Appeals Court Upholds Sex Change for Mass. Inmate
A federal appeals court on Friday upheld a judge’s ruling granting a taxpayer-funded sex change operation for a transgender inmate serving a life sentence for a murder conviction, saying receiving medically necessary treatment is a constitutional right that must be protected "even if that treatment strikes some as odd or unorthodox."
U.S. District Judge Mark Wolf ruled in 2012 that the state Department of Correction must provide sex reassignment surgery for Michelle Kosilek, who was born Robert Kosilek and is serving a life sentence for the killing of his wife in 1990.
The Department of Correction challenged the ruling, arguing Kosilek has received adequate treatment for gender identity disorder, including female hormones, laser hair removal and psychotherapy. Prison officials said those treatments have eased the stress and anxiety felt by the 64-year-old Kosilek, and they brought in experts who supported their argument that it was unnecessary to heed advice from independent medical experts who recommended she undergo the sex change surgery as the next step in treating her gender identity disorder.
The Department of Correction also argued it was concerned about protecting Kosilek, who’s in an all-male prison, from sexual assaults if she were allowed to complete her transformation into a woman.
But judges cited a prison security review conducted after Kosilek lived safely as a woman with male prisoners, wearing women’s clothing, using women’s cosmetics and taking hormones that caused her to develop breasts. They said no security issues cropped up.
U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals Judges O. Rogeriee Thompson and William Kayatta Jr. said in their ruling that courts must not shrink from their obligation to enforce the constitutional rights of all people, including prisoners.
"And receiving medically necessary treatment is one of those rights, even if that treatment strikes some as odd or unorthodox," they wrote.
One member of the three-judge appeals panel, Judge Juan Torruella, disagreed, saying in a separate opinion the ruling went beyond the boundaries of protections offered under the Eighth Amendment.