A transgendered woman incarcerated in the Massachusetts state prison system has won the right to have the state pay for her sex reassignment surgery, after a US District Judge agreed that the surgery was "medically necessary." Naturally, this has led to people making A Big Thing about what "medically necessary" means, where the inmate should live after she has female genitalia, and why taxpayers should have to foot the bill of what many people sincerely believe to be a "choice." Brace yourselves — no matter who you are and what you believe, a bunch of people are about to say a bunch of things that you will find horribly offensive.
According to the Associated Press, before she was living as Michelle Kosilek, Robert Kosilek was convicted of killing his wife in 1990. Twelve years ago, she sued the state of Massachusetts Department of Corrections, alleging that the only acceptable treatment for her condition was gender reassignment surgery, and since the state must provide necessary medical care to inmates, the state must also pay for her procedure. Kosilek had been living as a woman for several years, and, as of a judge's ruling two years ago, was receiving female hormone treatments.
Today, Judge Mark Wolf agreed with Kosilek's claims and wrote in a 126-page ruling, that "surgery is 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.'" Inmates in several other states have unsuccessfully sued for the right to use public funds to receive gender reassignment surgery before, but it appears that Kosilek is the first to succeed at what some government officials refer to as a frivolous waste of taxpayer money.
Naturally, the state believes that Kosilek's new biological sex presents a security nightmare — where can prison administrators possibly house a post-op male-to-female transgender inmate without putting her at risk of assault from male inmates? And — to paraphrase a lot of verbal tiptoeing on the part of the state — can a trans woman live among female inmates without, I don't know, going all nutty? Judge Wolf said that prison administrators should figure that out themselves.
Lawmakers, talk show hosts, and other sound byte makers are less delicate about how they feel about Kosilek. After all, these are troubled times and the sex reassignment surgery that will now be paid for by the state can cost upwards of $20,000. That's a lot of money to spend on one person, much less one person who bears the extremely unsympathetic distinction of having murdered their wife. Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown said, via an official statement, "We have many big challenges facing us as a nation, but nowhere among those issues would I include providing sex change surgery to convicted murderers. I look forward to common sense prevailing and the ruling being overturned."
But that's not how Kosilek sees things. Sex reassignment surgery, for her, is the only humane way the state can treat her. She told the AP,
Everybody has the right to have their health care needs met, whether they are in prison or out on the streets. People in the prisons who have bad hearts, hips or knees have surgery to repair those things. My medical needs are no less important or more important than the person in the cell next to me.