The Corner

Chemical Castration

Via Mark Shea, some time ago, I learned that Bobby Jindal had signed a bill allowing and in some cases requiring judges to order the chemical castration of sex offenders. (Judges can, for example, order it for first-time offenders against children under 13, and must for second-time offenders.) Shea comments: “Um, excuse me, but since when did “staunch” Catholics who purport to uphold Humanae Vitae favor castration? . . . I eagerly await the finely parsed exegeses in my comboxes explaining, not only that castration is acceptable for rapists, but that hand amputations are suitable for thieves, tongue branding or removal is justice for slanderers, and foot removal is the due penalty for prison escapees.”

The two questions raised here are whether imposing chemical castration on a sex offender can ever be morally justified, and whether a positive answer to this first question is compatible with Catholic teaching. (As a Catholic myself, I naturally think these questions are related.) I haven’t thought these matter through with great care, I must admit, but I am inclined to answer both questions “yes.”

Humanae Vitae isn’t on point, I think. That encyclical reaffirms the historic Christian teaching against contraception. It is worth keeping in mind that not all actions that have a contraceptive effect count as contraception as the term is used in the Church’s teaching: the removal of a cancerous uterus, for example. The point of chemical castration, similarly, is not contraceptive. If chemical castration is wrong, it is for other reasons.

Moreover, I gather that “chemical castration” does not make it impossible to have sex or children. Nor does it somehow nullify offenders’ ability to make free and reasoned choices. My understanding is that the chemical regime reduces the sex drive by affecting hormones. I think it is hard to regard that as a mutilation (which the Church condemns), especially when you consider that the sex drives in question are not healthy.

Now there may be prudential reasons not to go down this road at all (and most states have not). For example, some offenders under the regime have committed outrages anyway. Perhaps it does not do anything against their sadism. But I don’t think that Jindal’s support for chemical castration of certain sex offenders is wrong in principle.

Anyway, my thanks to Shea for bringing up an interesting question I had not previously considered. 

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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