Federal Court Hears Arguments in Case Defending Transgender People's Right to Access Medical Treatment in Prison

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Lambda Legal and ACLU Argue That Doctors, Not Legislators, Should Determine Medical Treatment
February 7, 2011

(Chicago, February 7, 2011)—Today the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in a case defending the right of transgender people to receive medical care while they are incarcerated. Under Wisconsin law, prison doctors are prohibited from prescribing hormone treatment to transgender inmates. The law is being challenged by Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the ACLU of Wisconsin.

"The trial court ruled that it is cruel and unusual punishment to deny medical treatment to transgender prisoners for a serious medical need," said Dru Levasseur, Lambda Legal's Transgender Rights Attorney. "We hope this court will affirm the principle that is so important to all of us: Doctors, and not legislators should decide what medical treatment is critical for their patients."

In 2005, the state of Wisconsin passed a law that barred prison doctors from providing transgender inmates medically necessary hormone therapy or sex reassignment surgery while in state custody. Lambda Legal, the ACLU and the ACLU of Wisconsin sued the state on behalf of transgender inmates, some of whom had been receiving hormone treatment in Wisconsin prisons for years. An injunction order was granted to continue hormone treatment until a ruling was made. In April 2010, after a full trial, a federal district court struck down the so-called "Inmate Sex Change Prevention Act."

"The district court correctly struck down a discriminatory law that denied transgender people, and no one else, crucial care for a serious medical condition," said John Knight, a Senior Staff Attorney with the ACLU's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Project. "We hope that the court of appeals affirms this ruling and recognizes that medical treatment decisions must be based on medical, rather than political, justifications."

The clients in this case were represented by Levasseur of Lambda Legal, Knight of the ACLU LGBT Project, Larry Dupuis of the ACLU of Wisconsin, Erik Guenther of Hurley, Burish & Stanton and Jonathan Baum and Alyx Pattison of the Chicago firm Katten Muchin Rosenman.

More information on this case, Fields v. Smith, can be found on Lambda Legal's case page or at the American Civil Liberties Union case profile page.



Contact Info

Contact: Erik Roldan; 312-663-4413 x359; eroldan@lambdalegal.org

Lambda Legal is a national organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and those with HIV through impact litigation, education and public policy work.