The Right to Bodily Integrity and the Rehabilitation of Offenders Through Medical Interventions: A Reply to Thomas Douglas

Elizabeth Shaw* (Corresponding Author)

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)
13 Downloads (Pure)


Medical interventions such as methadone treatment for drug addicts or “chemical castration” for sex offenders have been used in several jurisdictions alongside or as an alternative to traditional punishments, such as incarceration. As our understanding of the biological basis for human behaviour develops, our criminal justice system may make increasing use of such medical techniques and may become less reliant on incarceration. Academic debate on this topic has largely focused on whether offenders can validly consent to medical interventions, given the coercive environment of the criminal justice system. Both sides in this debate share the assumption that administering medical interventions to offenders without their valid consent would be unethical. Recently, Thomas Douglas has mounted a formidable challenge to this “consent requirement”. Essentially, his argument rests on a comparison between prison and medical interventions. Douglas asks: if the state is entitled to impose a prison sentence on a criminal without the criminal’s consent, why is consent required for the imposition of a medical intervention? The most obvious way of defending the consent requirement against Douglas’s challenge appeals to the fact that incarceration merely interferes with the right to free movement, but medical interventions interfere with the right to bodily integrity. This argument rests on what Douglas calls the “robustness claim”—the claim that the right to bodily integrity is more robust than the right to freedom of movement. In other words, the right to freedom of movement loses its protective force in a wider range of circumstances than the right to bodily integrity. Douglas’s article seeks to undermine the robustness claim, by arguing that neither case-based intuitions, nor theoretical considerations support this claim. In this article, I will attempt to raise some doubts about Douglas’s challenge to the consent requirement and the robustness claim.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)97-106
Number of pages10
Issue number1
Early online date22 Sept 2016
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2019


  • moral enhancement
  • rehabilitation
  • criminal justice
  • human rights
  • neuroenhancement
  • consent
  • bodily integrity
  • Criminal justice
  • Human rights
  • Consent
  • Neuroenhancement
  • Bodily integrity
  • Rehabilitation
  • Moral enhancement


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