Do pedophiles have human rights? Poland’s answer is a resounding “no,” as legislation debated last month in the Polish parliament set to enforce compulsory chemical castration for convicted pedophiles. The proposal garnered 84 percent support from Poles, but it has been widely condemned by European Union leaders, who view it as a violation of human rights. Although the legislation is aimed at protecting future victims, it undermines the Polish legal system, the ethics of medical science, and the classification of pedophilia as a crime. In a modern political community like Europe, everyone should enjoy basic human rights—even those considered inhuman.
Law exists to maintain a well-ordered society, and is enforced to both protect the offender and those around him. Thus, in order to honestly evaluate this proposed treatment of pedophiles, it is necessary to ascertain whether chemical castration is intended as a punishment or a cure. This classification in turn rests on the definition of pedophilia as either a crime or a mental disorder . Although many pedophiles are subject to a personality disorder that dictates a sexual preference “for children, boys or girls, or both, usually of prepubertal or early pubertal age,” according to the World Health Organization, others commit the act for emotional reasons, and are not affected by a clinical mental disorder.
The criminal code in Poland identifies pedophila as a crime, not a mental disorder, and accordingly punishes with imprisonment. To describe chemical castration as a cure for pedophilia, as has been the recent discourse in Poland, would thus conflict with its Polish juridical definition as a crime. Although criminals may sometimes be re-defined as patients with mental disorders on an individual basis, to combine mental treatment and criminal punishment as standard legal action confounds these two starkly different aspects of the justice system. Thus the proposition of a “cure” for criminal pedophiles is inappropriate.
Moreover, the notion that pedophilia can be “cured” is misleading. In doing so, it implies that pedophilia, if defined as a mental disorder, is not a permanent state. This contradicts common legislation throughout the developed world, such as Megan’s Law in the United States, which ensures that the public may perpetually identify registered sex offenders after prison release, and affects pedophiles for their entire lives. Such laws holds pedophiles accountable for their past actions, and thus are inconsistent with the notion that pedophilia is simply a mental disorder that can be overcome. For, if pedophilia could be medically cured, it would be unjust for such clinically reformed individuals to be legally identified as a potential public threat. Essentially, administering a “cure” like chemical castration utterly subverts the entire modern interpretation and treatment of pedophilia.
Poland’s use of chemical castration is also a blatant misuse of medical science. Chemical castration for pedophiles carries the same implications as the prodcedure used to forcibly sterilize mental patients in Sweden as late as the 1970s, and Nazi Germany before. To treat pedophilia as a disease that can be eradicated though superficial- and abusive- treatment reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of the roots behind pedophilic crimes. Preventing criminal acts by enforcing chemical control of the mind is an unethical exertion of the methods reserved for mental patients.
Although it is more appropriate to punish than to cure pedophilia, the use of chemical castration as a punishment is vastly unjust. As a member of the EU, Poland has a responsibility to maintain a legal system that respects human rights—even those of criminal pedophiles. Yet even those in positions of power have failed to fulfil this responsibility. In September, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said, “I don’t think you can call such individuals—such creatures—human beings. I don’t think you can talk about human rights in such a case.” However, an inhumane crime does not validate inhumane retribution in the name of justice. Furthermore, chemical castration seriously undermines life as a free citizen by taking away an individual’s control over his or her body. Those who have been castrated would be unable to become involved in normal sexual relations, prohibited from marriage and the basic rights of a regular citizen. It is unjust to release a pedophile from prison as a supposedly free person and then fundamentally inhibit his possible re-assimilation into society. By resorting to arguably criminal acts, like forced castration, the Polish government would be undermining a column of society.
Compulsory chemical castration has no place in the modern world. Its implementation as a so-called “cure” for mental illness violates the morals of medicine and contradicts criminal punishment of pedophiles. Similarly, chemical castration as punishment undermines the foundations of a modern legal system, and is a serious violation of human rights, It is utterly unethical for governments to enforce mandatory chemical castration on pedophiles; the Polish Parliament should reject the proposed legislation.
Olivia M. Goldhill ’11, a Crimson editorial comper, lives in Pforzheimer House.