Sex reassignment surgery was officially ordered by an appeals court yesterday for a transgender inmate who is serving a sentence in a Massachusetts’s state prison. Michelle Kosilek has been fighting for the surgery for the past eight years and has been denied the treatment since she began her sentence. She has been provided with hormones, hair removal, talk therapy and women’s clothes to help her cope with her situation, but until now, sex reassignment surgery wasn’t an option.
Kosilek’s lawyer, Jennifer Levy, said that the surgery is medically necessary and that denying Kosilek the treatment would be inhumane, saying:
If she needed treatment for cancer or heart disease, this case would never have wound up in court. If we are to call ourselves a civilized society, there is a baseline of care that has to be provided to all prisoners, including prisoners who are transgender. We hope that Michelle will now get the treatment that she desperately needs.
Kosilek’s attorneys also said that she needs the treatment even if some people think it is “odd or unorthodox.” While some have raised concerns about the funding of the surgery with regard to taxes, Kosilek’s lawyers say that the funding for all inmates is already allocated under a contract and will not increase any of the state’s costs.
In 2o12, a judge had ordered the surgery and said that to deny Kosilek the treatment required for her gender identity disorder would be considered cruel and unusual punishment. The 2012 decision was sent to appeals court and Kosilek has been fighting to receive the surgery ever since.
The case represents a landmark victory for those in the transgender community because never before has an inmate won an appeal to have sex reassignment surgery. Previously, inmates have won the right to have other forms of treatment for their gender identity disorder, such as hormones, access to cosmetics and clothing, and mental health care.
Kosilek may have to face additional steps in her struggle to obtain the surgery. It’s been reported that there is no date set and no permissions given to the doctor assigned to her case. It is unclear when those events will occur.
Kosilek’s lawyers refer to the sex reassignment surgery as “lifesaving care.” The ability to receive the surgery may indeed save Kosilek’s life. The biggest risk to a transgender person who is denied proper medical care is suicide, and the suicide rate within the transgender community is much higher than in the general population.
The issue of transgender inmates and the struggles they face has also been reflected in popular culture on the show Orange Is the New Black. Transgender actress Laverne Cox plays Sophia, an inmate who has to fight for her ability to have access to the proper amount of female hormones to maintain her feminine appearance, including breasts, lack of facial hair and a feminine voice.
Sex reassignment surgery has been ordered for transgender inmate Michelle Kosilek. This groundbreaking case may pave the way for additional inmates to receive the medical care required to properly treat their gender identity disorder.
By: Rebecca Savastio