Massachusetts DOC to continue appeal against gender reassignment surgery case

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Massachusetts Department of Corrections (MDOC) says it will continue to appeal against a court decision that would require the state to provide and pay for a transgender prisoner’s gender confirmation surgery.

Michelle Kosilek, who identifies as female and has been diagnosed with gender dysphoria, first sued the MDOC in 2000, eventually winning the right to hormone therapy in 2002. In 2006, she sued for “cruel and unusual punishment,” claiming that denying her gender reassignment surgery was against her Eighth Amendment rights. Kosilek won that lawsuit in 2012, but the MDOC has continued to file appeals against the decision.

The latest appeal was denied three weeks ago, after a three-judge panel of the 1st US Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the original ruling of Judge Mark Wolf, which granted Kosilek the surgery. The court stated that Kosilek, 64, should receive surgery and treatment “even if that treatment strikes some as odd or unorthodox.”

However, in a statement released on Friday, February 7, the Massachusetts Department of Corrections said, “While we acknowledge the legitimacy of a gender identity disorder diagnosis, DOC’s appeal is based on the lower court’s significant expansion of the standard for what constitutes adequate care under the Eighth Amendment, and on substantial safety concerns regarding Ms. Kosilek’s post-surgery needs.”

Kosilek was given a life sentence after she was convicted of murdering her wife, Cheryl McCaul Kosilek; Michelle Kosilek recalls that McCaul had said all she needed was “a good woman” in order to identify as a man. The two had a son, Timothy, who was fifteen at the time of the murder. In May of 1990, McCaul’s body was found nude and strangled in the back of her car. Kosilek, who used a piano wire as a murder weapon, had decapitated McCaul in the process.

Kosilek stated that on the day of the murder, McCaul had discovered Kosilek wearing women’s clothing and began threatening Kosilek with a butcher knife and scalding her with boiling tea. Kosilek reported that she picked up the piano wire and then blacked out until days later, when she awoke in the hospital psychiatric unit.

In an interview, Kosilek said, “Apparently, I did take her life. It was probably in self-defense.”

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