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