wring some justice out of this latest outrage, by prosecuting the death on the infant’s behalf.  However, he will do no good if he operates under the cloak of secrecy on this issue.

There are those who fear that if the mohel and parents are criminally prosecuted in this case, then the practice of oral suction will go underground, and no one outside the religious organization will know what is happening.  However, if law enforcement is doing its job, that is an empty threat.  The Mafia was underground, too, but that did not tie the hands of law enforcement.  Let them go underground if they choose, knowing full well that what they are doing is criminal.  Good luck to them, if the authorities do their jobs properly.

Meanwhile, the Upstate New York DAs Enter Into a Deal With the Albany Diocese Regarding the Reporting of Clergy Child Sex Abuse

Also in New York State, another serious threat to children—clergy child sex abuse—is under debate.  And once again the DAs can and should be forging the path to child safety.

Recently, it was announced that a number of District Attorneys had entered into an agreement with the Albany Diocese to improve the reporting of child sex abuse to the authorities.  (The D.A.s were P. David Soares, Albany; Paul Czajka, Columbia; Richard D. Northrup Jr., Delaware; Louisa K. Sirea, Fulton; Terry J. Wilhelm, Greene; John H. Crandall, Herkimer; James E. Conboy, Montgomery; John M. Muehl, Otsego; Richard J. McNally, Rensselaer; James A. Murphy, Saratoga; Robert M. Carney, Schenectady; James Sacket, Schoharie; Kathleen B. Hogan, Warren; and Kevin C. Kortright, Washington.)

Apparently, the Diocese had been following the long-established practice of determining for itself what allegations were “credible” before making a report to the authorities.  As usual, the Albany Diocese was—like all religious organizations—ill-equipped to make such determinations . Thus, its approach resulted in underreporting, from the perspective of the prosecutors.  Kudos to the DAs for taking a proactive approach in examining the Diocese’s reporting practices.

Philadelphia’s Model Should Be Instructive for New York

However, while the DAs’ actions represent progress, they are obviously not enough to ensure that New York’s children are safe.  Fortunately, there is a model for deterring and reducing abuse within the Catholic Church: Philadelphia.

In Philadelphia, it was the District Attorney, Lynne Abraham, who began to build the road to justice via a Grand Jury investigation of the cover-up of abuse in the Philadelphia Archdiocese.  The investigation then resulted in the 2005 Grand Jury Report.

Laudably, Abraham convened the grand jury even knowing that charges might or might not arise out of its proceedings.  She was motivated to get to the bottom of the situation, which involved widespread child sex abuse within one private Philadelphia organization.  Abraham’s example ought to be followed. How can any DA fail to follow the trail of such abuse and still claim to be serving the purposes for which he or she was elected?

The 2005 Report did not result in criminal charges, because the statutes of limitations had passed, and other laws in the state were not adequate.  But the next District Attorney, Seth Williams, convened another grand jury and issued his own Report last spring.

This time, there were crimes to charge, for there was conduct that fell within the statutes of limitations.  In addition, that investigation led to the first criminal trial against a higher-up, Monsignor William Lynn, for his role in the cover-up of abuse.  That trial, which is taking place this month, would not have been possible without the groundwork set forth in the 2005 Report.

New York Urgently Needs to Address Its Child Sex Abuse Situation

It is now common knowledge in New York that there is a history of covering up child sex abuse, aiding pedophiles, and avoiding the criminal justice system in a number of private organizations, ranging from the Catholic Church, to the Orthodox Jewish community, to Syracuse University.  No District Attorney should be permitted to ignore what is so obviously in his or her own backyard.

That point was brought home forcefully in Pennsylvania with the grand jury investigation and report that turned a spotlight on the multiple victims of Jerry Sandusky and Penn State’s actions to cover up his crimes.  Federal prosecutors are now involved, and apparently are investigating whether there were payoffs to victims, through Penn State and/or Second Mile.

So where is the District Attorney’s investigation into the abuse in the New York Archdiocese headed up by Cardinal Timothy Dolan?  The letter of agreement with the Albany Diocese is simply not enough.  Those DAs need to step up, too.

