By John Danaher
Chemical castration has been legally recognized and utilized as a form of treatment for certain types of sex offender for many years. This is in the belief that it can significantly reduce recidivism rates amongst this class of offenders. Its usage varies around the world. Nine U.S. states currently allow for it, as well as several European countries. Typically, it is presented as an “option” to sex offenders who are currently serving prison sentences. The idea being that if they voluntarily submit to chemical castration they can serve a reduced sentence.
Obviously, this practice raises a number of empirical and ethical questions. Does chemical castration actually reduce recidivism? Is it ethically right to present a convicted sex offender with a choice between continued imprisonment or release with chemical castration? Is this not unduly coercive and autonomy-undermining?
In their recent paper “Coercion, Incarceration and Chemical Castration: An Argument from Autonomy”, Douglas et al look at both of these questions. They consider the history and current use of chemical castration, as well as the autonomy-related concerns its use raises. Contrary to the prevailing view, they argue that the conditional offer of chemical castration can actually be autonomy-enhancing, not undermining.
I am going to take a look at their argument in this series of posts. In the remainder of this post, I consider the different forms of chemical castration and the evidence for and against them. I then address the common argument that the conditional offer of chemical castration to an already convicted sex offenders is morally problematic. In part two, I’ll consider Douglas et al’s contrary argument.