There used to be a time in the United States when being convicted of a felony -- especially the heinous crime of murder -- meant that a person was also forced to surrender many of his or her constitutional rights, having broken the rules required of a civil society.
There were always notable exceptions, such as the Eighth Amendment's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment. But aside from that, courts were notoriously deferential to victims, to taxpayers, to society at large and to civil order.
As we move further into the 21st century and farther away from our constitutional roots, those long-observed precedents are slowing eroding, as evidenced recently by a case in California.
There, a federal judge in San Francisco has ordered that California taxpayers must provide a transgender inmate with sex reassignment surgery, claiming that to withhold such a procedure would somehow violate the convict's constitutional rights.
As reported by Reuters:
U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar wrote in his 38-page order that the state was violating the constitutional rights of Michelle-Lael Norsworthy, who was convicted of second-degree murder in April 1987, by not providing the operation.
Tigar wrote that Norsworthy had attempted other treatment options but says she still experiences "excruciating pain and frustration" due to her condition, and her current hormone replacement therapy could threaten her liver function.
Ultimate insult to taxpayers
"Norsworthy has presented compelling evidence suggesting that prison officials deliberately ignored her continuing symptoms of gender dysphoria and the recognized standards of care," Tigar wrote.
Experts at the American Psychiatric Association note that "gender dysphoria" happens when someone's biological sex is in conflict with the gender to which the person self-identifies.
"She is seeking access to the medical treatment prescribed by her treating provider and denied for administrative, rather than medical, reasons," Tigar added.
Norsworthy, who is 51 years old, was born Jeffrey Norsworthy -- and physically male. Currently, she is serving a 17-to-life sentence at the Mule Creek State Prison in Ione, Calif. Norsworthy began self-identifying as a transgender woman in the mid-1990s, finally having been diagnosed with her condition in January 2000, Reuters reported.
Tigar's first-of-its-kind order has direct implications -- both now and in the future -- for California taxpayers and, most likely, taxpayers around the country, where other inmates who "self-identify" as the opposite gender will no doubt seek to force the public pay for sex change treatments. Taxpayers in the Golden State will be on the hook for as much as $100,000 -- the cost of the procedures -- Joyce Hayhoe, spokeswomen for California Corrections Health Care Services, told the Los Angeles Times.
Hayhoe also said her office was reviewing the court's order to "determine the next steps." It wasn't clear whether Norsworthy was being held in male or female housing in prison.
The Times, quoting The Associated Press, reported that the state was considering an appeal.
"The weight of the evidence demonstrates that for Norsworthy, the only adequate medical treatment for her gender dysphoria" is sexual reassignment surgery, Tigar wrote, according to the Times.
The Department of Corrections denied the "necessary treatment" for reasons that were not related to medical need, he said.
"The evidence suggests that Norsworthy's request for SRS was denied because [the Department of Corrections] has a blanket policy barring SRS as a treatment for transgender inmates," Tigar wrote.
Reuters further noted:
Prescribed treatments for gender dysphoria can range from hormones, which typically affect breast development and other secondary sex characteristics, to facial feminization and genital surgery.
An emerging trend
Without treatment, Tigar wrote, people who have been diagnosed with gender dysphoria can suffer anxiety and depression and harbor suicidal tendencies. He ordered the state to provide the surgery "as promptly as possible."
Tigar was born in London, England, in 1962, and was appointed to the federal bench by President Obama, according to a short biography at the Federal Judicial Center's website.
In other, similar cases:
-- In 2012, a federal judge in Boston issued a first-of-its-kind ruling that required the state of Massachusetts to pay for sex change surgery for Michelle Kosilek, who is serving life for murder; that ruling was overturned in December and is being appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
-- After his arrest for espionage, U.S. Army Pvt. Bradley Manning changed his gender identity to that of a female and began calling himself Chelsea. In July 2014, the Defense Department ordered that Manning receive sex change therapy while at the federal military prison in Ft. Leavenworth, Kan., rather than being transferred to a civilian prison for the treatments.