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Judge suspends ruling on gender reassignment surgery for convicted murderer

Thursday, November 22, 2012
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BOSTON — A federal judge, who earlier this year ordered that convicted murderer Michelle Kosilek be allowed taxpayer-funded gender reassignment surgery, ruled Tuesday that he would suspend his order until an appeal of his ruling by the administration of Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick.

U. S. District Judge Mark Wolf, who acknowledged that his previous ruling on the surgery was “unpopular and misunderstood,” also rejected a request for electrolysis treatment for Kosilek, saying that would have to come as part of a new case.

Michelle Kosilek (right), and as Robert Kosilek at the time of arrest in 1990.

In his original 126-page ruling, Wolf said that the treatment for Kosilek had been prescribed by Department of Correction doctors, and that the only justification for denying the treatment would be based on public opinion.

Wolf found that surgery would be 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.”

According to court documents, Kosilek, a transgender female inmate, first sued the Department of Corrections 12 years ago. After two years of litigation, Kosilek — in her first appearance before Wolf — won the right to receive hormone treatments, although Wolf stopped short of ordering the gender reassignment surgery then.

The Patrick administration has appealed Wolf’s decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. Wolf advised the state it will probably have to pay for the attorney’s fees in the case, now about $800,000.

Kosilek’s lawsuit has become fodder for radio talk shows and Massachusetts lawmakers, who said the state should not be forced to pay for a convicted murderer’s sex-change operation – which can cost up to $20,000 – since many insurance companies reject the surgery as elective.

Kristina Wertz, Director of Programs and Policy for the Transgender Law Center in San Francisco, told LGBTQ Nation that “there is a strong medical consensus that health care related to gender transition is medically necessary for transgender people.”

“We are heartened to see the court recognize that transgender people who are incarcerated are entitled to the same access to medically necessary services that all people in prison should receive,” said Wertz, in an email statement.

Kosilek is serving a life sentence for the 1990 murder of her spouse Cheryl Kosilek.

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