July 1, 2022

Should sex offenders be chemically castrated?

There is an increasing interest in this kind of treatment

The legislature of the American Pacific territory of Guam has just passed a bill authorising compulsory chemical castration for convicted sex offenders before they are released.

According to FBI statistics Guam has the second highest rate of rape in the United States. “The numbers are staggering,” said the proponent of the bill during a debate. “It’s frustrating, … it makes you shake your head.” But another senator responded, “Is there going to be a piece of legislation to cut out tongues, cut out hands?”

This opposition between protecting the public and the human rights of the offender is characteristic of debates over chemical castration all over the world. In the Australian state of New South Wales, a government taskforce is currently studying whether judges should compel offenders to undergo it.

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) is opposed to mandatory or compulsory biological treatments for child sex offenders. “(Our) Code of Ethics states that psychiatrists shall seek valid consent from their patients before undertaking any procedure or treatment,” said a spokesman.

An Australian expert on sex offenders raised concerns about the treatment last year. Dr Maggie Hall said:

“Primum non locere or “first, do no harm” is a fundamental tenet of medical ethics. Administering a substance that has substantial side effects (such as osteoporosis) and many unknown outcomes, in an environment that restricts the individual’s autonomy, raises substantial human rights concerns.”

Very few jurisdictions around the world have compulsory castration for sex offenders. However, the Wellcome Trust in the UK is funding a study of the bioethical issues involved, called “Neurointerventions in Crime Prevention”.

“On the one hand, there seems to be at least some reason to support the use of neurointerventions in this way, since there is a clear need for new means of preventing crime. Traditional means of crime prevention, such as incarceration, are frequently ineffective and can have serious negative side-effects; neurointervention may increasingly seem, and sometimes be, a more effective and humane alternative.

“On the other hand, neurointerventions can be highly intrusive and may threaten fundamental human values, such as bodily integrity and freedom of thought. In addition, humanity has a track record of misguided and unwarrantedly coercive use of psychosurgery and other neurotechnological ‘solutions’ to criminality. “

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Creative commons
chemical castration
informed consent
neurointerventions
sex offenders