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Appeals court: Transgender inmate not entitled to sex-change surgery

Massachusetts officials said putting a transgender inmate who, as a man, killed her wife, in a women's prison could cause problems.

By Frances Burns
Appeals court: Transgender inmate not entitled to sex-change surgery
Photo by sergign/Shutterstock.

BOSTON, Dec. 16 (UPI) -- A transgender inmate serving a life sentence in Massachusetts is not entitled to sex change surgery paid for from public funds, a federal appeals court said Tuesday.

The court, in an en banc decision, overturned a U.S. district judge's 2012 decision that Michelle Kosilek should get the surgery paid for by taxpayers. A three-judge panel upheld the lower court but the state asked the entire circuit to rehear the case.

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Kosilek, born Robert Kosilek, killed her wife, Cheryl Kosilek, in 1990.

Massachusetts did not dispute that Kosilek has gender identity disorder. But officials argued that Judge Mark Wolf erred in accepting that the surgery was required.

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In a 3-2 decision, the appeals court agreed.

"After carefully considering the community standard of medical care, the adequacy of the provided treatment, and the valid security concerns articulated by the DOC (Department of Corrections), we conclude that the district court erred and that the care provided to Kosilek by the DOC does not violate the Eighth Amendment," Judge Juan R. Torruella wrote for the majority.

The court also found that Kosilek's past history could cause problems if she was incarcerated with women.

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"The DOC's security report reflected that significant concerns would also arise from housing a formerly male inmate -- with a criminal history of extreme violence against a female domestic partner -- within a female prison population containing high numbers of domestic violence survivors," Torruella said.

Wolf had also ordered the state to pay Kosilek's lawyers $724,000 in fees.

Kosilek could appeal Tuesday's ruling, believed to be the first of its kind, to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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