Massachusetts Judge Orders Sex Change for Prisoner

In Boston, Chief US District Judge Mark Wolf has ordered Massachusetts authorities to provide a taxpayer-funded sex-change operation for a transgender prisoner, basing his ruling on the recommendations of doctors at the commonwealth’s Department of Correction who prescribed sex-reassignment surgery as “the only form of adequate medical care” for Michelle Kosilek. Kosilek (who used to go by Robert) is serving life in prison without the possibility of parole for the 1990 murder of his wife.

Judge Wolf, describing his 126-page order as “unprecedented,” said that denying Kosilek the surgery was a violation of the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. Specialists have diagnosed Kosilek with severe gender identity disorder, and since 2003 he has been receiving female hormones. Despite the hormone treatment and psychotherapy, he has attempted to castrate himself and twice tried to commit suicide.

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“It is unusual to treat a prisoner suffering severely from a gender identity disorder differently than the numerous inmates suffering from more familiar forms of mental illness,” wrote Judge Wolf, an appointee of President Ronald Reagan. “It is not permissible for prison officials to do so just because the fact that a gender identity disorder is a major mental illness not understood by much of the public and the required treatment for it is unpopular.”

Judge Wolf acknowledged that Kosilek may receive better care for his disorder than many law-abiding Americans. “It may seem strange that in the United States citizens do not generally have a constitutional right to adequate medical care, but the Eighth Amendment promises prisoners such care,” he wrote, pointing to a 2011 Supreme Court decision that said providing anything less was “incompatible with the concept of human dignity.” [The Wall Street Journal]

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