Is it right to castrate paedophiles?

By Emma Brooks

Last week my attention was drawn by an article in a Swiss newspaper stating that the group “Swissmedic” wants to commercialize a chemical castrator to be used against paedophiles. I was surprised to hear that such a thing existed and was even considered for use, even though Switzerland can sometimes be quite old fashioned in its societal values.

This inevitably brought up the question of crime, justice and punishment, and what can be considered appropriate or not. This particular article mentioned the use of chemical castration for the “adult man suffering from sexual deviations”, more particularly, paedophilia. This could I presume, also apply to rapists and any other sexual deviants who are considered a threat to society. I am aware that paedophilia is, for lack of another word, wrong, and I am not trying to defend it, but I am not sure whether chemically castrating paedophiles is the solution. Even though chemical castration is not the physical act in itself (it is in fact a drug treatment that inhibits the hormones that produce testosterone, in order to reduce aggressive sexual behaviour in men), it still must be an unpleasant experience, and its name underlines the symbolism of the treatment. What right do we have to take away what is theirs? In the same way that I feel the death penalty has its shortcomings: what right do we have to decide whether or not someone is to die?

The problem is that if you do “castrate” the paedophile or kill the serial killer, you are not really making any difference to what has already happened. You may seem to be preventing further crime, but are these symbolic actions really done in order to prevent these things from happening again in the future? Perhaps they are, but it is my impression that they are mostly done so that the victims or their families can have closure, so that they can feel that justice has been done and that they did not suffer in vain. But castrating the paedophile doesn’t take back what happened or change it, the victim will remain scarred for life by the events. And sentencing the murderer to death will not bring back his victims either. Furthermore, even if you kill one murderer there will still be more out there, creating even more victims. So will killing one of them really make any difference?

This is where the difficulty lies: society needs to see retribution for the wrong deeds that are done. We need to feel that something is being done to keep us safe to prevent crime from happening and to punish those that behaved out of line, as well as to remind us what could happen if we ever dared to do so. But do these more severe forms of punishment actually serve a purpose? Does castrating the paedophile make him feel even worse about his act? Or does it anger him even more and increase his violent tendencies (which is a real threat and would therefore be making matters worse)?

I understand the necessity of punishment and imprisonment, and the fear of criminals striking again, but it is, I think, very hard to know where to draw the line where punishment is concerned. I am shocked by the idea of castration, even a chemical one since the idea in itself is emasculating. I cannot find justification for such drastic measures even when a serious crime has been committed. As I said at the beginning, when did society get given the liberty to decide whether or not a person gets castrated? Just because we are not rapists does not mean we have the moral high ground, and this should not be forgotten. Even though we have to decide to sentence them to prison because this is how society has dictated it, I think that should be the limit of our moral superiority, and the rest should be left to nature.

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