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Third Circuit Holds Prisons Not Required to Treat Impotence or Infertility

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals has held that prison officials do not have to treat medical conditions that could result in a prisoner’s impotence or infertility.

When Shemtov Michtavi was incarcerated at the Federal Correctional Institution in Allenwood, Pennsylvania, he received laser surgery on his prostate. The surgery caused a hole that allowed semen to leak into his bladder; this resulted in retrograde ejaculation, a condition that can cause impotence.

The physician who performed the surgery had been privately contracted by the Bureau of Prisons (BOP). She recommended Psuedofel to treat Michtavi’s condition. BOP officials refused to prescribe the medication, stating it was the agency’s policy “that treatment of a sexual dysfunction is not medically necessary, and medical providers are not to talk to inmates about ejaculation since it is a prohibited sexual act.”

Michtavi filed a pro se federal civil rights suit against the BOP alleging the policy amounted to deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Finding that “the right to procreate is a fundamental right and the Supreme Court has recognized that a prisoner has a fundamental right to post-incarceration procreation,” the magistrate judge recommended that Michtavi’s claims be allowed to proceed. The district court adopted the recommendation and denied the defendants’ motion for summary judgment.

The Third Circuit held the district court had erred when it interpreted Skinner v. Oklahoma ex rel. Williamson, 316 U.S. 535 (1942), which prohibited states from forcibly sterilizing felons, as requiring treatment to prevent infertility. The Court of Appeals found the district court had framed the issue too broadly, and the question should be whether there was a clearly established right to treatment for conditions that could result in impotence or infertility rather than whether prisoners have a fundamental right to procreate or to have their serious medical needs treated.

Finding there was “no Supreme Court or appellate precedent holding that prison officials must treat retrograde ejaculation, infertility, or erectile dysfunction; in fact, the weight of authority is to the contrary,” the appellate court held the defendants were entitled to qualified immunity. Therefore, the ruling of the district court was reversed and the case remanded with instructions to enter summary judgment for the defendants. See: Michtavi v. Seism, 2015 U.S. App. LEXIS 18048 (3rd Cir. 2015). 

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Related legal case

Michtavi v. Seism