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John McMillan's article raises numerous important points about the ethics of surgical castration of sex offenders.1 In this commentary, we focus solely on and argue against the claim that the offer of release from detention conditional upon surgical castration is a coercive offer that compromises the validity of the offender's consent. We take no view on the question as to whether castration for sex offenders is ethically permissible. But, we reject the claim that it is ethically permissible only if competing ethical considerations outweigh worries about coercion. For in the situation described, the proposal is not coercive at all.
McMillan states that if offenders agree to castration because they fear long-term detention, then ‘it seems, intuitively, as if agreeing to be castrated under these conditions makes the decision coerced in some way.’1 He adds that if castration is ‘the only way that they will be released back into the community, the status of this decision as a genuine expression of their autonomy is questionable.’1 In defence of his claim, he uses two analogies that he borrows from Joel Feinberg. First, if a governor offers to commute a death sentence if the prisoner agrees to participate in a medical experiment, then ‘it's clear that the governor is coercing the prisoner.’1 Second, if a millionaire offers to give a woman $1 000 000 …
Contributors Both authors are responsible for the drafting and editing of this manuscript.
Competing interests None.
Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.
↵i Also see Wertheimer A. Coercion. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987.