HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Concordia University School of Law

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Europeans Debate Castration For Sex Offenders

The New York Times reports on the European debate on sex offenders and castration and whether such a strong response actually reduces the incidence of repeat offenders.  Dan Bilefsky writes,

Pavel . . . invited a 12-year-old neighbor home. Then he stabbed the boy repeatedly.  His psychiatrist says Pavel derived his sexual pleasure from the violence.

More than 20 years have passed. Pavel, then 18, spent seven years in prison and five years in a psychiatric institution. During his last year in prison, he asked to be surgically castrated. Having his testicles removed, he said, was like draining the gasoline from a car hard-wired to crash. A large, dough-faced man, he is sterile and has forsaken marriage, romantic relationships and sex, he said. His life revolves around a Catholic charity, where he is a gardener.  “I can finally live knowing that I am no harm to anybody,” he said during an interview at a McDonald’s here, as children played loudly nearby. “I am living a productive life. I want to tell people that there is help.” . . .

Whether castration can help rehabilitate violent sex offenders has come under new scrutiny after the Council of Europe’s anti-torture committee last month called surgical castration “invasive, irreversible and mutilating” and demanded that the Czech Republic stop offering the procedure to violent sex offenders. Other critics said that castration threatened to lead society down a dangerous road toward eugenics. . . .

Now, more countries in Europe are considering requiring or allowing chemical castration for violent sex offenders. There is intense debate over whose rights take precedence: those of sex offenders, who could be subjected to a punishment that many consider cruel, or those of society, which expects protection from sexual predators. . . .

Last year, the governor of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal, signed legislation requiring courts to order chemical castration for offenders convicted of certain sex crimes a second time. . . .   Ales Butala, a Slovenian human rights lawyer who led the Council of Europe’s delegation to the Czech Republic, argued that surgical castration was unethical, because it was not medically necessary and deprived castrated men of the right to reproduce. He also challenged its effectiveness, saying that the council’s committee had discovered three cases of castrated Czech sex offenders who had gone on to commit violent crimes, including pedophilia and attempted murder.  Although the procedure is voluntary, Mr. Butala said that he believed some offenders felt they had no choice. . . .

Several states, including Texas, Florida and California, now allow or mandate chemical castration for certain convicted sex offenders.   Dr. Fred S. Berlin, founder of the Sexual Disorders Clinic at Johns Hopkins University, argued that chemical castration was less physically harmful than surgery and that it provided a safeguard, because a psychiatrist could inform the courts or police if the patient ordered to undergo treatment failed to show up. A surgically castrated patient, Dr. Berlin said, can order testosterone over the Internet.

For Hynek Blasko, the father of Jakub Simanek, neither form of castration is the answer. “These people must be under permanent detention where they can be monitored,” he said. “There has to be a difference between the rights of the victim and the perpetrator.”

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