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Thursday, May 8, 1997

Medical, legal experts debate merits of castration bill


Associated Press Writer

DALLAS (AP) - Frightened victims-rights advocates tried desperately last year to find a way to fulfill convicted child molester Larry Don McQuay's request to be castrated.

McQuay swore he'd molested more than 200 children. He declared he was "doomed to eventually rape then murder my poor little victims to keep them from telling on me."

And he contended that castration would be the only way to ensure he wouldn't molest another child.

Texas officials refused to pay for the surgery because it is considered elective.

Today, a bill awaiting Gov. George W. Bush's signature would make voluntary surgical castration an option for child molesters, even though some medical and legal experts say it's ill-advised.

McQuay was paroled a year ago after serving six years for the 1989 assault of a 7-year-old San Antonio boy. He's been jailed since August in San Antonio after being charged with indecency with a child in other 1989 incidents.

California this year became the first state to require chemical castration for repeat child molesters, who also can choose to be surgically castrated. Montana and Georgia have passed their own chemical castration laws and other states are considering similar measures.

The bill introduced in the Texas Legislature by Sen. Teel Bivins, R-Amarillo, is unique in making surgery the primary option.

With chemical castration, sex offenders are injected with drugs to reduce the amount of the male hormone testosterone in their system. With surgical castration, the testicles are removed.

Surgical castration isn't really more drastic than chemical, said Gordon Cappelletty, who directs the adult and adolescent sex offender treatment program at the California School of Professional Psychology at Fresno, Calif.

Both are reversible.

"Even with surgical castration, a person could get a doctor to prescribe synthetic testosterone or they can find it on the black market," he said. "If a sexual offender really wanted, there are ways around it."

To reverse chemical castration, a person could end the treatments.

When done by a qualified surgeon, castration is actually a routine procedure, Cappelletty contends, like "having your wisdom teeth pulled out."

Bivins drafted his bill after reviewing European studies showing that child molesters who are surgically castrated have a small rate of recidivism, about 2 percent to 3 percent.

Surgical castration has been used in countries like Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden and Germany, although Denmark has switched to chemical castration.

Cappelletty said the European studies involved a group known as preferential pedophiles, who make up a small percentage of the pedophile population.

A preferential pedophile prefers sexual relations with children and has never had an adult sexual relationship.

A situational pedophile, however, has had adult sexual relationships, but will have sex with children because of drugs or alcohol, or because his needs are not otherwise being met.

"Castration for those individuals is pointless because those people aren't engaging in sex with children for sexual reasons," Cappelletty said.

Violent pedophiles are motivated by anger and rage, so castration wouldn't help them, either.

"It certainly does work in very select cases," Cappelletty said. "It is a very powerful tool for reducing recidivism, but it's not the cure-all. It's not the panacea that the legislatures see it as."

Bivins said he's written the bill "in a very narrow fashion" to target the pedophiles who will benefit. He argues against complaints that castration is cruel.

"Our response to that is what's more barbaric - allowing this voluntary surgical treatment or knowing with (some) certainty that an offender is going to molest another child?" he said. "To me, the answer to that question is real simple."

Bush is expected to sign the bill into law after reviewing it, said his spokeswoman, Karen Hughes.

Jay Jacobson, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, says although the bill makes it clear that volunteering for castration wouldn't reduce a molester's sentence, it still could be considered coercion.

"Inmates might think it'll have some kind of effect on a parole board," Jacobson said.

The ACLU also objects to the bill's singling out child molesters.

The bill applies to convicted molesters over 21 years old. The inmate must request the operation in writing, admit his guilt and undergo psychological evaluation.

"Why shouldn't the Legislature make this available to anyone who feels that this is a problem, whether they have been arrested or not, whether they have been convicted or not, if they're so concerned about public safety?" Jacobson said.

Rev. John A. Leies, director of the center for professional ethics at St. Mary's University in San Antonio, said castration could sometimes be justified under the beliefs of the Catholic Church.

"I have problems with surgical castration, but I think I could accept chemical castration as a needed defense in society," Leies said. Send a Letter to the Editor about This Story | Start or Join A Discussion about This Story
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