There is no current investigation by the Syracuse DA, because the statute of limitations has expired, which is a mistake in my view.

A number in the prosecutors’ community also have now stated publicly that they back the Child Victims Act, which I discussed in this previous column.  The Act will go far to protect New York’s children by increasing the statutes of limitations on child sex abuse, and creating a civil-suit window for all those survivors whose claims have expired.   The DAs supporting the Act include: National District Attorneys Association; District Attorneys Association of the State of New York; Albany County District Attorney P. David Soares; Genesee County District Attorney Lawrence Friedman; Greene County District Attorney Terry J. Wilhelm; Oswego County District Attorney Donald H. Dodd; Otsego County District Attorney John M. Muehl; Queens County District Attorney Richard A. Brown; Rockland County District Attorney Thomas P. Zugibe; Schuyler County District Attorney Joseph G. Fazzary; Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas J. Spota; Ulster County District Attorney D. Holley Carnright; Denis Dillon, former Nassau County District Attorney; Michael C. Green, former Monroe County District Attorney; Robert M. Morgenthau , former New York County District Attorney; Mathew J. Murphy, former Niagara County District Attorney; and Michael A. Acuri, former Oneida County District Attorney.

DAs are elected officials, so the grassroots movement to obtain statute of limitation reform also is important.

Prosecutors can protect children effectively if they pursue the initial, deep investigation into the problem—and then follow through, as Philadelphia has.  They are the front lines of child protection, and they—along with every DA everywhere—should be the heroes that our children need and deserve.

  • Jamespowers

    Are they arresting the mohel who performed the circumcision?  Several years earlier he gave herpes to several other infants who fortunately did not die.  He knowingly continued this unsafe practice knowing he had herpes.

    • It has not been reported that it’s the same mohel. 54% of US adults have Herpes Simplex Virus Type 1 (oral herpes), but it’s usually dormant. This latest tragedy could have easily been from any mohel practicing “oral suction.”

    • It has not been reported that it’s the same mohel. 54% of US adults have Herpes Simplex Virus Type 1 (oral herpes), but it’s usually dormant. This latest tragedy could have easily been from any mohel practicing “oral suction.”

  • Anonymous

    It will be a grand day indeed when all our citizens are granted access to justice, no matter our age.

  • DantheGrey

    They use to stone to death those who had sex outside of marriage and called it the will of God but that doesn’t go on in this country anymore (if it ever did) so why is it that an adult male is allowed to put his mouth on the penis of an infant who has just been circumcised in the name of any religion…….  This is the 21st Century and practices such as these have no place in a modern society, not for any reason….

    I am not of the Jewish faith but I was circumcised as are my male children but I fail to understand such an archaic practice being performed by those who can not even see the risks involved, even after the deaths of other infants.

    These acts resulting in death are no less than homicide and need to be, no, must be prosecuted as such.

    TheGrey

  • Thank you for asking for a deep investigation into this problem.

    I don’t believe the practice of metzitzah b’peh is as rare as you think. There are many videos posted on YouTube showing this, leading me to think that it is still far more commonly done than most people think.

    You did not ask the obvious question here, why are we surgically wounding children’s penises in the first place? That alone is child abuse. Children also die from the shock of genital cutting, or bleeding to death afterwards never mind the sucking.

    • ajhebrew

       Yes because Youtube is a credible source.  Circumcision is also recommended by all doctors due to health issues of having an uncircumcised penis.   On your comment about it being rare or not let me tell you as a Jew it is uncommon and rare.  I did not know or even heard that this ritual even existed.  I grew up in an orthodox family and have asked many other jewish people if they knew of this and none of them even knew of this ritual.  Do us all a favor now before you post some dumb sh*** like this get some credible sources other then fregin youtube you dumb a**.  Also if you want to believe that it is common how about catholic priests molesting children and the vatican hiding them and moving the priests to different areas to avoid putting them in a negative light.  I hear more of those cases then this shi*.  So if I was to think like you I guess all Catholics are pedophiles.

