"Regret Parents" Are Actually Coerced Parents
Is consent possible in the medical system?
Regret parents is a term used to describe parents whose children were circumcised and now regret that they were not kept intact.
Parents often come to regret the circumcision of their children due to learning new information about the harm of circumcision. Parents are given so little information by the medical system that it is a common experience for parents to not find out the truth about circumcision until after their children have been harmed.
So many parents have come to regret their child’s circumcision that these parents have formed their own online communities. Many of these parents feel grief or guilt over the role they played in allowing their children to be harmed. Since circumcision is viewed by the dominant culture as a “parental choice,” many see themselves as having made the wrong choice, which they now regret.
Yet was circumcision actually their “parental choice” or were they coerced? These parents were not acting as independent decision-makers. They were within a system.
One of the core ideas of critical social justice theory is that we are not merely individuals but interact with social systems. These systems include culture, socialization, language, etc. These parents were not just influenced by larger cultural assumptions, but in a system that literally has the word system in its name: the medical system.
The parents did not train medical students to perform circumcisions, manufacture circumcision devices, create billing codes for health insurance, place a sales funnel for circumcision in hospital birth, use high-pressure sales tactics, and frame those selling circumcision as experts that parents should trust. The parents’ only role in the circumcision of their child was to sign a consent form at the end of a large multi-million dollar cultural process that had already taken place.
If we include the medical system as a character, it is clearly the primary actor in the circumcision of children. “Parental choice” is a fiction that the medical system uses to hide their role in circumcision. The medical system is often invisible because it doesn’t act through a single person, whereas parents see themselves as the most important characters in the story of their child’s birth. And they are — just not the most powerful.
Is consent possible with this great power imbalance and this little information given? In my book Children’s Justice, I use this analogy:
Imagine if this situation was between a man and a woman instead of an institution and family. If a man in a position of authority was to repeatedly pressure a woman for sex while she was under the influence of drugs, continue asking after she said no, claimed she was required to have sex with him, shame her when she wouldn’t, prevent her from leaving, and hold someone she cared about hostage during the whole process, could we really call it “consent” if she eventually broke down and said yes? The woman might regret giving a “yes,” but we would not frame the sex that followed as consensual. We would say it was coerced. Parents are at an even greater imbalance of power in the medical system… A better name for these parents would be coerced parents.
Given the power imbalance between the medical system and parents and the way the medical system wields that power over parents, consent is impossible. These parents are not “regret” parents. They were coerced parents.
The dominant cultural narrative about circumcision is that it is a “parental choice,” when the power imbalances between parents and doctors reveal that it is a medical coercion. The medical system frames parents as the culprits for its own actions to hide their role in perpetuating harm. In doing so, they cause cultural trauma to coerced parents, who struggle with feelings based on false beliefs about who is responsible for the actions of the system. While parents are responsible for the role they play, that role is much smaller than they might imagine.
Once parents see the larger system that acted upon them, they might be able to let go of some of the regret, guilt, or shame they might feel and work towards getting justice for their children.