Bioethics Blogs

Why is chemical castration being used on offenders in some countries?

Written by Dr Jonathan Pugh
This article was originally published on The Conversation
The answer for some. Shutterstock

Following a horrific act of sexual violence against a 14-year-old girl, the president of Indonesia, Joko Widodo, recently signed a decree into law, which, among other things, authorised the death penalty for convicted child sex offenders, and also the use of chemical castration of such offenders.

The main justification cited by Widodo was that castration would act as a deterrent. But how do such interventions fit in the criminal justice system? Are they likely to be successful?

The Indonesian decree is more unusual because it authorises judges to impose chemical castration as a non-optional part of an offender’s punishment, rather than offering it as an alternative to imprisonment. Yet even in this regard the decree is not unprecedented; other jurisdictions (including, among others, South Korea, Poland, Estonia, and the US states of California and Florida) have authorised the mandatory use of chemical castration for certain convicted sex offenders.


Chemical castration involves the administration of drugs that reduce the recipient’s libido and, it is hoped, their sexual activity. Unlike physical castration, the effects of chemical castration on the recipient’s sex drive are reversible. However, opponents of chemical castration often point out that the long-term use of some of these drugs is associated with permanent adverse side-effects, including an increased risk of osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, and impaired glucose and lipid metabolism.

It is commonly claimed that one of the primary aims of punishment is to rehabilitate offenders so that they will not reoffend.

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.