Debate Forum: 06/09

Circumcision indecision

Florida mom not allowed to change her mind

By Sarah Sidlow

Illustration: Jed Helmers

In what will undoubtedly be remembered as one of the most cringeworthy court cases in recent history, Heather Hironimus has finally, begrudgingly signed a legal document agreeing to have her 4-year-old son, Chase, circumcised.

Her signature marks the end of a dramatic legal and emotional thriller between Hironimus and Chase’s father, Dennis Nebus.

Let’s start from the beginning. Heather Hironimus and Dennis Nebus had a short relationship resulting in a pregnancy and the birth of their son, Chase. It seems that since then, the two have been at odds over, well, pretty much everything. The Florida couple separated about a year after Chase was born and signed a judge-approved “parenting plan.” One stipulation of that plan was that Chase’s father, Nebus, take Chase to be circumcised and cover the costs.

At the time, Hironimus agreed. However, as Nebus procrastinated, Hironimus researched. Her findings led her down the path of “intactivisim”—an anti-circumcision movement.

Horrified by the potential complications of circumcision and moved by society’s general ambivalence toward having the procedure done, Hironimus reneged on her former agreement. The matter wound its way through district court—which ruled in Nebus’s favor—then to an appeals court, which refused to overturn the decision. The snip was on.

So in February, Hironimus kidnapped her son and went into hiding. After failing to appear in court in March, a Florida judge issued a warrant for her arrest. Meanwhile, Hironimus’s attorney filed a federal civil rights complaint challenging the court decision that ordered Chase to be circumcised. Supporters of Hironimus united, forming online groups and raising money to cover her legal costs. Oh yeah, and potential surgeons backed out of the procedure after allegedly receiving death threats from Hironimus supporters.

Though U.S. circumcision rates have fallen, a majority of boys still undergo the procedure. Many parents have the circumcision done at the suggestion of a doctor (circumcision has been said to protect males from cancer and HIV) or for religious reasons. But opponents cite the possibility of surgical complications and the fact that the procedure is, frankly, a painful one, typically done without an analgesic and almost always done without the newborn boy’s consent. This, they claim, is genital mutilation—and a civil rights violation.

Last month, Hironimus was found at a shelter, where she was staying with her now 4-year-old son. Brought before Judge Jeffrey Gillen, she again declined to sign a consent form allowing the circumcision. After a short stint in jail, she reconsidered, posted bond and, tearfully, signed the consent form.

This ordeal has left many wondering whether a parent has the right to change their mind. Contractually speaking, Hironimus signed a legal document offering her consent for her son to get circumcised. Once the document was signed, according to the court, that decision was final.

But, technically, it wasn’t, opponents say. Chase wasn’t circumcised by Hironimus’s pen touching paper; the irreversible surgery hadn’t yet taken place. Recently, the Florida legislature weighed a bill requiring women seeking an abortion to wait 24 hours after consulting with a doctor before undergoing the procedure. The hope is that, upon reflection, the potential mother would reconsider. Should the same change-your-mind window have been afforded to Hironimus?

Debate Forum Question of the Week:

Should a parent have the legal right to change their mind about a medical procedure done on their minor child?

 

Penile circumspection

Response By Ben Tomkins

It’s my understanding that this whole business about circumcising Chase Nebus-Hironimus didn’t become an issue until the father took Chase to a doctor at the age of three because Chase peed on his own leg. The pediatrician who saw Chase said that it was a possibility Chase’s foreskin was too tight and should probably be circumcised. Reports vary, but it’s clear that the urologist to whom he was referred disagreed. Regardless, Chase’s father decided to have the procedure done, and, thus, a stream of American sensationalism and political opportunism began running down our collective leg of cultural self-respect like a glistening rivulet of piss.

