Bioethics Blogs

The Ethics of Compulsory Chemical Castration: Is Non-Consensual Treatment Ever Permissible?

Tory Grant, the justice minister for New South Wales (NSW) in Australia, has announced the establishment of a task force to investigate the potential for the increased use of anti-libidinal treatments (otherwise known as chemical castration) in the criminal justice system. Such treatments aim to reduce recidivism amongst sexual offenders by dramatically reducing the offender’s level of testosterone, essentially rendering them impotent. The treatment is reversible; its effects will stop when the treatment is ceased. Nonetheless, as I shall explain below, it has also been linked with a number of adverse side effects.

Currently, in New South Wales offenders can volunteer for this treatment, whilst courts in Victoria and Western Australia have the discretion to impose chemical castration as a condition of early release. However, Grant’s task force has been established to consider giving judges the power to impose compulsory chemical castration as a sentencing option. Notably though, New South Wales would not be the first jurisdiction to implement compulsory chemical castration in the criminal justice system. For instance, Florida and Poland also permit compulsory chemical castration of sex offenders.

The use of chemical castration is in the criminal justice system is highly controversial. Although Grant supports his establishment of the task force by pointing out that 17 per cent of child sex offenders are likely to commit further offences within two years, many have raised concerns about the limited effectiveness of chemical castration in preventing recidivism amongst violent sexual offenders. In an extensive meta-analysis, Losel and Schmucker found an 11.1% recidivism rate amongst sex-offenders who had been castrated (either chemically or physically) following the offence compared to a 17.5% recidivism rate amongst non-treated offenders.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.