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A family decision

Republicans in Tallahassee never stop boasting about an agenda they say promotes families and "more personal freedom." Then they halt Medicaid coverage for circumcision _ a surgical procedure that the nation's most respected medical professionals say should be a decision left to families and their doctors.

This gratuitous slap at the poor catapults state government into a fluid debate that is better left to doctors and parents than to politicians. Saving $2-million a year, as the state expects, is small compared to the health, social and religious value many families place on the procedure, in which the foreskin is removed from the penis.

The federal government estimates that 65 percent of all male newborns are circumcised, and though some mainstream medical groups find the benefits hard to quantify, they generally agree that benefits do exist. The American Medical Association found that circumcision decreases the chance of urinary tract infections in a child's first year and protects against penile cancer. Studies have found that circumcised males may have a lower risk of contracting sexually transmitted disease. While the American Academy of Pediatrics recognizes the benefits, it maintains the scientific data are not sufficient to "recommend" routine circumcision. It calls, however, for parents to be given accurate and unbiased information, and the opportunity to discuss the decision with their doctor, in order to make an informed choice. The AMA supports that view.

State Rep. Frank Farkas, a St. Petersburg Republican and vice chairman of the Health Appropriations subcommittee, breezily puts aside the medical angle, saying the procedure is done more often for cultural or religious reasons, and that halting funding for it was a "no-brainer." This is a terrible message _ that poor people don't deserve the right to make a medical, cultural and religious choice that is available to everyone else.

As the Academy of Pediatrics says: "It is legitimate for the parents to take into account cultural, religious and ethnic traditions, in addition to medical factors, when making this choice." Even those who debate the medical merits should agree that the right to determine care is one that falls to a child's parent, not to some partisan officeholder in Tallahassee. That's the no-brainer.