US Presidential Elections: California opts for 'chemical' castration

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California is set to approve path-breaking legislation this week requiring the "chemical castration" of repeat sex offenders.

A new law would force them to undergo periodic injections of drugs to reduce their testosterone levels - or to choose surgical castration.

The legislation, backed by Republican Governor Pete Wilson, is described as the toughest treatment the United States has seen for sex crimes. The danger from known sex criminals has been brought home here, as in Europe, by high-profile cases involving the abduction and murder of children by ex-convicts who have a history of sexual assaults.

The new law faces challenges from civil rights groups and criticism from psychiatrists who regard it as too simplistic an answer to compulsive sexual crimes. But supporters claim the use of drugs like Depo-Provera, which is typically injected once a week and the effects of which are not permanent, can lower the repeat rate to as little as two per cent.

Dr Fred Berlin, founder of the Sexual Disorders Clinic at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, says success with the drug has come where patients are fully informed and want treatment.

He adds: "There may be a role for the medicine to play, but the idea of mandating it on a large number of people is going to the other extreme."

Bryan Appleyard, page 15