The kindest cut?

It goes without saying that castrating sex offenders in order to control their behaviour is highly controversial. Likewise, describing something that damages a person physically as ‘treatment’ is problematic for many. That’s partly because of the image, reinforced even by publications as prominent as Time, that castration involves excising a man’s testicles with the single swipe of a scalpel.

Of course, there are those who would welcome the prospect of sex offenders being physically altered and would see this as just, given the harms that they have inflicted upon others (see the comments made about chemical castration article in the Daily Mail ).

In addition to concerns about the nature of the intervention there are also good reasons for worrying about the fact that in some European countries imprisoned sex offenders might choose to be castrated because it increases the chance of them being released earlier. Given that, it is not surprising that this practise has been scrutinised by the Council of Europe. Their view is that this ‘treatment’ is degrading and should be abolished. While there are reasons for having grave reservations about this practise, are they adequate for saying that this is something that should never occur and are these the reasons that the Council of Europe gives for abolishing this practice? If someone has a choice between remaining in prison for a long period of time or being castrated and having a chance at an earlier release could they choose castration voluntarily? The Council of Europe seem to assume that they could not and that is far from obviously true.

For someone whose life history is one that has been constructed around the infliction of harm upon other human beings, could the reduction of the passions that contributed to this harm benefit that person and help to recalibrate a life that has gone badly awry? While castration seems like an extraordinary measure for working toward that end, perhaps it is something that should be available in some cases.

Guest post by:
Professor John McMillan
University of Otago,
Bioethics Centre

For a fuller discussion see his online first paper.