A transgender man has filed a discrimination lawsuit against a Catholic hospital just at the same time that a federal judge blocked new healthcare policies implemented by President Barack Obama to protect LGBT people.
In a lawsuit, Jionni Conforti claimed that St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center in Paterson, New Jersey denied him a surgery which was “medically necessary as part of his gender transition,” reported ABC News.
A nurse initially told Conforti the surgery would be scheduled. Then Fr. Martin Rooney, the director of mission services at St. Joseph’s, intervened against it. He said in an email to Conforti’s doctor that a hysterectomy was not possible due to the institution’s religious identity. ABC News reported the especially troubling fact that the surgery had been denied “despite the fact that the hospital’s ‘patient bill of rights’ guarantees medical services without discrimination based on ‘gender identity or expression.'” Neither the hospital nor Fr. Rooney will comment on the incident and subsequent lawsuit.
Conforti, however, is clear about both the damage this alleged discrimination has caused and his reasons for suing, saying:
“‘I felt completely disrespected as a person. . .That’s not how any hospital should treat any person regardless of who they are. A hospital is a place where you should feel safe and taken care of. Instead I felt like I was rejected and humiliated.'”
The lawsuit, which beyond financial compensation hopes “to require the hospital perform any needed medical care for transgender patients,” helps to contribute to the important work of combating endemic problems related to trans people accessing healthcare. ABC News explained:
“While he had the procedure performed three months later at a different hospital, Conforti said he’s pursuing the lawsuit so that no one else has to go through what he did. . .[he] cites the problem of suicide in the transgender community.
” ‘Anything can trigger that. Something may seem small, but to a trans person, it’s not. . .This is a big thing that happened. I want it to change. I don’t want other trans people to have to go through and feel what I felt.'”
Conforti’s story has come to light just as policies initiated by the federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to protect LGBT patients have been blocked by a federal judge. This ruling by U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor may mean more trans patients face discrimination by religiously-affiliated hospitals.
Religious groups had filed lawsuits against the federal government over the HHS regulations which, congruent with the Affordable Care Act, prohibit discrimination based on a number of protected classes, including gender identity. Buzzfeed News reported:
“O’Connor, the same judge who blocked federal government protections allowing students in public schools to use restrooms consistent with their gender identity last year, halted enforcement of the rule one day before it was supposed to go into effect, on January 1, 2017. . .
“One plaintiff in the lawsuit, a private hospital system called the Franciscan Alliance, said that, consistent with the teachings of the Catholic Church, ‘a person’s sex is ascertained biologically, and not by one’s beliefs, desires, or feelings.’
“The hospital group argued that treating or referring patients for transition-related care would constitute ‘impermissible material cooperation with evil.'”
The plaintiffs, which include Christian organizations and several states, claimed the regulation infringes upon their religious liberty as it does not include a religious exemption from providing healthcare required by transgender people, which the plaintiffs claimed violate their religious beliefs. Yet, according to new standards of care and the American Psychiatric Association’s new 2012 diagnosis of gender dysphoria, providing gender-affirming surgeries, hormone treatments, and counseling is increasingly understood to be valid and necessary medical care.
Catholic plaintiffs who are part of the several lawsuits against the HHS regulation have included the Catholic Benefits Association (CBA), the Diocese of Fargo, Catholic Charities North Dakota, the University of St. Mary, the Sisters of Mercy in North Dakota, and SMP Healthcare.
As I noted earlier this week, Catholic healthcare leaders’ opposition to non-discrimination protections are entirely out of step with Catholic teaching. Healthcare in church teaching is not only a good, it is a human right. Pope John XXIII’s 1963 encyclical Pacem in Terris was groundbreaking in human rights advocacy for his affirmation of this truth.
St. Vincent’s Hospital in New York City strongly affirmed this truth when it implemented a non-discrimination policy to protect lesbian and gay people in 1973, becoming the first Catholic institution to do so. Such protections are good, but they are meaningless if, as with St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center, they are merely words. Catholic healthcare systems should stop fighting legal protections and instead proactively implement policies by which they will abide that live out the first rule of medicine: do no harm.
–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, January 6, 2017