Monday, October 13, 2008

Paedophile Castration Only on Request

The Justice Minister has backtracked on regulations, proposed two weeks ago, that would legalise the compulsory administration of sex drive-suppressing drugs to sexual offenders.

The bill, which was to deliver on Prime Minister Donald Tusk's pledge to introduce the 'compulsory chemical castration of paedophiles', has now lost its key provision. It authorised the use of the 'means of direct coercion', on terms provided for in the Mental Health Protection Act, towards sexual offenders placed upon serving their time in closed therapy centres. A draft of the bill has just been submitted to the ministers for review.

The previous draft was unveiled by Justice Minister Zbigniew Cwiakalski during a press conference two weeks ago. The provision on the use of 'direct coercive measures' would legalise the compulsory administration of pharmaceuticals not only, as is the case today, to persons unable because of a mental disability to consciously express their will, but also to mentally sound persons.

Such a law doesn't exist in any democratic country. 'Someone has to make the first step', PM Donald Tusk had said then.

Today, the most far-reaching legislation, also in Poland, makes it possible to send a sexual offender for compulsory therapy. But if the patient refuses to receive medicine or undergo other procedures, the therapy will be confined to staying at a closed medical facility.

Bioethical experts criticised the bill as inconsistent with the fundamental medical principles of respecting the patient's will and not performing any procedures that would not serve his welfare.

'This is very slippery ground', Prof Marek Safjan, co-author of the Council of Europe's bioethical convention, had told Gazeta. ''If we accept the compulsory chemical castration of sexual offenders, why not perform lobotomy on violent criminals? Only where will this take us? Medical therapy mustn't be used in public interest. Otherwise, we'll return, for instance, to the compulsory sterilisation of mentally disabled patients performed in Sweden as recently as in the 1970s'.

The proposed law was also criticised by constitutional experts as an attempt to introduce unconstitutional corporal punishment, criminal law experts pointed out that depriving someone of their ability to reproduce was an offence, and sexologists stressed that chemical sex-drive suppression wouldn't be effective without psychotherapy, which couldn't be performed against the patient's will.

Theologians were opposed too, noting that the Catholic Church regarded the ability to reproduce as part of every individual's natural dignity.

The way the proposed law had been drawn up was criticised by members of the Polish Association of Forensic Psychiatry. 'Drawing up such regulations isn't a job solely for legal experts but also, in this case, for psychiatrists, sexologists, or psychologists. Only they can judge whether the proposed regulations are consistent with the principles of medical ethics. Yet no one is asking us for opinion. We'd been sent the final draft of the bill, but had just two days to review it', says Janusz Heitzman at Warsaw's Institute of Psychiatry and Neurology.