Failure to Provide Sex Change Is Not Cruel and Unusual Punishment

Share this post:

Gibson v. Collier, 920 F.3d 212 (5th Cir. 2019)

Scott Lynn Gibson, a biological male also known as Vanessa Lynn Gibson, is a Texas prison inmate serving time for aggravated robbery. Gibson asked the prison to provide sexual reassignment surgery, at the state’s expense, in his continued quest to live as a female. When prison officials denied his request, Gibson sued.

Gibson asserted the sexual reassignment surgery is essential medical care and denying the surgery violates the Eighth Amendment. He claimed to have attempted suicide on three occasions as well as self-castration. Gibson told the court if he does not receive sex reassignment surgery, he will castrate himself or commit suicide in prison.

However, the court observed, “the medical community is deeply divided about the necessity and efficacy of sex reassignment surgery.”

Gibson cited World Professional Association for Transgender Health Standards of Care to support his claim that failure to evaluate for sex reassignment surgery is unconstitutional “deliberate indifference” to serious medical needs. However, the court observed, “the medical community is deeply divided about the necessity and efficacy of sex reassignment surgery.” Medical experts “profoundly disagree about whether sex reassignment surgery is medically necessary to treat gender dysphoria.”

California is the only state to have provided sex reassignment surgery to a prison inmate and it was part of a lawsuit settlement. In a divided and lengthy opinion, the court rejected Gibson’s Eighth Amendment claim, holding denial of state-funded sex assignment surgery is not deliberately indifferent to an essential medical need. The dissent would have remanded the case for fact-finding on Gibson’s individual medical needs.

Ken Wallentine

KEN WALLENTINE is the Chief of the West Jordan (Utah) Police Department and former Chief of Law Enforcement for the Utah Attorney General. He has served over three decades in public safety, is a legal expert and editor of Xiphos, a monthly national criminal procedure newsletter. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the Institute for the Prevention of In-Custody Death and serves as a use of force consultant in state and federal criminal and civil litigation across the nation.

More Posts

Preventing Jail Suicides:
Best Practices & Policy Considerations

Related Posts

Back to Top