A sharply divided federal appeals court has overturned a ruling ordering Massachusetts to provide taxpayer-funded sex-reassignment surgery for an inmate convicted of murder. Michelle Kosilek, born Robert Kosilek, is serving a life sentence for killing wife Cheryl Kosilek in 1990. Kosilek has waged a protracted legal battle for surgery she says is necessary to relieve mental anguish caused by gender-identity disorder. In 2012, US District Judge Mark Wolf became the first judge in the country to order sex-reassignment surgery. In yesterday's 3-2 ruling, the full 1st Circuit found that Kosilek failed to demonstrate that prison officials violated the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. The court noted that the state Department of Correction has provided treatment for Kosilek's gender-identity disorder, including female hormones, laser hair removal, and psychotherapy.
In a sharply worded dissenting opinion, one judge suggested Kosilek would not have had to fight such a long battle if she was not seeking "a treatment that many see as strange or immoral." A Massachusetts Public Safety official said the state acknowledges "the legitimacy of a gender identity disorder" but said the DOC appeal was based on security concerns and the lower court's "significant expansion of what constitutes adequate care under the Eighth Amendment." The case sparked heated debate, becoming fodder for radio talk shows and lawmakers who say the state should not be forced to pay for a murderer's sex-reassignment surgery. "People in prisons who have bad hearts, hips, or knees have surgery to repair those things," Kosilek told the AP in 2011. Concurs a transgender advocate: "It really is hard to understand this decision as anything other than transgender exceptionalism." (Read more Michelle Kosilek stories.)