    • ajhebrew

       Yes because Youtube is a credible source.  Circumcision is also recommended by all doctors due to health issues of having an uncircumcised penis.   On your comment about it being rare or not let me tell you as a Jew it is uncommon and rare.  I did not know or even heard that this ritual even existed.  I grew up in an orthodox family and have asked many other jewish people if they knew of this and none of them even knew of this ritual.  Do us all a favor now before you post some dumb sh*** like this get some credible sources other then fregin youtube you dumb a**.  Also if you want to believe that it is common how about catholic priests molesting children and the vatican hiding them and moving the priests to different areas to avoid putting them in a negative light.  I hear more of those cases then this shi*.  So if I was to think like you I guess all Catholics are pedophiles.

  • Petrina

    Children die not just from the risky ritual circumcision practice described above, but also from circumcision itself.  Children are in peril from circumcision, and this will continue to happen until adults come to their senses and stop cutting the healthy genitals of male children without their consent.  In any other context, non-therapeutic circumcision could be considered a form of sexual abuse of children.

    No national medical association in the world recommends routine circumcision, and most males worldwide are left genitally intact.  Only among Jews, Moslems, and some Americans is infant circumcision common, although the circumcision rate in the U.S. is declining as more parents become informed about this surgery.

    An estimated 117 babies die each year in the U.S. from circumcision.  Most of these deaths don’t get publicized. (This ritual death described above was kept quiet for over 5 months.)  The publicized deaths and botched circumcisions of children from this unnecessary surgery are listed at:   

    http://www.glorialemay.com/blog/?p=581

    The Comments section lists even more recent circumcision tragedies since this original list was first printed.

  • Devon Osel

    The Fact That the Dangerous Practice of Oral Suction Is Traditional Provides No Legal Defense.Agreed, but this variant of the practice is just one more in a long line of unnecessary risks a child suffers because of adult needs for infant penis modification.  A study of medical ethics and human rights agreements makes it quite clear that the penis is exempt from normal medical protocols (have a diagnosis requiring therapeutic treatment, attempt every less invasive therapy before resorting to amputation) and human rights edicts which are oft-cited when other assaults against children, especially female children, occur.

  • Docdirector Geisheker

    Dear Professor Hamilton:

     

    ‘Thank you for taking the death of the child in Brooklyn
    seriously, rather than reflexively invoking adult religious or cultural rights.
    Everyone seems to have forgotten that the Supreme Court case of Prince v. Massachusetts protects beliefs
    of any kind, but forbids injurious practices
    upon minors.

     

    However the problem is not only one of the rare Metsitsah b’peh. Since male circumcision
    is non-therapeutic, every child deserves to be asked whether he would like to
    risk his life for a cosmetic surgery. We have been consulted on numerous cases
    of death-by-circumcision. Invariably the child has bled to death in the care of
    the parents, who are unaware the loss of 2.5 ounces of blood is enough to kill
    an eight-pound child, easily hidden in a modern, chemically treated diaper.

     

    Always we ask ourselves in such cases: What might that child
    have wanted for himself?

     

    Professor James Dwyer of William and Mary Law, and the late
    philosopher Joel Feinberg remind us that, contrary to popular notions, parents
    do NOT have rights over their children, only rights over others as regards their family.

     

    Towards their child, whom they hold in trust, they have only the responsibility to
    protect.

     

    That trusteeship does not convey the rights to alter the
    child’s body at will, and it certainly does not include the right to risk the
    child’s life for mere superstition or whimsy.

     

    John
    V. Geisheker, J.D., LL.M.

    General
    Counsel,

    DoctorsOpposingCircumcision.org

    Seattle

  • Greg337

    Keep  fighting for what is right go after DSS and Catholic Charities both enable the rape of childrenWith out them many of these cases would be prosecuted.The people who got my children still harrass me 10 years and many other children later on me and there is nothing I can do about it. 

  • Greg337

    Keep  fighting for what is right go after DSS and Catholic Charities both enable the rape of childrenWith out them many of these cases would be prosecuted.The people who got my children still harrass me 10 years and many other children later on me and there is nothing I can do about it. 

