Paedophile priests in US treated with libido suppressing drugs

Saturday, June 23rd, 2007

As the debate on so called 'chemical castration' for sex  offenders ignites, it has been acknowledged that a  programme of treatment for paedophile priests in the US uses chemical libido suppressants in combination with counselling.

The programme in the St Luke Institute, Suitland in Maryland, has been running since 1985.  According to Fr Hugh Connolly, Professor of Moral Theology at Maynooth, this is evidence that the treatment, unhelpfully known as “chemical castration? for sex offenders, has been approved and used in the Catholic Church.

Last week in Britain the Home Secretary John Reid announced a "radical" package of proposals to protect young people from paedophiles. As part of the package, he announced trials of drugs to be given to paedophiles to reduce their libido. Some describe this as "chemical castration" although the treatment is only a temporary suppression of the sex urge.

Following Mr Reid’s announcement, the Northern Ireland Criminal Justice Minister Maria Eagle said she would study the recommendations and how they could be applied in Northern Ireland.
The Home Office plans include offering drug treatments to child sex offenders to try to stop them committing more crimes. The treatment, involving libido-reducing drugs or anti-depressants, would be given on a voluntary basis. 

According to Fr Connolly the term "chemical castration" is a misnomer. “No permanent physiological alteration is required to carry out this procedure. Depo Provera, (a drug) is administered in weekly injections and serves to quell the sex drive of male sex offenders,? he told ciNews. This means that it is neither castration nor sterilization in the true sense.

The Catholic Church holds that sterilisation is morally wrong as it goes against St Thomas Aquinas’ theological principle of totality. Under this principle an individual may not dispose of his organs or destroy their capacity to function, except to the extent that this is necessary for the general well-being of the whole body.

Fr Connolly said there was some evidence that the use of this kind of treatment as a means of suppressing sexual libido has also been approved of and used by the Catholic Church.

“In the United States of America, the Church has set up a treatment programme for so-called paedophile priests. The programme based in the St Luke Institute, Suitland in Maryland, has been running since 1985 and involves a combination of counselling and chemical libido suppressants,? he said.

A professor of reproductive health in University College London compares the treatment to hormone treatment for women.

"It is a pharmacological way of diminishing an abnormal sex drive. There is a reverse kind of sexism here  which fails to recognise that all men, like women, are driven to some degree - and some men to a dangerous degree - by their hormones. As a gynaecologist, I am often asked by women to manipulate their hormones, to help them, for example, with severe period pains. Male sex offenders could choose to have an injection which would enable them to have a fairly normal life without this dominating sex drive,? said Professor John Guillebaud.

The suppressing drugs are leuprorelin (prostap), (used to treat prostate cancer in men and endometriosis in women) which switches off the production of testosterone, the male sex hormone.

Other drugs, such as cyproterone, work in a different way, by opposing the action of testosterone in the body instead of interfering with its production. The effect is the same - a lowered or absent sex drive and an inability to have sex.

Then antidepressants like prozac, used to control obsessive fantasies, have helped some sex offenders in combination with psychological therapy.

Some human rights groups are against the treatment, arguing that that forced chemical castration is a cruel treatment. They also believe that it interferes with the "right to procreate," and could expose users to various health problems.

“These are issues that would also worry Catholic moralists today. I too have reservations about any purely chemical treatment which would seek to bypass a rehabilitative programme aimed at challenging offenders to take responsibility for their actions, fantasies and so on,? said Fr Connolly.

He is also concerned about a ‘slippery slope’ scenario, where treatment developed for use in highly controlled circumstances might be endorsed for other circumstances “where there may be very real fears of doing violence to the person in the name of therapy.? 

The use of drugs to curb the sex drives of offenders has been introduced in Germany, France, Sweden, Denmark and the United States. A bill submitted  to the Israeli parliament  two weeks ago advocated the release from jail of convicted paedophiles if they agreed to undergo this treatment.
According to the bill, convicts who sexually assaulted children and spent at least two years in prison will be released if they receive psychological and chemical treatment to suppress their sexual urges. The proposer of the bill argued that there was an 80 per cent chance of a paedophile reoffending.
But the drugs do have side effects. The main side effect of leuprorelin, is osteoporosis (thinning of the bones), breast growth, heart problems and hot flushes.

One professor with a number of patients on the treatment described it as a pretty heavy-duty measure to prevent re offending. “It is only appropriate for people who say, 'I am out of control - please help me'? said Don Grubin, a professor of forensic psychiatry at Newcastle University.

According to him less than 5 per cent of sex offenders would be suitable for treatment with leuprorelin and less than 10 per cent with fluoxetine.

In Britain there are almost  30,000 people on the sex offenders' register, but there figures show a minority re-offend - about one in five over 20 years. Most of those who commit incest, for example, do not re-offend. Those with an uncontrollable sexual drive, whom drug treatment might help, are a minority.

Doctors say paedophiles are often driven by emotional rather than sexual needs, having intimacy problems  which make relationships with adults difficult. Removing their sex drive might not change their behaviour towards children at all.

In Ireland, there were 915 people on the sex offenders register as of May 2006, but according to a spokesman from the Garda Press Office, the number is misleading, as under the 2001 Sex Offenders Act, persons guilty of crimes like statutory rape (for example an 18 year old boy having sex with his 16 year old girlfriend), or urinating in public, are obliged to go on the sex offenders register. Those guilty of serious crimes like rape or sexual assault would obviously also go on the register.