More and more nations in Europe are beginning to enact laws providing for castration of sex offenders.
The Czech Republic has allowed at least 94 prisoners over the past decade to be surgically castrated. At the moment it is the only country in Europe that uses the procedure for sex offenders. But more could follow suit.
Poland is expected to become the first nation of the European Union to give judges the right to impose chemical castration on at least some convicted pedophiles, using hormonal drugs to curb sexual appetite. Spain too could be following suit.
Several states in the US including Texas, Florida and California, now allow or mandate chemical castration for certain convicted sex offenders.
Last year, the governor of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal, signed legislation requiring courts to order chemical castration for offenders convicted of certain sex crimes a second time.
A Czech sexual offender voluntarily underwent castration, so that he wont have similar urges ever again. He had raped a 12-year-old boy and killed him. It was during his last year in prison, he asked to be surgically castrated.
"I can finally live knowing that I am no harm to anybody," he told Dan Bilefsky of the New York Times.. "I am living a productive life. I want to tell people that there is help."
Czech psychiatrists supervising the treatment — a one-hour operation that involves removal of the tissue that produces testosterone — insist that it is the most foolproof way to tame sexual urges in dangerous predators suffering from extreme sexual disorders.
But the Council of Europe's anti-torture committee last month called surgical castration "invasive, irreversible and mutilating" and demanded that the Czech Republic stop offering the procedure to violent sex offenders. Other critics said that castration threatened to lead society down a dangerous road toward eugenics.
Ales Butala, a Slovenian human rights lawyer who led the Council of Europe's delegation to the Czech Republic, argued that surgical castration was unethical, because it was not medically necessary and deprived castrated men of the right to reproduce. He also challenged its effectiveness, saying that the council's committee had discovered three cases of castrated Czech sex offenders who had gone on to commit violent crimes, including pedophilia and attempted murder.
Although the procedure is voluntary, Mr. Butala said that he believed some offenders felt they had no choice.
"Sex offenders are requesting castration in hope of getting released from a life of incarceration," he said. "Is that really free and informed consent?"
Dr. Martin Holly, a leading sexologist and psychiatrist who is director of the Psychiatric Hospital Bohnice in Prague, said none of the nearly 100 sex offenders who had been physically castrated had committed further offenses.
A Danish study of 900 castrated sex offenders in the 1960s suggested the rate of repeat offenses dropped after surgical castration to 2.3 percent from 80 percent.
But human rights groups say that such studies are inconclusive because they rely on self-reporting by sex offenders. Other psychiatric experts argue that sexual pathology is in the brain and cannot be cured by surgery.
Dr. Fred S. Berlin, founder of the Sexual Disorders Clinic at Johns Hopkins University, argued that chemical castration was less physically harmful than surgery and that it provided a safeguard, because a psychiatrist could inform the courts or police if the patient ordered to undergo treatment failed to show up. A surgically castrated patient, Dr. Berlin said, can order testosterone over the Internet.