When the media muddies the waters
By Marianne Stanley
With all the quite serious, even life-threatening, issues swirling around us right now, getting caught up in whether or not an imprisoned person with severe Gender Identity Disorder (GID) should be granted “sex reassignment” surgery, also known as a sex change operation, seems pretty trite by comparison. I mean, shouldn’t we be far more worked up about things like the warrantless and extreme government brutality suffered by decent Americans who are doing nothing more than exercising their right to protest and assemble, or the rampant hunger, job losses and foreclosures afflicting millions of us as corporations take over our elections and our country? Yet, the pundit-created hoopla seems to be about this right now so we may as well take a closer look.
Simply put, Michelle (formerly known as Robert) Kosilek, strangled his wife back in 1990 and was given a life sentence. On Sept. 4, U.S. District Court Judge Mark Wolf ordered that Michelle be given the surgery she has been seeking for almost 20 years after five appeals and expert testimony that she has been living in psychiatric agony that hormone therapy and psychiatric therapy haven’t ameliorated.
To many, particularly those who haven’t taken the time to do their own research by reading Judge Wolf’s 120-page ruling, or looking up information on GID, or checking out Merriam Webster’s definition of “torture,” or examining our Eighth Amendment, an immediate reaction of outrage might seem reasonable. But it isn’t.
The corporate-owned media and punditry have once again conveniently left off the important details that would explain the judge’s decision. They have once again abandoned their fundamental duty to provide all the information that an informed citizenry “needs to know” to reach reasonable conclusions.
Without complete information, we feel an immediate, seemingly just, and almost-instinctive outrage over this ruling, further fueled by a seeming “waste of taxpayer funds” during a time of nationwide economic hardship. What a “perfect storm” of circumstances! A classic case of “groupthink” based on our universal disdain for murderers, coupled with our ignorance – often showing up as fear, judgment, and hostility – about transgendered people, and topped off with our shared experience of living in a country where the majority of us are left without adequate access to even the most basic health or dental care, is the result.
Since millions of us regular, hard-working, non-criminal folk have no one helping us take care of our own medical needs while the government is about to pay for what we erroneously think of as “elective” or “cosmetic” surgery, we find it easy to be offended, even angry. Yet, our Constitution recognizes the dignity of each person, conceptually at least, and recognizes that it has a duty to care for those in its custody who are not free and thus, who cannot provide for their own needs. Simple. That’s the reasoning. That’s the law.
And it’s only right that prisoners receive such care. What isn’t right is that the rest of us are not equally entitled to the same level of care. We, like the citizens of every other industrialized nation except us, should receive free or affordable medical care. It is a question of common decency, compassion and national pride. If we all had such care, this case probably wouldn’t have elicited more than a yawn.
Under the Eighth Amendment, no ward of the state can be deprived of necessary medical care. Period. To deny care has been deemed “cruel and unusual punishment.” Five psychiatric experts testified to the “medically necessary” surgery in Michelle’s case, given her history of trying on several occasions to commit suicide and to castrate herself. To do less, the court found, would be no less horrific or untenable than providing only pain killers to a prisoner with cancer rather than treating the condition itself. Just as our prison system cannot refuse needed heart surgery for a pedophile or insulin for a diabetic rapist, it cannot refuse any medically necessary treatment to a murderer.
And let’s not talk about the godawful waste of $20,000 taxpayer dollars until we talk about the $12 billion a week cost of sending our poorest kids to be damaged or destroyed in countries that don’t want us there. In truth, that is where our outrage should lie!
Marianne Stanley is an attorney, college professor and former journalist who believes many of our nation’s ills could be cured if our children were taught critical thinking skills beginning at the elementary level and continuing through middle and high school. She can be reached at MarianneStanley@DaytonCityPaper.com.