What’s really awesome is that none of us should have ever heard of this in the first place because neither parent seemed the least bit concerned about having the procedure done until the infamous leg-pissing incident occurred. For the few years of his life, everyone was apparently perfectly indifferent to staring at his foreskin, even when Chase was pissing in their face while having his diaper changed. I will now insert a disclaimer to everything I’m about to say:

Ordinarily, I research these things a lot, occasionally make a phone call or two and generally make an effort to know what the hell I’m talking about. The following is based on an assumption that Chase was in the process of being potty trained owing to the fact that three is somewhere within the realm of reasonable for potty-training a kid, and pissing down his leg seems consistent with a kid who is in that process. That being said, I will not be making any phone calls about his penis, and I for damn sure am not going to be trolling the Internet pursuing searches like “Penis Chase training” because I’m not going to jail for stumbling across kiddie porn in the name of journalistic “intactivism.” 

Yeah. So dad is frustrated because a 3-year-old is still pissing himself and takes his son to a pediatrician who diagnoses the kid with phimosis. Phimosis is a condition whereby the foreskin won’t retract because it’s still fused to the penis. Most 3-year-olds—by definition—can’t have this because the foreskin can remain attached until as late as age six. A urologist confirmed this as BS, and I am currently in the process of filing a civil suit against both the pediatrician and the Dayton City Paper because when I looked up phimosis on Wikipedia, I was confronted with a picture of an erect adult penis whose tip was bulging out from underneath its foreskin like an English horn. I also was confronted by the phrase “masturbation therapy.” I can’t circumcise my eyeballs. 

Anyway, all of this leads me to the conclusion that the father only pursued this because he was sick and tired of dealing with potty training his kid. Not only was he disinterested in having his son circumcised, evident by his apathy about the procedure being done, but when his urologist (read: piss specialist) told him the solution to the wearying job of parenting was, unfortunately, not something that could be surgically excised, daddy made the judgment call that facts are determined by convenience rather than truthfulness.

This is what happens when you live in a state that believes the number of ballots cast in an election is determined by judicial opinion rather than the time-honored tradition of “counting,” and you’re already dealing with the subconscious innuendo that Cuba looks like Florida’s discarded foreskin.

There. I made the “Florida’s a penis” joke.

Despite this ridiculous set of circumstances, the world still contains some sense and order.

Therefore, at the age of three, I can understand why mommy might not want little Chase to have doctors hacking away at his penis for what is clearly no good reason. As far as this intactivism stuff goes, I don’t have any problem with it other than the fact that they spread their message with the same indifference to facts as any other political action group. 

Yes, by the way, they are a political action group. I think they make a lot of good points I personally agree with, but it doesn’t take much looking on their website to see all the hallmarks of an ends-justifying-the-means approach to facts. As an example, here is an extract from their website:

“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced new ‘guidelines’ suggesting that doctors counsel parents of intact baby boys and teenagers about the supposed benefits of circumcision in preventing HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). The CDC says that the benefits of circumcision outweigh the risks. Intact America knows the CDC is dead wrong.”

That’s it. They just know this.

Given the Fox News nature of it, I’m not surprised a 20-something young mom freaked out, but it’s still unnecessary surgery. If you think the kid’s having trouble pissing now, try getting him to hit the bowl with a swollen dick full of stitches. I get why Hironimus was opposed, and if a parent is going to be legally forced to permit their child to have surgery for an admittedly misdiagnosed condition just because they signed a piece of paper at birth, then the legal system is quite perverse.

Now I am off to take a shower, so I can feel clean again after writing this. 

Ben Tomkins is a violinist, teacher, journalist and critically acclaimed composer currently living in Denver, Colorado. He hates stupidity and generally believes that the volume of one’s own voice is inversely proportional to one’s knowledge of an issue. Reach Ben Tomkins at BenTompkins@DaytonCityPaper.com.

Circumcision case a cut above the rest

Response By Rob Scott

Nothing in the practice of law surprises me now. In this case, the issue at hand is essentially whether or not a mother, over a court order, has the legal right to decide whether her son should have a circumcision. However, to add complexity, that same mother had agreed to have her son circumcised in a prior court order.

