(Reuters) - A federal appeals court on Monday reinstated a lawsuit brought by a transgendered prisoner against Virginia authorities for refusing to allow her to undergo a sex-change operation.
The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that Ophelia Azriel De'lonta, born Michael Stokes, can argue that denying her the surgery violates the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.
The ruling comes six months after a federal judge in Boston ordered Massachusetts to pay for a sex-change operation for a convicted murderer who, like De'lonta, suffers from gender identity disorder.
The disease is "characterized by a feeling of being trapped in a body of the wrong gender," Judge Albert Diaz wrote for a unanimous three-judge panel.
While such cases can sometimes be treated with hormone therapy and living as a member of the opposite sex, the most serious cases require sex reassignment surgery, the court said, citing the World Professional Association for Transgender Health.
"In these cases, the surgery is not considered experimental or cosmetic; is it an accepted, medically indicated treatment," Diaz wrote.
In reversing a lower court's decision to dismiss the case for failing to state a cause of action, the 4th Circuit did not order that De'lonta receive the surgery. Instead, it simply found that her lawsuit was viable under the Eighth Amendment and sent the case back down to the district court for further proceedings.