Sex reassignment surgery has been OK’d for a transgender Massachusetts inmate. The decision was rendered Friday by a federal appeals court upholding a judge’s decision for Michelle Kosilek, born Robert Kosilek, who is serving life in prison for murdering her wife in 1990. This is the first ruling where a judge has decided a prisoner is entitled to a taxpayer-funded sex change operation in the U.S.
In 2012, U.S. District Judge Mark Wolf said Kosilek was entitled to sex reassignment surgery because it is a constitutional right to obtain medically necessary treatment but the Department of Correction appealed the judge’s decision, saying Kosilek was receiving adequate treatment for her gender identity disorder, such as hormone injections, hair removal and psychotherapy. The Department of Correction did not feel Kosilek, 64, required more treatment than that but the federal appeals court said all citizens, even prisoners, are entitled to medical treatment regardless of whether others consider it medically necessary or not. One appeals judge disagreed, and said the ruling ventured beyond the limits of the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment.
The federal appeals court upheld Judge Wolf’s contention that the Department of Correction was dragging its feet in spite of Kosilek’s medical providers’ recommendation that she have sex reassignment surgery, demonstrating “deliberate indifference” to Kosilek’s need for such surgery. The federal appeals court’s decision for sex reassignment surgery to be OK’d for the Massachusetts inmate is a positive step in the right direction for transgender prisoners, and the transgender community.
Kosilek’s wife, Cheryl, was a volunteer drug rehabilitation counselor who apparently believed Kosilek could be cured of her gender identity disorder. Kosilek strangled her and dumped her body in a car in North Attleborough, in Bristol County. The murder reportedly occurred after Cheryl found Kosilek wearing her clothes.
Since her imprisonment, Kosilek had been seeking sex reassignment surgery. Her first case was in 1992, the year of her conviction, but the court ruled against her. She succeeded in winning over Judge Wolf in 2012. Kosilek has been in a men’s prison in Norfolk, wearing women’s clothes and cosmetics, apparently without any problems from the male prisoners, according to a prison report, which was one of the concerns brought up by the Department of Correction in their advisement against sex change surgery. Although Kosilek has not been bothered by her inmates, she has made suicide attempts and tried to castrate herself.
In spite of the appeals court ruling, Kosilek’s sex reassignment surgery may not happen anytime soon. First, the only doctor who is willing to handle the surgery works out of state, but that doctor is not appropriately registered to perform sex reassignment surgery on anyone, according to court records.
The estimated cost for male-to-female sex reassignment surgery that has been OK’d for Kosilek the Massachusetts inmate is between $7,000 and $24,000. This is significantly lower than if this case had been dragging out for a prolonged period through the courts.
Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Rights, says she applauds the federal appeals court decision but there is a lot more work to do for the transgender community: “While we celebrate today’s ruling, we know there’s more advocacy needed to ensure that all transgender people have access to basic and necessary healthcare.”
By Juana Poareo
The Washington Post