Debate Center, 9/11

Convicted murderer serving life sentence gets taxpayer-funded sex change

In 1993, Robert Kosilek was tried and convicted for the 1990 murder of his wife.  Kosilek has been living as a woman, going by the name Michelle Kosilek, and receiving hormone treatments while serving his life term in prison in Massachusetts’ Corrections System. On Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2012, U.S. District Judge Mark Wolf ordered Massachusetts to provide a taxpayer-funded sex-change operation for Kosilek.

The state’s Department of Correction has agreed that Michelle Kosilek has a gender identity disorder. Kosilek has attempted to castrate herself, as well as trying to commit suicide twice while incarcerated in an all-male prison in Norfolk, Massachusetts according to a court order.

Michelle Kosilek now lives as a woman in an all-male prison. Kosilek first sued the Massachusetts Department of Correction 12 years ago seeking a sex change. Two years later, Judge Wolf ruled that Kosilek was entitled to treatment for gender-identity disorder but stopped short of ordering surgery. Kosilek sued again in 2005, arguing that the surgery is a medical necessity.

Prison officials have repeatedly cited security risks in the case, saying that allowing her to have the surgery would make her a target for sexual assaults by other inmates. A 2009 University of California-Irvine study of prison inmates in California found that a transgender inmate is 13 times more likely to be sexually assaulted than the average inmate, adding on to security concerns above medical ones.

Last week, Judge Wolf ordered that Massachusetts State prison officials must provide taxpayer-funded sex-reassignment surgery to a transgender inmate serving life in prison for murder, because it is the only way to treat her “serious medical need.”

In his 126-page ruling Tuesday, Wolf found that surgery is the “only adequate treatment” for Kosilek and that “there is no less intrusive means to correct the prolonged violation of Kosilek’s Eighth Amendment right to adequate medical care.”

Medical experts have testified in numerous cases that GID is real and carries serious risks, including depression, self-mutilation and suicide. The National Commission on Correctional Health Care issued guidelines stating that sex reassignment surgery is a valid treatment option when deemed necessary by a doctor.

Kosilek’s lawsuit has become fodder for radio talk shows and Massachusetts lawmakers who say the state should not be forced to pay the costs for a convicted murderer’s sex-change operation – which, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, with all operations, therapy, hormone injections and electrolysis, can range from $30,000 to $80,000. Many insurance companies reject the surgery as elective.

Wolf found that the Department of Correction’s security concerns are “either pretextual or can be dealt with by the Department of Corrections.” The judge indicated that it is up to prison officials to decide how and where to house Kosilek after the surgery.

Forum Question of the Week:

Under the U.S. Constitution does a transgender inmate have an Eighth Amendment right to taxpayer-funded sex-reassignment surgery?

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