Constitutional Law

In Landmark Ruling, Federal Judge Says Sex-Change Surgery for Murder Inmate Is Medically Necessary


Ruling Tuesday in a seven-year-old civil rights suit in which a transgender prison inmate has been seeking to have the state of Massachusetts pay for sex-change surgery, a federal judge in Boston agreed with Michelle Kosilek and prison doctors that the operation needs to be performed.

“This fact that sex reassignment surgery is for some people medically necessary has recently become more widely recognized,” wrote Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Wolf in a 129-page landmark opinion (PDF). He based his ruling on Kosilek’s argument that her Eighth Amendment rights were violated by the prison system’s refusal to provide her with adequate treatment for her severe gender identity disorder.

It may be the first time a federal judge anywhere in the country has ordered such surgery for a prison inmate, according to the Associated Press and the Boston Globe.

Convicted of first-degree murder as Robert Kosilek for the 1990 slaying of her wife, Kosilek, who has had hormone treatments, is serving a sentence of life without parole in a men’s prison.

The state is reportedly reviewing Wolf’s opinion and considering its appellate options.

Additional and related coverage:

ABAJournal.com: “Federal Judge Apologizes for Delay in Ruling on Mass. Inmate’s Sex-Change Surgery Suit”

ABAJournal.com: “Federal Judge Strikes State-Law Ban on Hormone Treatment for Transgendered Inmates”

ABAJournal.com: “Transgender Inmate Asks Appellate Court to Require Calif. to Pay for Sex-Change Operation”

Los Angeles Times: “Inmate loses bid for taxpayer-paid sex-change operation”

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