Newborn death following circumcision

British Columbia parents lobby against circumcision
CBC News 2004/02/11

The parents of a newborn who died following circumcision surgery are pushing for hospitals to inform patients of the possible dangers associated with the removal of foreskin.
Brent and Tanna McWillis’s month-old son Ryleigh died in August 2002 after he suffered severe hemorrhaging two days after he was circumcised at Penticton Regional Hospital.
The parents were told that Ryleigh would experience some bleeding, but they didn’t realize how much was too much. A coroner’s report concluded that post-operative instructions could have been better defined and the hospital has since produced a more descriptive pamphlet which it hands out to parents. It has also introduced new post-operative procedures.

Ryleigh’s death renewed debate over male circumcision and also caught the attention of a Seattle-based group called Doctor’s Opposing Circumcision.

One of its members, lawyer John Geisheker, wants circumcision banned globally, but in the meantime, he’s willing to compromise and has asked infants be kept in hospital for one day following surgery.

“We would like to see there be no outpatient circumcisions, because those are the riskiest ones,” said Geisheker. “The parents, although they may be solicitous and loving, are not medically trained.”

Three decades ago, about half of all Canadian boys were circumcised shortly after birth, compared to 20 per cent today. Some doctors deem circumcision medically unnecessary and refuse to perform the procedure.
  ated Sept 2015: Link to this story no longer active so I’ve removed it. Gloria Lemay.


This story from 2004 underlines the danger of boys dying from complications of circumcision.  It’s estimated that 200 baby boys die every year in the U.S. from complications of circumcision.  The reporting of the death might not mention circumcision so it’s difficult to get accurate statistics.  What begins as an unnecessary surgery on the penis can end up as “shock”, “hemmorhage”, “infection”, etc. on the death certificate. 

Because Ryleigh McWillis’ death happened in my province, I have followed the story carefully.  Of course, many other boys have died here due to complications of circumcision but this story came to light because someone in the hospital called the press.  This is the power of the education movement that we have undertaken–when enough people learn about the horror of circumcision, even hospital personnel will speak up.  Once the hospital staff stops covering up what’s going on the procedure will end.  Ryleigh’s parents knew that he had too much blood on his diaper.  It’s natural that parental instincts click in when red blood is soaking through a diaper.  They took their baby back to the hospital and the staff rebandaged him and reassured them everything would be all right.  It wasn’t, and this healthy, normal boy lost his life.  Reading the coroner’s report about what happened when they took their baby back to the hospital the second time when he was near death is absolutely horrifying.  The staff could not figure out what was wrong with him and wasted precious time thinking he might have an infection. 

One of the scraps of information that has come my way about circumcision is that there is a rule in Judaism that if two of your sons have died from circumcision, you do not have to circumcise your third son. 

Today, there is a rising concern over the increasing resistance of bacteria to treatment by antibiotics.  Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA) is not only a hospital acquired infection but is now also reported in the community.  Boys have died from MRSA infections secondary to circumcision.  Newborn boys have died of herpes infections after being circumcised as well.

Midwives, doulas, doctors, nurses, and hospital employees have a duty to the public to become “whistle blowers” when they see death and injury linked to circumcision.  Pick up a phone and call the newspaper, anonymously if necessary. Shining the light of public scrutiny on this human rights violation will relegate circumcision to the “Dark Ages” of history where it rightly belongs.

6 thoughts on “Newborn death following circumcision

  1. It is wonderful to see that Brent and Tanya McWillis are taking the step to educate other parents of the risks of circumcision. Immediately after Ryliegh’s death, Tanya stated that if she had another son, she would circumcise again. At the time, I knew this was a defensive statement and believed she would reconsider this statement at a later date. I salute her for doing this. No one can be a better example than a parent who has lost a child. If anything tugs at the heart strings, it is a story such as this.


  2. Thank God that someone who worked at the hospital where this happened had the good conscience to alert the press! The more the truth comes out about how wrong this ritual is, the more people will refuse it and lobby against it.

  3. Hospital employees are under a confidentiality agreement regarding all patient information for a reason. Would you like someone you trusted to take professional care of you to call the press about your genitals?
    Going to the press will surely get an employee fired! Patients have to feel comfortable discussing personal information and having private procedures without worrying about their privacy being exposed!
    What if these baby’s parents needed to grieve in private? Is was not someone else’s place to intervene!

  4. Dear Nurse Tina, thanks for posting a comment. In your view the parents have all the rights and the baby is simply a possession. The parents can amputate a body part even though some babies die from this procedure. The baby has no vote whatsoever?

    I would ask you this question. If a physician was planning to do surgery on a baby girl in your hospital to remove her clitoris, would you keep quiet?

    Sometimes medical professionals do the decent human integrity action rather than the obedient sheep action. When those events occur, I applaud.

  5. Wow! What a defensive reaction!

    I shouldn’t have to tell you since it’s somewhat personal, but I will: Both my sons are intact and I’m glad that they are! And, I make free to encourage all parents of baby boys to consider the facts on circumcision. I believe there would be many less preformed if all parents seriously considered the facts.

    Whree in my previous comment, do you find that “In [my] view parents have all the right and the baby is simply a possession”?

    To answer your question, if a physician was planning to do surgery on a baby girl to remove her clitoris [or any procedure I felt was wrong]: No, I would not keep quiet. I would go through the appropriate channels. Going to the media is unnecessary, unethical, useless, unprofessional, a breech of patient-staff confindentiality, and goes against the general trust people hold in nurses.

    Was going to the media to expose a choice these parents made for their son (no doubt having no idea how badly it would turn out) the “decent human” action? Imagine grieving your newborn son. Then add accusations that you caused it! Do you really think that their decision, because it was different from your own, was absolutly wrong? Allow others to make their own decisions! I only ask that they make that an informed decision after fully considering the facts.

    What if you were admitted to the hospital for something personal? Do you value your confindentiality even if your reason for being there differs from the personal values of the staff? (ie: something cosmetic, end of life decisions, etc)

  6. Let me just address your assertion of “useless”. That has not been the case in Canada. Professional whistleblowers in the Penticton Hospital (2002) called the press and exposed the horrible death of Ryleigh McWillis (6 weeks old, bled to death post circumcision). That led to the B.C. College of Physicians and Surgeons coming out with one of the most strongly worded warnings against this (in their words) “irreversible, mutilating surgery”. Again, in Manitoba, a mixup of baby boys was reported secretly to the press. It came to light that the doctor who cut the wrong boy (actually instructed a student to cut the wrong boy) then went in and spent 45 minutes strong arming the mother into giving her consent after the fact. That led to an investigation, punishment of the dr, and an announcement that Manitoba would no longer fund the procedure on the public medical insurance plan. The Federal government of Canada then followed suit. That means that no province or government anywhere in Canada will fund this diabolical, archaic surgery.

    Not bad for the price of a 25 cent phone call by someone who refuses to accept the restraints of their institution.

    As far as grief goes, I can’t imagine any parent who has a baby die NOT thinking through every possible way that they might have caused the death. It’s simply one of the stages of grief. By pretending that somehow they were blameless would be insulting to most thinking adults.

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