SAN DIEGO (FRONTLINE MEDICAL NEWS) – Should a man with a distant history of pedophilia be allowed to get a penile prosthetic implant to treat his erectile dysfunction? Mental health professionals at a Veterans Affairs medical center in San Diego recently faced this question and decided the risk was too great. They denied his request.

“This kind of dilemma occurs throughout all health systems, and it’s very challenging. It obviously puts the physician in a very ethically challenging situation,” said Kristin Beizai , MD, a psychiatrist and coauthor of a case report presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association.

Yash B. Joshi , MD, PhD, and Dr. Beizai, both psychiatrists at the University of California, San Diego, and the VA San Diego Healthcare System , reported the penile prosthetic implant case in a poster at APA.

According to them, a married veteran sought treatment for erectile dysfunction (ED) from VA hospital urologists after oral treatment had failed. The elderly man, who had been imprisoned for 3 years some 25-30 years previously, sought a penile prosthetic implant – an alternative to treatments for ED when drugs have failed. Other options include self-injections and vacuum devices.

Men with the implants trigger erections by squeezing a pump in the scrotum that allows fluid to flow from a reservoir into the cylinder.

The man had been imprisoned in his 40s for 3 years because of a single incident of sexually abusing a toddler. According to the case report, his primary care doctors previously had offered him ED treatments “without acknowledging this history in their clinical-decision making process.”

A psychologist determined the man to be at low risk of committing a sexual offense again and cleared him for an implant. But his urologists requested an ethics consultation, which was provided by a team that included representatives from the fields of psychiatry, internal medicine, nursing, and social work.

“The ethics team determined that the most appropriate course of action hinged on a thorough and individualized risk-benefit assessment to determine if providing the treatment was ethically justifiable,” Dr. Beizai said in an interview.

An on-site psychologist and an outside expert evaluated the patient using a tool known as the Violence Risk Assessment Instrument–Sexual and determined the man was at moderate to severe risk of committing a sexual offense again.

“It was also discovered that the patient never completed treatment for pedophilia in the community as previously recommended,” the psychiatrists reported. “He was offered a plan for reevaluation and rehabilitation by subspecialists but declined this option.”

The man subsequently died of natural causes.

Dr. Beizai said those kinds of cases present numerous challenges. “This case involves surgery/urology, but this is an issue with primary care as well, and they likely do not have the time, resources, or protocol to address fully, particularly when legal information may be withheld and there are confidentiality issues.”

In regard to a risk-benefit analysis, she said, “a general mental health practitioner may not be comfortable completing this kind of assessment, and there may be an indication to refer to a forensic psychiatrist or psychologist. But this can be an expensive and scarce resource.”

There’s also the potential for political storms if the news gets out that a convicted sex offender received ED treatment. News reports in the mid-2000s about this kind of care persuaded several states to ban government payments for ED treatment for convicted sex offenders, and Medicaid funding was eliminated.

Two researchers who study pedophilia said in an interview that these decisions are far from simple and must take several factors into account.

Fred S. Berlin , MD, PhD, director of the Sexual Behavior Consultation Unit, and associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, said a sexual offense background isn’t necessarily enough of a reason to deny ED treatment to a patient. Important factors for decision making, he said, include the nature of the previous offenses (such as whether they involved penile penetration, or the use of drugs or alcohol) and the state of an offender’s current relationship.

He added that it’s important to understand that the lack of functioning genitals isn’t a barrier to sexual abuse. “There shouldn’t be a narrow focus on the capacity of the penis to have an erection,” he said.

Treatment for ED in convicted sex offenders can be helpful in some cases, said Richard B. Krueger , MD, an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University, New York, and medical director of the Sexual Behavior Clinic at New York State Psychiatric Institute. “The general sense is that it would be a benefit to enable an appropriate, peer-related relationship with a spouse, significant other, or adults,” Dr. Krueger said.

Red flags regarding ED treatment in sex offenders, he said, include high scores on predictive tests, a history of extreme sadism or sociopathy, and challenges regarding monitoring of the offender.

Dr. Beizai, Dr. Joshi, Dr. Krueger, and Dr. Berlin reported no relevant disclosures.