A federal judge ordered Massachusetts prison officials today to provide sexual reassignment surgery for a convicted murderer, calling it the only way to correct the "prolonged violation" of the inmate's Constitutional right against cruel and unusual punishment.
Michelle Kosilek, who was born Robert, had filed a lawsuit against the Massachusetts Department of Corrections, seeking an injunction that would require prison officials to grant her the sexual reassignment surgery that was recommended by prison doctors as treatment for her gender identity disorder. Robert Kosilek was convicted in the 1990 strangulation death of his wife, Cheryl.
U.S. District Judge Mark Wolf ruled that Michelle Kosilek, who lives as a woman in a male prison facility, had experienced "intense mental anguish," and said there was a "serious medical need" for her to have the procedure.
"It has long been well-established that it is cruel for prison officials to permit an inmate to suffer unnecessarily from a serious medical need," the judge wrote in his 128-page decision.
He called it "unusual" to treat a prisoner with gender identity disorder differently "than the numerous inmates suffering from more familiar forms of mental illness." Kosilek has tried to castrate herself and has attempted suicide twice, Wolf noted in his ruling.
Prison officials have said if Kosilek had the surgery she could be a target for sexual assaults, among other security risks, according to court documents. Wolf said those concerns were "either pretextual or can be dealt with." The court left the decision of where to house Kosilek after her surgery to the Department of Corrections.
The Department of Corrections offered no immediate comment but said it planned to explore its appellate options. Kosilek first sued the Department of Corrections in 2000. Two years later, Wolf ruled she should receive treatment for gender identity disorder, which included hormones. Kosilek sued again in 2005, again asking for gender reassignment surgery.
Frances Cohen, an attorney for Kosilek, told the Associated Press the judge made a courageous and thoughtful ruling.
"We feel very grateful that the judge listened very carefully to the medical experts and has given Michelle Kosilek what the prison doctors had recommended," Cohen said.