July 6, 2022

Is surgical castration is an ethical option for sex offenders?

The German and Czech governments allow sex offenders to be surgically castrated – provided that they give informed consent to the procedure. This has put them at loggerheads with the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT). It has denounced the practice as degrading treatment which should be ended immediately.

The German and Czech governments allow sex offenders to be surgically castrated – provided that they give informed consent to the procedure. This has put them at loggerheads with the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT). It has denounced the practice as degrading treatment which should be ended immediately.

Writing in the Journal of Medical Ethics, John McMillan, of the University of Otago, in New Zealand, argues that the CPT is mistaken. All the evidence shows that prisoners are not coerced and that they choose this option freely in an effort to pull their damaged lives together.

There are various options open to sex offenders who want physiological assistance in controlling their sex drive. Chemical castration is reversible – but more expensive. The Czech government says that it cannot afford it. An orchidectomy is the surgical removal of the testes. This is uncommon nowadays.

Instead, offenders are offered testicular pulpectomy, a procedure in which the core of the testes is removed. This technique has been refined by surgeons as it is often done in treating prostate cancer. It is less disfiguring than an orchidectomy but nearly as effective in removing the production of testosterone.

Dr McMillan concludes that surgical castration is an ethical option so long as there is informed consent:

“in cases where psychiatrists have good reasons for thinking that castration will lead to a transformation of self that is integrated and will enable sex offenders then castration might be the kindest cut. Leading a life in which the actions you perform are consistent with the considerations that you think you should act upon is one important aspect of agency. Despite the undeniable fact that chemical and physical castration are capable of changing people in ways that make most of us uneasy, when there are good reasons for predicting that it will result in a person being able to reconstruct their agency, then we should not view castration as cruel or inhumane treatment.”

Michael Cook
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castration
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