Calif. Will Pay for Transgender Inmate's Sex Reassignment Surgery

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By Christopher Coble, Esq. on August 10, 2015 4:05 PM

For the first time ever, a state has agreed to pay for a transgender inmate's sex reassignment operation. As part of a legal settlement, California will pay for the surgery for Shiloh Quine, a transgender woman who is serving a life sentence.

The settlement with Quine follows a ruling from a federal judge that required the state to pay for the surgery for another inmate, Michelle Norsworthy. Instead, California Gov. Jerry Brown announced Norsworthy would be paroled.

Seismic Settlement

The Transgender Law Center in Oakland represented both women, and legal director Ilona Turner told Reuters, "We could not be more thrilled ... It is both incredible for our client, Shiloh, who will finally get the medical care she desperately needs, and for all transgender people throughout the California prison system."

While a major step forward, it remains unclear whether this will create a precedent for future cases. By settling Quine's lawsuit and paroling Norsworthy, California avoided a higher court ruling which could have mandated the state pay for all sex reassignment operations. A Massachusetts inmate, Michelle Kosilek, has taken her fight for operation funding to the Supreme Court, and a ruling there could be binding nationwide.

Deliberate Indifference

Quine has been in prison since 1980 following her conviction for first-degree murder, kidnapping, and robbery. She has been battling with prison authorities for the right to legally change her name, for sensitivity training for officers, and for the surgery since she began living openly as a woman in 2008. She has also attempted suicide numerous times, most recently in 2014 when prison officials denied her latest request for reassignment surgery.

According to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, "every medical doctor and mental health clinician who has reviewed this case, including two independent mental health experts, determined that this surgery is medically necessary for Quine." Had the state continued to deny Quine's claim, a court may have decided that constituted "deliberate indifference" to a serious medical need, in violation of the 8th Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Quine will be moved to a women's prison when she completes her surgery.

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