A judge has ruled that Massachusetts prison officials must provide genital surgery for a transgender inmate, Michelle Kosilek, currently serving life in prison for murder. This is an entirely logical conclusion. Prisoners are entitled to health care, the established standards of care for trans people indicate that genital surgery is appropriate for those who need it, therefore trans prisoners who require genital surgery should have access to it. But this obvious answer has evaded many, like Senator Scott Brown:
“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,” Brown said in a statement. “I look forward to common sense prevailing and the ruling being overturned.”
Denying that prisoners should receive any kind of health care quickly becomes untenable – physically preventing a group of people from even attempting to access the medical treatment they require, and simply leaving them to suffer or die, is clearly inhumane. The fact of them having been convicted of murder or other crimes is irrelevant to this; sentencing someone to imprisonment is not equivalent to sentencing them to medical neglect and the consequences thereof.
After denying this first point, those who reject this conclusion move on to denying the next one: that genital surgery and other transsexual treatments are indeed medically necessary. Instead, these are often trivialized as merely cosmetic and not essential to one’s health. This attitude has cropped up elsewhere, such as in the FRC’s contention that trans people detained by ICE should be denied access to their prescribed hormone therapy. The ruling in the Kosilek case explicitly refutes this, finding that surgical treatment is a “serious medical need”. It correctly concludes that the medical needs of trans people are no less crucial, important and valid than the medical needs of everyone else. Would Scott Brown, and others who deny this, pretend that they’re just as qualified as medical experts to decide which treatments someone should receive for cancer, heart disease or any other condition? So why do they think they know better when it comes to transitioning?