Should Taxpayers Pay for Prisoner's Sex Change Operation?

Sasha Brown-Worsham

Ophelia De'lonta was born with a penis and wants to be rid of it. She wants to be rid of it so badly that last October, the prison inmate in Virginia tried to castrate herself after someone referred to her as a "he." Now, 20 stitches later, she is suing the state for not providing her with a sex change operation and she ought to win.

De'lonta has been in prison for armed robbery since she was 18 years old. All she knows is prison and prison life, but she is still a human being. She can't help that she was born in the wrong body and the state is obligated to provide adequate medical care for the incarcerated. If she had cancer, no one would even wonder. But because she has gender identity disorder, a condition in which people believe they were born the wrong gender, people balk.

And it's not fair.

After serving more than 30 years of a 70-year sentence on robbery, drugs, and weapons charges, one would imagine De'lonta has become accustomed to prison life (as much as one can). But if she were suffering from cancer or MS or diabetes, we would say it was cruel not to treat her, correct? Well, the same thing goes for something like this. It may not be as obviously life threatening, but it IS life threatening.

De'lonta has tried to cut off her penis several times in the past year. She refers to it as "that thing" between her legs and is clearly tortured by the idea that she is in the wrong body. As a taxpayer who believes in our legal and justice system, I think it's cruel and unusual to sentence a person to a life of misery and torture without treating or attempting to treat what ails them.

It may sound like some liberal cliched mumbo jumbo, but it isn't. Gender identity disorder is a very real problem and can make a person depressed, suicidal, and clearly willing to do anything. Is that really the way we want our inmates to live? We can argue all day long about the rights of prisoners and whether they SHOULD have them, but the fact is they DO have them and we aren't upholding our end of the bargain to De'lonta. 

Similar cases in other states have tried and failed to make progress (one is still pending in Massachusetts), but the fact is, we owe our inmates some quality of life. It's the deal we all signed on for as taxpayers. If you don't like it, fight it with your vote, but otherwise, is there another solution? Does it seem right to allow people to wallow in misery when there is a simple solution?

No one wants to see prisoners frolicking in the lap of luxury, awash in things we on the outside -- those of us who obey the law -- can't afford. On the other hand, we have taken away De'lonta's ability to care for herself in this way, and so yes, we do owe it to her to make the rest of her life behind bars as peaceful as it can be.

Do you think we should pay for this operation?


Image via Phil_Parker/Flickr

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