The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is suing a Catholic hospital on behalf of a transgender man who was allegedly denied medical care.
The suit claims the Dignity Health hospital system in California discriminated against Evan Michael Minton by refusing to perform a hysterectomy on him. Mercy San Juan Medical Center canceled the surgery last summer on the day before it was to occur, reported The Sacramento Bee.
At that time, hospital administrators explained that they could not perform a hysterectomy because it violated policies against sterilization procedures, policies based on the U.S. bishops’ 20009 “Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Services.” Minton’s doctor, Dr. Lindsey Dawson, said she didn’t blame staff or administrators at Dignity Health: “I blame the (Catholic) doctrines.”
With help from the Dignity Health medical team, Minton was able to receive the procedure at a nearby non-Catholic hospital. Minton explained what this entire incident has meant for him, and what is behind the decision to pursue legal action:
“‘It devastated me, and I don’t want it to affect my transgender brothers and sisters the way it affected me. . .No one should have to go through that.'”
This episode is a “clear-cut case of discrimination,” according to the ACLU Northern California’s senior staff attorney, Elizabeth Gill. She told The Bee that, in a time when trans rights are “under attack,” states like California must be leaders in protecting LGBT people. If successful, this suit would help clarify that trans persons are covered by sex discrimination provisions in the state’s Unruh Civil Rights Act.
Officials at Mercy San Juan are withholding comment, claiming they “have not been served with the complaint,” but said in a brief statement:
“We understand how important this surgery is for transgender individuals, and were happy to provide Mr. Minton and his surgeon the use of another Dignity Health hospital for his surgery within a few days.”
At issue here legally is whether Catholic and other religiously-affiliated healthcare providers should be allowed to deny services due to an institution’s religious beliefs.
This question is particularly relevant given the potential repeal of the Affordable Care Act (which had expanded access to transgender-related services) and the rightwing’s misuse of religious liberty to curtail LGBT rights. Indeed, Catholic groups were lead plaintiffs in a 2016 lawsuit against LGBT healthcare protections implemented by former President Barack Obama. These protections were overturned in January.
A lawsuit similar to Minton’s was filed earlier this year by Jionni Conforti. He claimed St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center, New Jersey, discriminated against him by refusing to perform a hysterectomy on him as a “medically necessary part of his gender transition.”
Nothing in church teaching restricts Catholic healthcare providers from enacting more inclusive policies and practices. But, if there is no other action, Catholics should at least be listening to the voices of trans patients, like these words from Minton:
“‘It’s almost magical, just to be able to be congruent with who I am – to have my outer body match my inner self. . .When I got my complete body, I said, “The rest of my life starts here.”‘”
Catholics should help folks like Evan Minton come to know and live into their truest selves? In a moment when LGBT people in the U.S. are facing the prospect of having legal protections repealed, a trans-positive and more prophetic stance is exactly what is demanded of Catholic healthcare so each person can be the person whom God created them to be.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, May 6, 2017