  • Karen Glennon

    Thank you for taking this issue on and speaking clearly about it.  While I applaud you for addressing the issue of oral suction by mohels, I think you need to take it back another step further and be questioning the act of the circumcision that leads to the oral suction.
    Every human should have an undeniable right to their bodily integrity.  No one should ever be able to consent to the cosmetic modification of another, much less the amputation of a healthy, functional body part.  We do not allow ANY genital cutting on girls for ANY reason and in fact, are not afraid to call it what it is – genital mutilation.  The US has enacted a federal law protecting girls.  Boys do not have equal protection and that is wrong.  Gender should never ever be the deciding point between what is and what is not a crime.
    This issue involved individual rights, medical ethics and the lack of equal protection.  It’s time we outlawed the cutting of ALL children.  If one wishes to alter their own body, let them be of legal age to make that decision.

  • Karen Glennon

    Thank you for taking this issue on and speaking clearly about it.  While I applaud you for addressing the issue of oral suction by mohels, I think you need to take it back another step further and be questioning the act of the circumcision that leads to the oral suction.
    Every human should have an undeniable right to their bodily integrity.  No one should ever be able to consent to the cosmetic modification of another, much less the amputation of a healthy, functional body part.  We do not allow ANY genital cutting on girls for ANY reason and in fact, are not afraid to call it what it is – genital mutilation.  The US has enacted a federal law protecting girls.  Boys do not have equal protection and that is wrong.  Gender should never ever be the deciding point between what is and what is not a crime.
    This issue involved individual rights, medical ethics and the lack of equal protection.  It’s time we outlawed the cutting of ALL children.  If one wishes to alter their own body, let them be of legal age to make that decision.

  • Good article… but misses one point: all ‘circumcision’ is violent sexual abuse, involving the amputation of important parts of the child’s genitalia for no reason.

    It’s no wonder that an American culture that accepts the routine genital mutilation of its children as normal will also turn a blind eye to other forms of sexual abuse. It’s too painful to confront the issues when so many of us have been sexually abused.

  • Good article… but misses one point: all ‘circumcision’ is violent sexual abuse, involving the amputation of important parts of the child’s genitalia for no reason.

    It’s no wonder that an American culture that accepts the routine genital mutilation of its children as normal will also turn a blind eye to other forms of sexual abuse. It’s too painful to confront the issues when so many of us have been sexually abused.

  • shmee padge

    How is this not sexual abuse?! A grown man holds down an infant boy and cuts his genitals, and then sucks on them?! How disgusting and horrible is that? I believe that the U.S. government is too scared to offend the Jewish community by actually regulating this practice. That is sad and extremely disappointing when people overlook the deaths of infants… just so they can continue harmful religious practices. Your religion ends where someone else’s body begins… 

  • shmee padge

    How is this not sexual abuse?! A grown man holds down an infant boy and cuts his genitals, and then sucks on them?! How disgusting and horrible is that? I believe that the U.S. government is too scared to offend the Jewish community by actually regulating this practice. That is sad and extremely disappointing when people overlook the deaths of infants… just so they can continue harmful religious practices. Your religion ends where someone else’s body begins… 

  • Infant circumcision is also wrong. It just doesn’t usually kill the child.  That doesn’t mean it is right.  Eventually it will come under scrutiny and be seen for what it is:  Sexual assault and battery of a child.  Girls thankfully are now protected, but boys should also be protected.

    I applaud you raising attention about the Mezitzah B’Peh issue, certainly it needs attention, but allowing circumcision to occur at all is ethical waffling.  Tradition, or the profits of doctors are not compelling reasons to sexually mutilate a child regardless of their gender. 

  • Infant circumcision is also wrong. It just doesn’t usually kill the child.  That doesn’t mean it is right.  Eventually it will come under scrutiny and be seen for what it is:  Sexual assault and battery of a child.  Girls thankfully are now protected, but boys should also be protected.

    I applaud you raising attention about the Mezitzah B’Peh issue, certainly it needs attention, but allowing circumcision to occur at all is ethical waffling.  Tradition, or the profits of doctors are not compelling reasons to sexually mutilate a child regardless of their gender. 

  • Ediscovery2012

    re reporting what about the DSS band of child  “F”ers.The Columbia County DA  knows a lot
    about this