Government-financed sex-reassignment surgery should be denied for military prisoners.
That statement should go without saying, yet it has to be said because there is a real possibility court-martialed Army Pvt. Bradley Manning could get a sex-change operation while in a military prison.
Manning was sentenced last week to 35 years in a military prison for leaking more than 700,000 secret U.S. government documents. Less than 24 hours after the sentence was imposed, Manning announced he wants to become a she while in prison.
“I am Chelsea Manning. I am female,” Manning wrote in a statement read on NBC’s “Today” show on Thursday. “Given the way that I feel, and have felt since childhood, I want to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible.”
Now, to be clear, it is not the sex-reassignment procedure we find objectionable. Nor do we want to diminish the importance of sex-change operations to those who have been struggling their whole lives with their gender identity.
We would object to any elective surgery, procedures not medically necessary (and usually not paid for by insurance companies), while in prison and particularly if it is funded by taxpayers.
Sex-reassignment surgery has helped many people improve the quality of their lives.
But when someone is sent to prison it is for punishment — not for an opportunity to get free health care.
Manning’s attorney, David Coombs, said on “Today” he hopes those running the military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., accommodate Manning’s request.
Army policy is clear. It doesn’t provide hormone therapy or sex-reassignment surgery.
But Manning’s attorney plans a lawsuit that could succeed in forcing the Army to change its policy. And at least one group, the National Center for Transgender Equity, has weighed in on Manning’s side.
“In the United States, it is illegal to deny health care to prisoners. That is fairly settled law,” said Mara Keisling, executive director of the organization. “Now the Army can claim this isn’t health care, but they have the weight of the medical profession and science against them.”
Federal policy does require civilian prisons to develop treatment plans, including hormone therapy, for inmates diagnosed with gender-identity disorder.
Military prisons have different rules than civilian prisons. Manning should be treated like every other prisoner.
The military must keep Manning safe while incarcerated and take reasonable steps to help him deal with their physical and emotional concerns.
If Manning’s situation qualifies him for treatment, and he is able to pay for it, there should be no objection.