A few days ago, Alabama enacted a law that requires someone convicted of a sex offense against a child under the age of 13 to undergo so-called chemical castration as part of their parole. Republican Alabama Governor Kay Ivey signed the bill into law on Monday.

The Chemical Castration Law

The law requires individuals convicted to continue the treatment until a court, and not a doctor, deems the treatment is no longer necessary. It also requires the offenders to pay for the treatment, and they cannot be denied parole solely based on their inability to pay.

Chemical Castration, Chemical, Castration, Alabama, Alabama Laws

Gov. Kay Ivey || Photo by Brynn Anderson/AP/NY TIMES

Alabama Governor Ivey said that this was a step “towards protecting children in Alabama.”

The chemical castration does not actually involve the removal of a person’s testicles. But instead, it involves administering medication by either tablets or injection to take away sexual interest and make it impossible to perform sexual acts. It is said that if a person stops taking the drug, then the effects on the body could be reversed.

According to the new law, if an offender opts out of the treatment, then they will be in violation of their parole and are forced to return into custody.

Chemical Castration, Chemical, Castration, Alabama, Alabama Laws

via REUTERS/Eric Gaillard – RC15D806A1C0/ THE ATLANTIC

There are other instances about passing a law similar to this in other places. In Oklahoma, the legislators proposed a bill similar to this. However, it was met with strong opposition. Across countries, Indonesia passed their own chemical castration laws in 2016. South Korea has a version of this law passed back in 2011.

The former Soviet republic of Moldova also passed a law that mandates chemical castration for sex offenders back in 2012, however, it was repealed the following year because it was a violation of fundamental human rights.

Although there are several versions of the bill in other states, the use of chemical castration is an international controversy, and many critics say that forced chemical castration violates human rights.

Chemical Castration, Chemical, Castration, Alabama, Alabama Laws

via Julie Bennett/Getty Images/ CNN

Critics contend that the improper coercion to inmates is one of the ethical considerations that should be taken into consideration. Caitlin Donovan, a spokesperson for the National Patient Advocate Foundation, worries about the use of healthcare as a dangerous precedent for a state to use health care as a form of punishment.

Doctors and medical ethicists have also expressed concerns about the possible side effects, and whether prisoners are receiving enough information to make appropriate, informed decisions.

There is also a huge question on the efficacy of the treatment. Recent research also points to the increase of sexual desire is from “an early and persistent general propensity to act in an antisocial manner during childhood and adolescence” instead of the wide belief that it comes from a person’s libido.

The crime, in all its objectivity, is heinous and should be punished accordingly. But to consider chemical castrations as one of the viable punishments for this is questionable, given that the dangerous precedent it will become, and the ethical lines that it crosses. Still, is this a trade-off that we are willing to engage ourselves in? One heinous action for another?