Is Castration an Acceptable Punishment for Sex Offenders?

Should sex offenders be castrated? Oklahoma legislators are considering a controversial bill to authorize chemical castration as condition of release for convicted sex offenders. Seven other states have similar legislation already in place, although reportedly, it’s used infrequently.

Backers say the bill will dramatically reduce the incidence of sexual violence and end repeat offenses. It would allow first-time offenders of violent sexual acts to be released from prison early if they agree to chemical castration which kills all the testosterone in the body. After a second offense, the chemical castration would be a requirement if the inmate wants out.

Opponents point to statistics that show time spent in prison alone lowers recidivism and that sexual violence is really about power and control. They also claim that castration, whether chemical or surgical, is cruel and unusual punishment and thus, unconstitutional.

There are side effects such as an increase in body fat while bone density is lost. Extended treatment could also result in heart disease and osteoporosis.

Chemical castration is currently used in Portugal, Denmark, Germany, Poland, Moldova, Macedonia, Estonia, Israel, Australia, India and Russia among other countries. Some of them such as in the Czech Republic, also permit surgical castration.

Aside from politics, there is religion. Is this an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth type of retaliatory punishment that Jesus put to rest by preaching mercy? Is there a public safety versus individual rights argument? What does the Catholic Church say about castration?

“In general, there is a problem with mutilatory actions that are directed against individuals, that is to say, actions which are non-therapeutic and damage the integrity of the body.,” according to Father Tadeusz Pacholczyk, Ph.D., Director of Education at The National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia.

He referred to the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services issued by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops: “All persons served by Catholic health care have the right and duty to protect and preserve their bodily and functional integrity. The functional integrity of the person may be sacrificed to maintain the health or life of the person when no other morally permissible means is available.”

Thus, there is a moral concern, according to him, especially if other treatment means were not exhaustively pursued, such as incarceration, directed treatments and therapies, counseling, and spiritual support. “In principle, the ordering of various punitive measures should be towards rehabilitation and repentance, not towards inflicting unreasonable or disproportionate harm upon an individual who has committed an offense,” he said.

The appropriateness of “chemical castration” for sex offenders will likely depend on the details of the situation and the specifics of the treatment., Father Pacholczyk said. Part of the determination, he explained would be if there is a pathological situation involved that could be brought back to a ‘normal baseline’ of some kind. “I have heard of cases, for example, where individuals struggling with their own hyper-sexuality, linked with bipolar, were getting dangerous to themselves (though they had not committed sex offenses yet) and they made requests for libido-reducing drugs to help get them onto a more even keel (and perhaps even stave off an eventual sex offense).

For situations of offenders who seem to be locked into sexual overdrive, he said that using testosterone-lowering drugs could be part of a more broad-based approach which included psychological and other supportive counseling. But then, that is treatment and not castration.

“If the intended goal is actually different, perhaps driven by vengeful motives related to crimes committed, and involved using inappropriate doses of powerful drugs so as to actively strip away any vestige of an offender’s personal sexuality and render him sterile, androgynous, and/or inert, this could raise legitimate ethical concerns about violating that individual’s bodily and personal integrity,” Father Pacholczyk said. “This would be a concern, of course, regardless of whether the mutilatory procedures were carried out through chemical or physical castration.”

Patti Maguire Armstrong and her husband have ten children. She is an award-winning author and was managing editor and co-author of Ascension Press’s Amazing Grace Series. Her newest books are: Big Hearted: Inspiring Stories from Everyday Families, a collection of stories to inspire family love, and Dear God, I Don't Get It and the sequel, Dear God, You Can't Be Serious, children's fiction that feeds the soul through a fun and exciting story. FacebookFamily website. Her blogTwitter. Read more: http://rcspiritualdirection.com/blog/author/patti-maguire-armstrong#ixzz2x8GW9PlN

  • Pax

    Nice, article. I think one thing it leaves out is the debate about weather or not sex offenders can change. Much of the same group of people who claim ‘we should normalize homosexuality because it is too hard for them to control themselves’ Also promote we should ‘castrate’ pedophiles because it is too hard to control themselves. It is part of a world view the completely excludes, sin, and redemption from the picture and instead assumes a total or primarily materialistic view of the person and cast all ‘effective’ actions and prudent and just.

    • Brendan Walsh

      I believe there are greater ethical grounds for me to be against this procedure. In fact it appears more like revenge than justice. What happens for instance the contribution in the case of chemical castration to the breakdown of the general health of the individual is unacceptable from a Catholic perspective. With further medical research it ma be possible to medicate for this purpose.

      • Patti Maguire Armstrong

        I agree that it sounds like revenge. Sure, there’s an element of making society safer, but if someone is so troubled that they rape, then castrating them is not going to take away the underlying issues that could lead to other problems.

      • Pax

        I’m not sure how that is a ‘greater’ ethical ground.
        If the motivation for the procedure is revenge it is from a wrong motivation.
        If the motivation is ‘because we can’t expect people to’ with the implied ‘there is not God’
        In both cases the motivation is evil, in the second case both the motive is evil ( rejection of love for the person and God) and the knowledge of the situation is wrong, so to me it seems the stronger grounds.

    • Patti Maguire Armstrong

      You hit the nail on the head, Pax. Excluding sin and redemption from the conversation leaves God out also. Treatment is certainly called for but turning to God for help adds the Divine dimension.