An appeals court has ruled that a transgender patient denied care by a Catholic hospital can proceed with a discrimination lawsuit just as a similar lawsuit is set to be heard in court this month.
The 1st District Court of Appeal in San Francisco ruled that Evan Minton may sue the Dignity Health-owned Mercy San Juan Medical Center that cancelled his scheduled hysterectomy at the last minute because of his gender identity. Minton was able to have the surgery performed at another Dignity Health hospital that was not Catholic.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported on the latest legal development in this case:
“[Minton’s] lawsuit — filed in San Francisco, where the hospital chain is based — was dismissed by Superior Court Judge Harold Kahn, who said Minton had not been denied ‘full and equal access’ to health care by having to wait three days for his operation. But the appeals court said that wasn’t the full story.
“Any violation of the patient’s rights occurred when he was first rejected, because of his status, and would have been mitigated but not eliminated by later events, the court said.
” ‘It cannot constitute full equality (under California law) to cancel his procedure for a discriminatory purpose, wait to see if his doctor complains, and only then attempt to reschedule the procedure at a different hospital,’ Justice Stuart Pollak said in the 3-0 ruling, which returned the case to Kahn’s court for further proceedings. ‘ “Full and equal” access requires avoiding discrimination, not merely remedying it after it has occurred.’ “
Minton and his legal team, which includes representation by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), will now proceed with the lawsuit. ACLU attorney Elizabeth Gill said hospitals should not be able to “pick and choose” how they care for different patients.
Dignity Health, which operates Mercy San Juan Medical Center and twenty-five other Catholic hospitals, pushed back in a statement. It said that while Catholic hospitals care for patients of all sexual orientations and gender identities, they do not perform “sterilizing procedures such as hysterectomies” for any patients if they are not treating life-threatening conditions.
Dignity Health has suffered because of policies on LGBTQ, reproductive, and end of life care in its Catholic hospitals. The University of California San Francisco announced it would not expand a relationship with the healthcare system after significant pushback from doctors, staff, and LGBTQ advocates, including Evan Minton.
In related news, a lawsuit by another transgender patient denied care at a Catholic hospital in California, Oliver Knight, will be heard next week. Knight’s hysterectomy was also cancelled at the last minute because of his gender identity, which his lawyers claim is discrimination because St. Joseph Hospital regularly performs hysterectomies on cisgender patients. Those lawyers, according to the Times-Standard, argued against the hospital’s motion to dismiss:
“Defendant’s justifications for its refusal to treat Mr. Knight — all of which amount to variations on a religions freedom argument — are without factual or legal support . . . To the contrary, years of controlling California Supreme Court authority have made clear that Defendant’s status as a Catholic-affiliated institution does not provide it with license to discriminate in the public services that it chooses to provide.”
The discrimination endured by Evan Minton and Oliver Knight at the hands of Catholic healthcare providers is unjust. Hopefully their lawsuits will be successful and establish clear legal precedent that a hospital having a religious identity does not give it blanket permission to deny medically-necessary care to LGBTQ patients.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, September 21, 2019