The Council of Europe’s anti-torture committee has asked Germany to cease with its practice of castrating sex offenders. In a report issued on Wednesday, the committee said the practice could be labeled as “degrading treatment.”
In 1969, Germany implemented the Law on Voluntary Castration. According to the law, a person over the age of 25 may be subjected to surgical castration if he displays “an abnormal sex drive. . . which gives reason that he will commit one or more criminal offenses.” The idea is that the procedure will rein in the offender’s sex drive and lower the risk of reoffending. Germany points out that the procedure is not mandatory and an offender can only undergo the procedure upon his own consent after being informed of the implications of the procedure and medical approval has been obtained. The German Government also pointed out that of the 104 convicts who opted for the procedure in the 1970’s, only 3 committed sex crimes again whereas nearly half of the 53 who refused or were denied the treatment eventually reoffended.
On its face, the procedure would certainly go against international norms prohibiting cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment. Does the fact that the procedure is (seemingly) entirely voluntary make a difference? Furthermore, the procedure is still quite rare in Germany with only 5 being performed on average per year over the last decade. Personally I was shocked to find that such a procedure was even an option in the penal system for a modernized nation. Germany is not the only nation that follows the practice as the Czech Republic utilizes castration of sex offenders as well. There is something to be said for the effectiveness of the treatment, but do the ends justify the means? Again, the interesting aspect is the voluntariness of the procedure. I certainly would be curious to find out more about what the criteria are before an offender is even presented with castration as an option.
Ethics aside, one must ask whether forced sterilization is worthy of any merit in terms of practicality and efficacy. I am not entirely familiar with the credibility of scientific studies addressing whether a person can have an hereditary propensity toward committing crime but there is a strong alternative argument. This is, criminal activity is a product of the environment within which a person is raised rather than an hereditary characteristic.
Additionally, a similar initiative was undertaken by North Carolina as well as other states within the United States. For more information see http://raleightelegram.com/2011122895.
I agree with Joe that I was surprised this is a practice in Germany, however, I was even more surprised to find out that the key part to this issue is the “surgical” not the “castration”. In fact, the US and Poland can require “chemical castration” for sex offenders. This process while less invasive than surgery, has the same or at least a substantially similar effect. “Chemical castration” is a chemical procedure that blocks the production of testosterone. I will be interested to read the Council of Europe’s anti-torture committees report to see if it is the invasiveness of the procedure that is objectionable or the outcome, or both. If it is the outcome of the procedure, this report could have effects not only in Germany and possibly the Czech Republic but also the US with how they are allowed to treat sex offenders. Another aspect that I found very interesting is that in the US it can be a mandatory treatment where in Germany, although the process is more invasive, it is also only voluntary.
I think the fact that this is a permanent, surgical option is what concerns me. I can see how the drastically reduced recidivism rates make this look like an appealing option, however, this is an invasive and permanent change to someone’s body. Granted, in the US, at least 9 states allow for castration of sex offenders, however, they do so chemically. The procedure is not invasive, and it doesn’t irreversible alter the body. The effects of the injections wear off and therefore need to be repeated every few months. There are also considerations over the severity of the offense and whether someone is a repeat offender when deciding if this is a valid option.
I do think there is an interesting question of consent here. Castration (whether chemical or surgical) is usually offered as a condition of parole and I think most people would be willing to do whatever it takes to get out of jail.
I too was quite surprised to hear of Germany’s current practice of castration. After researching more on the subject, I have learned that in response to The Council of Europe’s anti-torture committee’s request that Germany cease the practice, Germany has rejected all demands to halt the castration procedure. Even recently, there has been a lot of public support for the castration procedure in the wake of the recent case of a youth worker who is scheduled to be sentenced for the rape and murder of 3 children.
Even though the procedure is voluntary today, when it began, in the time of the Nazis, it was not voluntary as the Nazis forced castration upon sexual criminals. Its so surprising that after all of these years, Germany still has this practice that started with the Nazis. In other realms of society, Germans have done everything they possibly can to separate themselves from their terrible history, which makes it even stranger that the castration practice still exists today.
While I agree the procedure is a serious and alarming one, I think the fact that it is offered voluntarily is an extremely important factor. That being said, I have my doubts as to if it is purely voluntary. For instance, if the person agrees to castration, is there the potential for them to get a lighter sentence or be released early since statistically they are now less likely to reoffend? I can easily imagine a lawyer trying to make such a deal for his client if his client is already willing to consider such a procedure. Likewise, if the state truly believes that such a procedure helps lessen recidivism, I do not find it hard to believe that they might consider such a proposal. If this is the case, I think the term voluntary would not exactly appropriate here.
I don’t see the reason for any outrage or for Germany to stop this practice. If it is entirely voluntary, and someone who consents believes that it will be helpful, then where is the issue? I don’t think this is any different then Utah allowing death row inmates the option of lethal injection or death by firing squad.
Although it is an important factor that the procedure is entirely voluntary (or seemingly so, as the post notes), I still do not believe Germany should provide this option. The idea that a person can fully appreciate the lasting impact of a castration is inconsistent with common human experience. In this aspect, the situation is somewhat analogous to a marriage that ends up in divorce. At the outset the individuals believe they understand the long lasting impact of the marriage but later realize a mistake has been made. The main difference here is, you cannot divorce a castration. The consequences are permanent. Can we really assume that these individuals who consent truly understand the ramifications of their consent?
Furthermore, any society should be careful how it approaches its criminals and offenders. One may view it as purely philosophical, but inhumane approaches towards criminals demonstrate society’s own lack of restraint. I think it is important for a society that prosecutes the inhumane actions of its citizens to refrain from engaging in similar behavior when dealing with those same citizens.