Readings — From the January 2010 issue
SIGN IN to access Harper’s Magazine
Need to create a login? Want to change your email address or password? Forgot your password?
1. Sign in to Customer Care using your account number or postal address.
2. Select Email/Password Information.
3. Enter your new information and click on Save My Changes.
Subscribers can find additional help here. Not a subscriber? Subscribe today!
From an October 14 ruling of the Supreme Court of British Columbia, in Regina v. D.J.W. The accused, whose identity was concealed to protect his son, was found guilty of criminal negligence. His son, DJ, was four years old at the time of the events described. Richard Hoskins is a white supremacist who claims Anglo-Saxons are descended from the Israelites, God’s chosen race.
As a result of communications over the Internet, the accused became aware of books written by Richard Hoskins. He understood that Hoskins had a biblical answer to all of the problems in society, including the number of abortions and homosexuals, and the national debt. The accused said that Hoskins’s books changed his worldview, and he came to understand the great utility in keeping the laws of Moses. He decided that he had to be circumcised and that he would do it himself.
In preparation, the accused read everything he could find on the Internet about circumcision. There he saw horrible pictures of what could go wrong. The accused also researched the various tools available to assist in the circumcision. On the day he circumcised himself, the accused placed a Zhenxi Ring, a little clear plastic ring, around his penis. He understood that the purpose of the Zhenxi Ring was to act as an anesthetic and to kill the foreskin. He felt some discomfort but left the ring on for a few hours. He saw the skin turning black and concluded that he had stopped the blood flow. He took a razor blade and started cutting his flesh. He wondered how to stop the blood and found that very difficult to do with the ring device on. After forty-five minutes, he called an ambulance. Before that, he also phoned his mother to tell her he was a heretic and would never go back to her church. She told him to call 911 and hung up. She has not talked to him since.
The accused conducted additional research before circumcising his son, DJ. He discovered that in the Jewish Orthodox faith, circumcisions are performed by mohels who use their long jagged fingernails to cut off the foreskin; they then suck on the end of the penis to cleanse the wound. He decided that he did not want a mohel to circumcise his son. The accused asked his family doctor to circumcise DJ. When the doctor declined, the accused told him that he planned to do it himself, and the doctor told him it was not a good idea.
The accused made contact with Troy M. and his wife, Bethany M., dog breeders in the United States. The accused mentioned circumcision, to which Troy M. responded that he had circumcised his thirteen-year-old son and had a whole website dedicated to the subject. Troy M. told him that, part way through the circumcision, he could not stop the bleeding, so he had called his wife, who gave him Blood Stop powder. Troy M. told him that Blood Stop is used by veterinarians to control bleeding in animals.
The accused tried to find Blood Stop, but it cost $30, which he considered too expensive. He was told that Wonder Dust was the equivalent and much cheaper. The accused understood that Wonder Dust was made to a sufficiently high standard to use on a million-dollar racehorse. The label cautions that it is “not for human use. For veterinary use only.” The accused had a high degree of confidence in the Wonder Dust. He thought the admonition against human use was simply for the manufacturer’s liability protection.
DJ told him he was ready to be circumcised. The accused had spoken to DJ about circumcision and emphasized that it was a way of unifying the family. He also told DJ that he could have all the ice cream he wanted afterward and pick the movies for a week.
The accused had purchased some rocks or flints with sharp jagged edges. He said he decided he would use the flints if he had a vision from God to use them that day, but he had no such vision. At trial, the accused said he wished he had known about the use of ice to numb the area, but then mused, “How would the Israelites have obtained ice?” The accused put the flint stones and razor blades in a pot of boiling water, and gave DJ some honey wine that he had made. He then went to Home Depot so that he could look at hardware and relax. He was tense about performing the circumcision. When he got home, he found the water in the pot had boiled away.
The accused laid DJ on clean garbage bags on the kitchen floor and put a clean towel or diaper under him. He talked to DJ like an adult, explaining what he thought would happen, giving him a choice. DJ told him he was ready. The accused said that the cutting of DJ’s foreskin probably took no more than two seconds. He then applied the Wonder Dust. DJ said “ouch,” and cried a little. While DJ was still on the floor, the accused gave him some ice cream. DJ then fell asleep.
A few days later, Richard Edwards, a social worker, received information that the accused had circumcised his son. Edwards and his supervisor decided that the report raised child-protection concerns. He went to the accused’s home with two police officers. Edwards told the accused that they wanted to take DJ to the Children’s Hospital to confirm that he was all right. The accused thought that it would benefit everyone to confirm that DJ had been properly circumcised.
At the Children’s Hospital, DJ was examined by Dr. Colbourne, a pediatric emergency physician. She observed a shell of hardened ash, like a beehive, on his penis. She tried to soak it off in a sitz bath without success, and asked the urology team to examine him. Dr. Afshar, a pediatric urologist, could not remove the ash-like material with gentle methods of washing. DJ was given a general anesthetic, and Dr. Afshar removed the very adherent ash-like material with scissors.
Dr. Afshar observed an incomplete semi-circumferential incision on the proximal part of the foreskin. He thought that the circumcision had been started but stopped halfway through. He did not think that any of the foreskin had actually been removed. Dr. Afshar completed the circumcision. He said that if he had not completed the circumcision, DJ’s penis would have had a very abnormal appearance, as the flap of foreskin stuck out on two sides like two arms. Dr. Afshar applied a dressing and admitted DJ to the hospital for observation. He later observed DJ’s penis in the clinic, noting that it had healed nicely.