Transgender Man Denied Care by Catholic Hospital Minutes Before Surgery

Oliver Knight

Oliver Knight was ready for his hysterectomy. He had battled his gender dysphoria for years, and after a double mastectomy and hormone therapy, he had decided in consultation with his doctor that a hysterectomy was the logical next step. On August 30, 2017, he was hooked up to an IV and ready to go into surgery at St. Joseph Hospital in Eureka, California, when his surgeon entered the room with a look that gave Knight “a terrible feeling.”

“He told me my surgery was canceled. It was denied by the Catholic Church for ethical reasons,” said Knight, in a statement released by the American Civil Liberties Union. “I didn’t understand how this could be happening. The Catholic bishops didn’t approve of my surgery. It seemed unreal.”

Fifteen minutes later, Knight was on the curb waiting for a ride home, still wearing the hospital booties.

Knight, in coordination with the ACLU, is now suing the hospital for discrimination on the basis of gender identity, outlawed by California law. According to the lawsuit, Knight directly asked the surgeon if his operation was denied because he is transgender. The surgeon confirmed that was the case.

Knight says that hospital staff repeatedly misgendered him by using female pronouns as he prepared for his surgery, despite his medical records listing him as a man. “I asked the nurse if I could have a blue gown, but she told me I was having a ‘female surgery’ and should wear the pink,” said Knight in his statement. “I felt like a child all over again, sitting uncomfortably in a pink dress. But I forced myself to do it, I had been waiting so long for this.”

The hospital released a statement to the San Francisco Chronicle saying that they have not yet reviewed the lawsuit, but they take the allegations seriously.

The Catholic Church has not issued a precise doctrine on gender confirmation surgery, with the result being that hysterectomies for transgender men are typically objected to under the umbrella of the Church’s opposition to sterilization.

However, Catholic health institutions have denied transgender patients care in a number of recent high profile cases, several of which did not involve sterilization. Alexa Rodriguez, a transgender woman, filed a formal complaint after being denied a breast implant surgery at Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, DC. Pax Enstad, a transgender teenager in Washington state, sued after his mother’s Catholic health insurance would not cover his chest reconstruction surgery.

In cases similar to Knight’s, Evan Minton and Jionni Conforti, both transgender men, have sued for gender discrimination after being denied hysterectomies at other Catholic hospitals.

Knight was able to eventually schedule his procedure at another hospital nearby, but the lawsuit states that the facility was farther from his home and that Knight contracted an infection during the procedure.

“I didn’t expect discrimination from a hospital,” Knight said in his statement. “The sting from the rejection remains, but I hope my story lets others know that this is unacceptable… No one should be denied health care because of who they are.”

New Ways Ministry Executive Director Francis DeBernardo commented on the case: “The Catholic hospital’s mistreatment of Mr. Knight goes beyond any controversies of gender ethics. The details reveal a lack of basic self-respect and Christian compassion.”

Jonathan Nisly, New Ways Ministry, March 29, 2019

1 reply
  1. Allen Boedeker
    Allen Boedeker says:

    Catholic hospitals traditionally do not do sterilization surgery unless a reproductive organ is diseased or malfunctioning in some way. From the short description in this article it sounds as though there was nothing that was malfunctioning or physically life-threatening. The Catholic Church has not changed its teaching in these matters. Why is it being expected?


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