Assembly OKs Castration Drug for Molesters
The Assembly approved a measure Friday requiring chemical castration of the state’s worst child molesters while they are on parole, making California the first state in the country to mandate the controversial procedure.
Final legislative passage came on an overwhelming 51-8 vote amid whoops of joy by proponents on the Assembly floor. Earlier this month, the state Senate approved the bill by a lopsided margin.
The measure now goes to Gov. Pete Wilson, who has said he will sign the bill and make California the only state with a law mandating injections of sex-drive-suppressing drugs for molesters.
Repeat offenders against children age 13 and younger, and first-time offenders whose crimes a judge decides are especially extreme, will be forced to undergo the treatment beginning at the completion of their prison sentences.
“Californians and Americans are absolutely outraged by the way we coddle our criminals,” said Assemblyman Bill Hoge (R-Pasadena), the author of the bill (SB 3339).
“Where are the rights of those who have been molested?” Hoge shouted on the floor in response to critics. “By God, this is a bill that’s going to address that.”
Opponents called the bill cruel, not the best way to stop molestations and against American ideals of justice.
“In the name of humanity, it is wrong for the government to mutilate bodies of our citizens,” said Assemblywoman Carol Migden (D-San Francisco). “There has to be another way.”
Migden said she expects the mandate to be challenged in court.
Federal authorities and medical experts challenge the bill’s claims on several fronts, including whether the treatment is humane and effective, and whether it has been cleared by federal drug regulators.
Scheduled to take effect in January, the measure mandates injections of the hormone-suppressing drug Depo-Provera for molesters. If the bill were in effect now, up to 700 parolees could be taking the drug, said a spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections. Each treatment will cost the state about $45, she said.
Upon release from prison, child molesters covered by the bill will be required to take the drug once a week for the term of their parole, which averages three years, the prisons spokeswoman said. After that, the law will not require further treatment.
Hoge said in an interview that he began pushing for the legislation because molestation is “probably the most heinous crime of all.”
Hoge said, and scientists agree, that the repeat rate for offenders is close to 100%. “Once a child molester, always a child molester,” he said.
Depo-Provera is known to kill the sex drive, but only temporarily, thus requiring paroled molesters to make repeat visits to the parole office to receive the drug. It would be administered at the offices under medical supervision.
The bill offers convicted offenders a choice between the temporary chemical castration procedure or permanent castration by surgical removal of the testicles.
Hoge said the chemical procedure has federal Food and Drug Administration approval and has been used effectively in Europe and Canada, dropping repeat-offender rates “about close to zero as you can get.”
Hoge has received widespread publicity for his authorship of the legislation. He has appeared on an array of television network talk shows, and TV comedians have used his bill for material.
But federal authorities and medical experts take the implications of state-mandated castration seriously and challenge the bill’s claims on several fronts.
Contrary to Hoge’s assertion, a spokeswoman for the FDA in Washington said Depo-Provera is not listed for approval as a castration agent. She said physicians, within limits, may prescribe drugs for purposes other than those listed, but it was unclear if state criminal justice officials had the same authority.
The bill is opposed by the California Psychiatric Assn. on grounds of its “simplistic” approach of requiring treatment only during parole and not linked to other forms of therapy.
The American Civil Liberties Union, another opponent, charges that the Hoge measure poses “serious, unresolved legal problems,” including an attack on constitutional rights to privacy and control over one’s body.
Many critics, including those who work with rape victims, say castration fails to remove the real motivation of sexual predators against minors and others.
Assemblywoman Migden, who has been a mental health worker, said Friday, “The thing about child molestation crimes is they are not principally due to an overactive libido. These are crimes of aggression, of deep-seated hostility, often stemming from psychosis.”
Although Hoge said chemical castration is used effectively in Canada, a Canadian sexual behavior expert said procedures in his country differ markedly from those in the assemblyman’s measure.
Dr. Robert Dickey, head of the sexual behavior and gender identity clinic at the University of Toronto’s Clarke Institute of Psychiatry, said the procedure in Canada is not mandated as it will be in California.
Dickey, who supervises chemical castration throughout much of the Canadian penal system, said Canadian therapists also use drugs that are more effective than Depo-Provera. Dickey himself stopped using the hormone-suppressing Depo-Provera several years ago and now uses a drug that acts directly on the brain to shut down sexual desire.
Convicted offenders undergo chemical castrations, he said, but only if recommended by a treating psychiatrist. For example, Dickey said, if a “patient is unable to tolerate a specific drug,” he can refuse treatment.
“I think the idea of courts mandating pharmacology is not the most wonderful idea,” Dickey said. Because of misconceptions about the drug, he said, its use in California could “give everyone a false sense of security.”
The effectiveness of Depo-Provera is not 100%, Dickey said. European studies show that 4% to 5% of sex offenders treated with the drug repeat their offenses, he said, and the criminals who continue molesting tend to be the worst--sadists and mutilators, for example.
Depo-Provera’s known side effects, he said, include breast enlargement, weight gain, depression, blood disorders and stroke.
Also, he said, because Depo-Provera “works sometimes and sometimes it doesn’t,” officials must rely on the parolee’s “self-report” to know if sex drives are suppressed. Criminals, he said, “are not necessarily inclined to tell the truth.”
Psychiatrist James Gilligan of the Harvard Medical School and former medical director of a Massachusetts hospital for the criminally insane, said there are preferable alternatives to chemical castration.
“I’m not horrified at the thought of doing that,” he said. “But what worries me is that we think there is this simple chemical fix.”
Chemical castration, while effective, is inferior to other forms of treating pedophiles, he said.
“With intensive, long-term psychological and behavior therapies,” Gilligan said, “the offending is reduced to nearly zero” as long as treatment continues.
“The offenders could be out of prison with greater civil liberties for themselves, and with less risk to the public,” he said.