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posted Friday, August 12, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 32
Denying hormone therapy to Transgender prisoners is torture, 7th Circuit rules
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Denying hormone therapy to Transgender prisoners is torture, 7th Circuit rules

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals says that refusing to provide hormone therapy for Transgender prisoners amounts to torture and therefore violates the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

The court made that finding in an August 5 ruling striking down Wisconsin's Inmate Sex Change Prevention Act of 2005.

As the name of the law suggests, it prohibits Transgender prisoners from receiving hormone therapy, and other medical treatment causing their physical characteristics to match their gender identity.

'Surely, had the Wisconsin Legislature passed a law that [Department of Corrections] inmates with cancer must be treated only with therapy and pain killers, this court would have no trouble concluding that the law was unconstitutional,' the 7th Circuit wrote.

'Refusing to provide effective treatment for a serious medical condition serves no valid penological purpose and amounts to torture.'

The 7th Circuit upheld the action of U.S. District Judge Charles Clevert, who issued a temporary restraining order weeks after the law went into effect, blocking prison officials from ending the therapy for inmates already receiving hormones while the lawsuit was pending.

The 7th Circuit based its decision on the finding that that gender identity disorder (GID) is real, and must be accorded the same respect given to other medical conditions.

Left untreated, the court explained, GID leaves to severe anxiety, depression, suicide, or self-mutilation.

Even worse, if an inmate who has previously undergone hormone therapy is suddenly cut off from those treatments, they may experience severe physical consequences including muscle wasting and 'neurological complications.'

Some of the Transgender plaintiffs had been on hormones for years before the law was passed.

They included Andrea Fields, who had been taking hormones since 1996. Before the law was struck down, her hormone dosage was cut in half, which led to nausea, weakness, loss of appetite, and hair growth, according to court records.

For this reason, the 7th Circuit dismissed previous court rulings that the Eighth Amendment does not require 'esoteric' treatments like hormone therapy, because the cost would be prohibitive.

'The district court concluded that [Wisconsin's Department of Corrections] might actually incur greater costs by refusing to provide hormones, since inmates with GID might require other expensive treatments or enhanced monitoring by prison security,' the court wrote.

'More importantly here, defendants did not produce any evidence that another treatment could be an adequate replacement for hormone therapy. Plaintiffs' witnesses repeatedly made the point that, for certain patients with GID, hormone therapy is the only treatment that reduces dysphoria and can prevent the severe emotional and physical harms associated with it.'

Attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal praised the ruling.

'Too often the medical needs of Transgender persons are not treated as the serious health issues that they are,' said ACLU attorney John Knight in a prepared statement. 'We are glad that the appeals court has found that medical professionals, not the Wisconsin Legislature, should make medical decisions for inmates.'

Lambda Legal attorney Dru Levasseur said that Wisconsin was the only state to ban hormone therapy for inmates, and that the law showed 'a history of animus to a tiny, marginalized population of people.'

He added that other states were waiting to adopt similar laws if Wisconsin's had been upheld.

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