Yes folks, this is the real deal. All you guys reading, I know you’re cringing right now. There are even several forums from parents on whether or not to have the procedure done.

The mother, Heather Hironimus, went to great lengths in preventing her son from having his foreskin nipped for life. She took her child and hid from authorities when there was a warrant for her arrest. The reason, you ask? She violated the court order allowing her son’s father to get his son’s circumcision completed.

Somebody, quick, call the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to get on top of this.

With all this legal maneuvering, you may ask, “Well, does the child have a say in this?”

I know when my dog Barney was fixed, I felt he should have had a say in it. And still, to this day, I believe Barney holds it against me.

However, unlike Barney, Ms. Hironimus does have a point when it comes to her rights and whether or not her son should get circumcised. She does have a say in it, just like she has a say in what type of education and upbringing her child should have. The U.S. Supreme Court has consistently maintained that parents possess a fundamental right to raise their children as they see fit. This belief has been upheld by our judiciary in numerous Supreme Court cases that reflect the American people’s longstanding commitment to parental rights.

In 1974, in the high-court case of Cleveland Board of Educations v. LaFleur, the Court stated, “The nation has long recognized that freedom of personal choice in matters of marriage and family life is one of the liberties protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.”

The Court continued, “Our decisions establish that the Constitution protects the sanctity of the family precisely because the institution of the family is deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition. It is through the family that we inculcate and pass down many of our most cherished values, moral and cultural.”

Even more detailed in Parham v. J. R. in 1979, the Court stated, “The law’s concept of the family rests on a presumption that parents possess what a child lacks in maturity, experience, and capacity for judgment required for making life’s difficult decisions. More important, historically it has recognized that natural bonds of affection lead parents to act in the best interests of their children.

The statist notion that governmental power should supersede parental authority in all cases because some parents abuse and neglect children is repugnant to American tradition.

Simply because the decision of a parent is not agreeable to a child or because it involves risks does not automatically transfer the power to make that decision from the parents to some agency or officer of the state.”

But the crux of the matter is Ms. Hironimus had agreed in open court to allow her son to be circumcised. When she agreed, that agreement became a court order that a judge signed. The son’s father wants to get him circumcised. Now, the obvious advantage is in the father’s court (so to speak) in this decision.

The argument switches from one of a fundamental right of a mother to raise her child as she sees fit to a question of whether or not a woman should be allowed to completely ignore and violate a court order.

In my opinion, this is a clear no. Ms. Hironimus had made the decision prior with her son’s father of getting her son’s penis circumcised. The court accepted that agreement and entered into a court order. In the legal practice, this happens thousands of times throughout the U.S. in all courts.

This principle is even more imperative when it comes to family courts, such as domestic relations and juvenile court. The orders from these courts most times deal with highly emotional issues, specifically dealings with children. If folks can make agreements and then later have buyer’s remorse, thumbing their nose to the court, we really could not have an acceptable legal process.

Is this the first time parties made an agreement in a court order issue and then ignored the order? Absolutely not.

The child involved is now 4 years old and will most likely remember the procedure—which is being done due to Ms. Hironimus consenting. The posturing the mother had done to delay and the father’s failure to get the procedure done in a timely manner have made something that could have been done early on in the child’s life something that the child will remember.

Regardless of a person’s view on circumcision, for or against, the child in the matter should be the main focus. This is what ultimately led to the parents’ agreement in the first place.

Rob Scott is a general practice attorney at Oldham & Deitering, LLC. Scott is a Kettering City Councilman, founder of the Dayton Tea Party, member of the Dayton Masonic Lodge and Kettering Rotary. He can be contacted at rob@oldhamdeitering.com or gemcitylaw.com.

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Reach DCP editor Sarah Sidlow at SarahSidlow@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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