Eunuchs and bioethics: a malicious act with intent in Brisbane


True Crime and Bioethics Series. Not all stories in the “true crime” genre are about murder. This one is about castration.

This week 28-year-old Ryan Andrew King pleaded guilty in a Brisbane (Queensland, Australia) court to two counts of malicious act with intent. Mr King was given a three-and-a-half-year suspended jail sentence, but since he had already spent 355 days in pre-sentence custody, he was released on probation.

To flesh this out a bit more requires some background. Mr King is an electrician and has had no medical training. Through a eunuch wannabee website (yes, these exist), he met two men who asked to be castrated. One was a 65-year-old from Victoria. Mr King travelled there and removed his penis and one testicle. Later on this gentlemen came to Brisbane and he removed the other. The second client was a 26-year-old overseas Chinese national on a working visa.

Mr King was aware that the procedure was probably illegal, but he believed that since both had given their informed consent there would be no consequences. However, the Chinese gentleman was admitted to hospital because he was bleeding heavily. The police investigated and arrested Mr King. In his fridge they found a frozen penis and a testicle, souvenirs of the early procedure.

Both of his clients gave positive victim impact statements to the court. The first man even declared: “in summary, I am eternally grateful to Ryan for enabling me to enjoy life”.

Given that orchidectomy is a well-recognised and legal part of gender transitioning and that consent was freely given, what was “criminal” about Mr King’s actions? First, he was not professional surgeon. “You were clearly not authorised or even qualified to perform what you did,” the judge told King in handing down his sentence. Second, his primitive surgery was dangerous. "Conduct that is going to be invasive, resulting in the removal of a body part carries with it such an obvious and serious risk of complications and indeed death," said the prosecutor.

“The message must be sent to people in the community that you cannot do things like this,” Judge Jones added.

From a bioethical point of view, this raises some interesting questions. Is informed consent sufficient to permit mutilation? Is mutilation a crime only if there is a high risk of dangerous complications? Is an MD a license to mutilate?

Michael Cook is editor of BioEdge    




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