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Andrea Fields v. Smith, 7th Cir. No. 10-2339 / 2466, 8/511

seventh circuit decision

Cruel and Unusual Punishment – Prison Inmates, Denial of Treatment for Gender Identity Disorder

Section 302.386(5m) (2010), which categorically bars hormonal therapy or sexual reassignment surgery to prison inmates, violates the 8th amendment.

“Prison officials violate the Eighth Amendment’s proscription against cruel and unusual punishment when they display ‘deliberate indifference to serious medical needs of prisoners.’ ” Greeno v. Daley, 414 F.3d 645, 652-53 (7th Cir. 2005) (quoting Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104 (1976)). In this cas e, the dis tric t court held that plaintiffs suffered from a serious medical need, namely GID, and that defendants acted with deliberate indifference in that defendants knew of the serious medical need but refused to provide hormone therapy because of Act 105. Defendants do not challenge the district court ’s holding that GID is a s erious medical condit ion. They contend that Ac t 105 i s const itut ional be caus e the state legislature has the power to prohibit certain medical treatments when other treatment options are available. And defendants argue that Act 105 is justified by a legitimate need to ensure security in state prisons.

… [D]efendants 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. …

It is well established that the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment does not permit a state to deny effective treatment for the serious medical needs of prisoners. … Surely, had the Wisconsin legislature passed a law that DOC inmates with cancer must be treated only with therapy and pain killers, this court would have no trouble concluding that the law was unconstitutional. Refusing to provide effective treatment for a serious medical condition serves no valid penological purpose and amounts to torture. …

Not directly relevant to public defender practice, but likely of interest to On Point readership.

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