The state has identified six surgeons willing to perform gender reassignment surgery on convicted killer Michelle L. Kosilek, but none of the doctors currently performs operations in Massachusetts, according to an affidavit filed by Correction Commissioner Luis S. Spencer.
In fact, according to Spencer’s filing in US District Court in Boston that was made public Tuesday, there are no doctors in Massachusetts or New York who regularly perform the complex surgery, forcing the state to search the nation for doctors both qualified for the task and willing to perform it on a killer serving a life sentence.
The names of the doctors and the facilities where they work were redacted from the affidavit under an order from US District Court Judge Mark Wolf, who sparked controversy last year when he ruled that the state is violating Kosilek’s constitutional rights by not providing gender reassignment surgery at taxpayers’ expense.
A Department of Correction spokeswoman, citing department policy of not commenting on pending litigation, declined to comment on the filing. Five of the six doctors signaled they would be willing to operate on Kosilek in the Bay State if given approval by the medical authorities, the affidavit said. The court papers stated that Kosilek would need 10 to 14 days of postsurgery hospitalization to recover from the surgery.
Gunner Scott, a representative of the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition, said there may be Massachusetts-based surgeons who perform gender reassignment surgery, but it was not immediately clear if they were proficient in the type of surgery Kosilek requires. Scott said that the department has shown a willingness to hire out-of-state medical experts when it supported their legal arguments, and now should not be allowed to delay Kosilek’s surgery on the grounds that no Massachusetts doctor would participate.
In his landmark ruling, Wolf concluded that Kosilek’s Eighth Amendment right against cruel and unusual punishment is being violated because the medical profession now considers sex reassignment surgery a valid medical treatment for gender identity disorder.
Kosilek was born Robert Kosilek. As a man, he strangled his wife, Cheryl, in Mansfield in 1990 and dumped her body in a car at the Emerald Square Mall in North Attleborough. Kosilek then fled to New York state before being arrested.
Kosilek was convicted of first-degree murder in January 1993 and is serving a life sentence without possibility of parole. The Globe refers to Kosilek as a woman because that is her preferred gender.
The Patrick administration is appealing Wolf’s ruling. While the appeal is pending, Wolf has put Kosilek’s surgery on hold, provided that the Department of Correction make an earnest effort to have a surgical team ready to go once the appeal is resolved.
Irked at what he perceived as delay by the department, Wolf earlier this year ordered Spencer to swear under oath that he had read Wolf’s order and that he demonstrate the department was working to find the right doctor for the task.
Spencer wrote that having identified potential surgeons, planning will now focus on getting permission for the out-of-state doctors to work in the Bay State, choosing a hospital willing to host Kosilek, and planning how many correctional officers will be needed to guard Kosilek while he is recovering from the surgery.