Friday, February 03, 2006

Sundstrom case a topic on last night's "The Situation with Tucker Carlson"

Co-counsel in the Sundstrom case, Cole Thaler with Lambda Legal, appeared last night on "The Situation with Tucker Carlson". Not surprisingly, Mr. Carlson failed to grasp that the judgment of medical and psychiatric professionals ought hold weight in determining medical necessity.

CARLSON: It looks like non-English speaking drunks aren‘t the only ones getting a break these days. Thanks to yet another judge, transsexual prisoners in Wisconsin will continue to get expensive, gender changing hormone therapy, despite a new state law barring the use of taxpayer money for inmate sex changes.

Here to defend the right of prisoners to use your money for sex changes, Cole Thaler. He‘s a lawyer with the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund. He joins us live tonight from Atlanta.

Mr. Thaler, thanks for coming on.


CARLSON: The state law seems pretty clear. The people of Wisconsin don‘t want to pay for inmates to change their sex. So why should the taxpayers be paying for inmates to change their sex? I don‘t get it.

THALER: Actually, Tucker, the lawsuit that‘s been filed by Lambda Legal and the ACLU is not about any particular medical treatment. It‘s about what the Constitution requires prisons to provide in terms of health care to transgender inmates.

And the three clients that Lambda Legal and the ACLU represent have been receiving hormone therapy for a serious health condition for years and years, and the law that has been passed by the Wisconsin—Wisconsin legislators withdraws the treatments that they have been receiving for all of their adult lives and puts them at serious risk of harm.

CARLSON: OK. There is so much spin in the sentence you just uttered, I just want to unpack it here slowly. The therapy they‘re receiving for a serious condition, what is this serious condition afflicting these people?

THALER: The clients that Lambda Legal and the ACLU represent have been diagnosed with gender identity disorder, which has been recognized, both by the medical establishment and by all of the courts that have...

CARLSON: So are they going to die if they don‘t get it?

THALER: There are potentially life-threatening risks of not receiving it.

CARLSON: Such as? What, are they going to have a heart attack?

Cancer? What are the risks?

THALER: Hormone therapy, Tucker, affects every system in the body, including the cardiovascular system, the metabolism. There are serious health risks, including potentially suicide, self injury.

CARLSON: Now—I‘m sorry, Mr. Thaler. I want to treat, again, you with respect, but you‘re spinning me. These are people who are men who believe that somehow they weren‘t meant to be men and they should be women. And they want to be women. And they think the state should pay them to make the transformation to men to women, male to female. That‘s the bottom line. And you know what? To pass this off as some sort of an emergency appendectomy is not telling the straight truth.

THALER: Actually, Tucker, the bottom line is the substitution of the legislature‘s judgment about what‘s appropriate medical treatment for medical judgment. Legislators are not in the business of making medical judgment. That‘s the doctor‘s job.

CARLSON: Give me—give me a break. Doctors don‘t have a right in this country to decide societal norms. I‘m sorry. They‘re physicians. We respect them. They don‘t get to—they don‘t get to decide what the rest of society believes is acceptable and unacceptable. Voters do. It‘s a democracy. It‘s not a society run by doctors.

And people don‘t believe in Wisconsin—they said so, in a referendum they don‘t believe that a sex change is a medical necessity. Are you arguing that it is?

THALER: I‘m arguing that the medical providers that have been giving treatment to all of our clients have determined that this is medically necessary for them. And the Department of Corrections in Wisconsin pays doctors to make medical judgments. The reason that the Department of Corrections has doctors is to treat each patient individually and to provide medical treatment that is in accordance...

CARLSON: I can tell you‘ve been doing focus groups that tell you that throwing out the term “medical” is the way to success on this issue. But let‘s just—let‘s just keep this perfectly clear. These are people who believe that they should be another sex. They are not dying of anything. They don‘t have a chronic, physical condition. They don‘t have cancer. They don‘t have coronary artery disease. They don‘t have diabetes. They have a desire to become women. That‘s different than a chronic disease.

THALER: Actually, Tucker, the American Psychiatric Association recognizes that the risk of not providing treatment to people who have been diagnosed with gender identity disorder could have potentially disastrous consequences. That‘s the words and the term of the American Psychiatric Association. Gender identity disorder is a recognized, serious health condition.

CARLSON: So a bunch of shrinks—just because a bunch of shrinks says something is so don‘t make it so.

But let me just get to the kind of bottom line principle issue here. Don‘t the voters of Wisconsin have a right to determine what their tax dollars go to? And isn‘t that right expressed in the form of a referendum, an election? Don‘t they get to vote on it? Or do the shrinks run everything in Wisconsin and the Lambda Legal Defense Fund? Are you in charge now?

THALER: Actually, Tucker, 30 years ago the U.S. Supreme Court decided that the Eight Amendment set certain constitutional requirements for the healthcare that is provided to inmates in prison. And—and the contours and the scope of that treatment is appropriately determined by doctors. That is a policy that was in place prior to the Wisconsin legislature passing this law last month.

CARLSON: Doctors—doctors are not God, and a sex change operation is not a medical necessity. I feel sorry for these guys. I really do. I think they must be very troubled people. But I can understand why people in Wisconsin don‘t want to pay for it. But they probably will, because you seem like a smart guy. And you‘ll probably end up winning, unfortunately.

Cole Thaler, thanks a lot.

THALER: Thank you, Tucker.


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