Transgender Teen Sues Catholic Hospital for Discrimination

A transgender teen is suing a Catholic hospital for allegedly denying him a surgery as part of his transition.

Pax Enstad speaking at an ACLU press conference

Pax Enstad, a 17-year old from Bellingham, Washington, filed the civil rights lawsuit alongside the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, charging PeaceHealth, a Catholic hospital organization, with discrimination. The Stranger reported:

“[Enstad] sought to get chest reconstruction or ‘top’ surgery, as recommended by his doctor, but PeaceHealth denied coverage for the surgery because it excludes ‘transgender services’ in its company health plan, the lawsuit claims. . .

“The health organization’s denying Pax’s surgery is illegal discrimination on the grounds of sex and gender identity, said Lisa Nowlin, an ACLU staff attorney. The Enstad family is seeking unspecified damages and for the court to declare PeaceHealth’s exclusion of medical care for trans people as illegal discrimination.”

Enstad said at a press conference that he felt “singled out” by a hospital, which had claimed it was accepting of and safe for him. The teen’s mother, Cheryl, who has worked for PeaceHealth some 20 years, said she felt “stunned and betrayed” that her insurance would not cover a medically-necessary procedure for Enstad.

 Enstad suffers from gender dysphoria which caused him anxiety and depression to the point where he said gender-confirming surgery was “not a choice, but a necessity.” The Enstad family spent $10,000 so that their son could have the surgery without insurance, and Enstad now reports a much happier quality of life as a result. But the lawsuit might be more of a challenge due to legal complexities:
“In 2014 Washington State Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler banned insurance companies from denying coverage to trans individuals. However, PeaceHealth is exempt from that rule because it is a smaller, self-funded provider. Despite this exemption, the health organization must still comply with state and federal anti-discrimination laws, the ACLU asserts.”

Enstad’s case is not the first, and likely not the last, in which a transgender patient has sued a Catholic hospital over the denial of care. In May, Evan Minton sued the Dignity Health system in California for refusing to perform a hysterectomy on him because church teaching prohibits sterilization. The healthcare system arranged for the surgery performed at another hospital instead. Jionni Conforti filed a similar lawsuit in New Jersey in February, and a few years ago Alex Rodriguez sued Georgetown University Hospital for denying her a breast enhancement.

Catholic responses overall on questions of transgender healthcare have been mixed. Three conservative Catholic organizations sued the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in January over regulations implemented to protect trans patients. Yet, St. Peter’s Healthcare System, New Jersey, chose an alternative route. They worked with Rutgers Universitys School of Social Work to conduct a study aimed at helping families adjust to the news that their son or daughter is LGBT, while providing professional counseling to involved patients.

Enstad’s case is the latest sign that gender identity issues in Catholic healthcare systems will only increase as more trans and intersex people come out and seek medically necessary treatments. The church has an opportunity to enact social justice by providing quality and competent medical care to a marginalized population. The question now is how will Catholic hospitals respond: with compassion for patients or with litigation?

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, October20, 2017

3 replies
  1. Loretta
    Loretta says:

    I think we’re putting the cart before the horse in this area. The cart is educating the church in the science and biology of gender dysphoria. I attended a science and faith lecture in context of diocesan conference where the speaker exposed the Church’s long tradition of supporting science. However, his off handed remark about “a person changing his gender with surgery” affirmed my assumption that when it comes to the science of the brain and gender the Church sees this as a personal choice of an individual discounting any of the biological and brain factors involved in one’s gender identity. In the meantime, of course, they’re going to deny ththat surgery as they would deny an abortion where the science backs the Church’s teaching.

    Reply
  2. Kris
    Kris says:

    Would it be possible to have a trans person write a blog for New Ways Ministry? I really don’t know enough about the subject from a personal angle.

    It seems to me that by depersonalizing it (confining it to science, or scientific speculation) we are losing out on a fundamental part of the education we need. Might this be why there is so much stereotyping, so much misunderstanding, and so much hasty and ill-informed dogmatism on the matter?

    Reply
  3. Miriam
    Miriam says:

    If the Catholic Christian hospital or the insurance policy states beliefs that such surgery is against their conscience, they should have the right to refuse. That is my belief, even as an mtf tg Catholic Christian promoting the US Constitution.

    Reply

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