Shane's circumcision nightmare
SHANE Peterson's blue eyes are windows into a life of pain and mental anguish. Since his first teenage yearnings, he's longed for the thrill of a kiss, the caress of a woman and the fulfilment of love and sexual intimacy.
Instead, Shane has contemplated celibacy, sex change and even suicide. Shane was robbed at birth of the chance to be a normal, functioning male by a bungled circumcision that left life-long damage.
"I often wish I'd never been born. My life has been a living hell," says the shy 26-year-old, who has been paid $360,000 by a West Australian doctor.
"My right to the intact body I was born with has been violated. As far as I'm concerned, it's a breach of my human rights. I've been assaulted."
"Someone held me down, then amputated part of my body while I screamed and went into shock."
"My parents were not told that circumcision had no medical benefit, or of the risk of complications, which I believe amounts to fraud."
Eric and Kerry Peterson were unaware of the wrongdoing to their baby when they left the hospital and returned to their Perth home.
Shane's childhood years were carefree. At puberty, as his body grew into manhood, he became aware of a problem with his penis.
"Sex education classes gave little information on circumcision. I didn't even know I'd been circumcised," Shane says. "I assumed I'd been born deformed, which was totally devastating. I was too ashamed to tell anyone. Erections caused pain and my penis was misshapen and twisted."
"There were girls I felt attracted to, and who liked me, but I was so fearful of rejection because of my deformity, I avoided relationship. I hid from other guys in change rooms and toilets."
"At uni[versity] the problem escalated. As my interest in girls intensified, I felt frustrated because I couldn't do anything about it."
At 18, Shane sought medical help. Referral to specialists revealed an 'aggressive' circumcision had been performed. In addition to the foreskin, the shaft skin had been removed and the scrotal skin pulled up to the head of the penis. Only shreds of sensitive fraenulum (sometimes known as the male G-Spot) remained.
"Going from believing I was born deformed to realising I had been mutilated by a needless procedure made it worse," Shane recalls. "I hated my parents."
Angry and severely depressed, Shane, studying for a biotechnology, degree pored over medical journals for surgical options open to him.
"If the most functional result meant a sex change, I would have gone for it," he says, matter-of-factly.
"The circumcision destroyed my sexuality. I didn't feel like a man and I didn't feel like a woman. Suicide seemed my only option if the damage couldn't be repaired."
A Perth plastic surgeon grafted skin from Shane's left thigh to his penis. And a half thickness of skin harvested from his right thigh replaced the skin excised from the left.
Shane could now get a full erection and climax, but sensation was dramatically reduced due to removal of the remnant fraenulum. The pain from the graft sites was agonising, the cosmetic results disheartening.
Counselling failed to bolster Shane's spirits. At 19, he crushed 100 painkillers into liquid, gulped it down, then prayed for death.
Shane survived. He directed his anger into a need for justice and began a seven-year ordeal to obtain evidence and sue the GP who circumcised him.
Using his own medical expertise to build a solid case and achieve legal recognition of his injury and suffering has given Shane's fragile confidence a much-needed boost.
"The money is no redress for what I've been through. Aside from the pain and social stigma, so much of my freedom of choice has been removed. A part of my body and part of my life were taken away, and they can never be replaced."
"The months since settlement have been the first for many years, that I haven't contemplated killing myself on a daily basis."
Now studying for a doctorate in medical science, Shane plans to form a support group for other men who suffer trauma from circumcision, and to establish an independent, non-profit research foundation to evaluate the impact of circumcision.
The Australian Medical Association (AMA) doesn't advise circumcision for many reasons. They claim the practice can lead to scarring, deformity, severe blood loss, as well as infection.
No national medical body endorses the practice, yet up to 15 per cent of baby boys are circumcised each year. Federal president of the AMA Dr David Brand said it would be wrong to ban the practice because in some cases there was a medical need for it.
"Routine circumcision is imposed on 10 to 15 percent of healthy Australian boys. I want my case to bring to people's awareness how dangerous and potentially disastrous it is," Shane says.
"Parents should not have the right to surgically inflict their religious, sexual or cosmetic preferences on their children. It's for the child to decide, when old enough. Until then, they must be legally protected from this assault and mutilation."
Shane has reconciled with his family, but his father Eric cannot forget the trauma that affected everyone's lives.
"Not for a moment did I imagine the impact this so-called safe and routine procedure would have on my son Shane's life, or the heartbreak it would cause those who love him," Eric says.
"Are parents prepared for the guilt they'll feel if their son is harmed, and the very real possibility it will tear their family apart?"
For Shane's mother, Kerry, having her baby circumcised is her biggest regret.
"I thought circumcision prevented medical problems." she says. " I really had no idea it removed functional, sensory tissue, or could cause such devastating deformity."
Story: Di Stanley
Shane gave a seminar sharing his experience at the Sixth International Symposium on Genital Integrity at the University of Sydney in December 2000. Many of the participants were in tears at the photographs he presented. Some expressed outrage that the "reparative" surgery removed still more of his sensitive mucosa.
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