A Catholic ethicist raised concerns over a bill that would mandate “chemical castration” as a condition of parole for incarcerated pedophiles. The issue is at the crux of an Alabama bill that has passed the state’s legislature and now is awaiting the governor’s signature.
The bill, HB379, would mandate so-called “chemical castration” as a condition for granting parole to convicted sex offenders who offended against children 13 years of age or younger. The treatment would be provided and supervised by the Department of Public Health, and would be paid for by the parolees, unless they could demonstrate the inability to pay, the bill states.
The bill defines the chemical castration treatment as: “The receiving of medication, including, but not limited to, medroxyprogesterone acetate treatment or its chemical equivalent, that, among other things, reduces, inhibits, or blocks the production of testosterone, hormones, or other chemicals in a person’s body.” Medical experts have raised multiple concerns about the bill including the fact that a judge, rather than a doctor, would inform parolees about the possible and serious side-effects of the treatment, according to the Washington Post.
In comments to CNA, Fr. Tad Pacholczyk, an ethicist with The National Catholic Bioethics Center, said that blanket mandates of medical interventions “can raise more problems” than they solve.”
Pacholczyk said a case-by-case approach would be more appropriate.
“If testosterone-reducing agents are to be employed in a sensible fashion, it should be on a case-by-case, medically-indicated (and rehabilitation-oriented) basis, rather than as a universal requirement for every situation of establishing parole for convicted pedophiles,” Pacholczyk said in email comments.
A proponent of the bill responded to questions about whether the bill is inhumane, stating that he believes the “punishment should fit the crime.”
Rep. Steve Hurst, who introduced the bill, told local media that convicted pedophiles “have marked this child for life and the punishment should fit the crime.”
“I had people call me in the past when I introduced it and said, ‘Don’t you think this is inhumane?'” Hurst told CBS affiliate WIAT-TV.
“I asked them what’s more inhumane than when you take a little infant child, and you sexually molest that infant child when the child cannot defend themselves or get away, and they have to go through all the things they have to go through. If you want to talk about inhumane, that’s inhumane.”
According to Catholic ethical principles, punitive measures should always be ordered toward “rehabilitation and repentance, not towards the inflicting of unreasonable or disproportionate harm upon an individual who has committed an offense,” Pacholczyk added. For example, he said, the Catholic Church would not condone chopping off the hands of a repeatedly-offending thief.
Likewise, “chemically castrating” a person 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 person’s bodily and personal integrity,” he said.
“This would be a moral concern particularly if other means of treating these individuals were not exhaustively pursued, such as incarceration, directed treatments and therapies, counseling, spiritual support, etc.,” he added.
In some cases, the priest noted, it could be morally and ethically licit for a sex offender to take drugs that would lower their testosterone levels and overall libido “to more manageable levels” if it were found to be medically appropriate for that specific person, and if it were part of a broader therapetic regimen involving “extensive psychological and other supportive counseling aimed at helping them order their sexual impulses so as not to re-offend,” he said.
In those particular cases, the term “chemical castration” may be an improper term, Pacholczyk noted, if the goal is the overall healing and restoration of normal, baseline hormone levels in a person.