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Mass. to appeal decision that convict is entitled to sex change

A recent decision upheld a taxpayer-funded sex change for convicted murderer Michelle Kosilek.
A recent decision upheld a taxpayer-funded sex change for convicted murderer Michelle Kosilek.Lisa Bul/AP File

The Massachusetts Department of Correction said Friday that it would appeal a decision by a federal appeals court that convicted murderer Michelle Kosilek is entitled to sex-change surgery.

The department said it would appeal to the full bench of the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. A three-judge panel of the court ruled in Kosilek’s favor earlier this month, upholding a district court’s finding that the surgery is needed to address Kosilek’s gender identity disorder.

“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 and security concerns regarding Ms. Kosilek’s post-surgery needs,” the department said.


The panel’s ruling on Jan. 17 upheld a 2012 decision by US District Court Judge Mark L. Wolf, who found that state officials had violated Kosilek’s rights to adequate prison medical treatment, which are guaranteed under the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of “cruel and unusual punishments.”

Kosilek’s attorney, Joseph L. Sulman, said in a statement: “We’re disappointed, but we do not expect the full appeals court to grant the petition, as the decision was based on well-established law. If the appeal is heard, we’re confident that the panel’s decision will be affirmed.”

The surgery would be the first court-ordered, state-
funded sex change for a prisoner in the country.

The panel’s opinion, written by Judge O. Rogeriee Thompson, noted that the US Supreme Court has said courts “must not shrink from their obligation to enforce the constitutional rights of all persons, including prisoners.”

“And receiving medically necessary treatment is one of those rights, even if that treatment strikes some as odd or unorthodox,” the opinion said.

The state had argued before Wolf that the sex change would pose security problems because, among other things, the prison system would have to either place Kosilek as a woman in a men’s prison or as a former man who had killed his wife in a women’s prison. The state also argued that it was not wise to give in to inmate threats of suicide (Kosilek had threatened suicide).


But the panel said it would not overturn Wolf’s findings that the state’s security claims were “largely false and greatly exaggerated.”

Kosilek, 64, was born Robert Kosilek. She is still anatomically male but has long held the belief that she is a woman trapped in a man’s body. Cheryl Kosilek thought she could cure the gender identity disorder, the panel said in its opinion, but the desire to be female did not abate.

Robert Kosilek killed Cheryl Kosilek in Mansfield in 1990 and was convicted in 1992. Kosilek sought the sex-change surgery that year.

The Globe is referring to Kosilek as a woman because she identifies with that gender.

Martin Finucane can be reached at Martin.Finucane@ Globe.com.