A transgender man has filed suit against the University of Maryland Medical System after their affiliate, St. Joseph’s Medical Center (UM SJMC), a Catholic hospital, refused to provide him a hysterectomy.
The patient, Jesse Hammons, told the The Washington Post:
“I felt like this hospital didn’t see any worth in my life and the care that I needed. The University of Maryland St. Joseph’s should be caring for all of Maryland’s residents. We shouldn’t be denied based on who we are.”
The hospital’s media relation’s director, Michael Schwartzberg, said the institution’s non-discrimination policy included sexual orientation but not gender identity. This is not the first Catholic hospital to deny appropriate care to transgender patients. The most recent public case was that of Evan Minton last fall, who was also denied a hysterectomy.
Joshua Block, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney representing Hammons, said that this case fits a pattern of discrimination in Catholic hospitals, which has been more noticeable in recent months following the removal of federal healthcare protections for transgender persons. Block also noted concerns about the separation of church and state as “a growing number of Catholic hospitals merge with secular, taxpayer-supported hospitals.”
The lawsuit recounts that Hammons was denied treatment immediately preceding the scheduled surgery, which was diagnosed as necessary for treatment of his gender dysphoria. The Washington Post reported:
“According to the lawsuit, Gail Cunningham, the hospital’s senior vice president for medical affairs and chief medical officer, ordered the surgery canceled, telling the surgeon that Hammons’ gender dysphoria did not qualify as a sufficient medical reason to authorize the procedure. Cunningham also told the surgeon that removing an otherwise healthy organ would violate Catholic directives to preserve the ‘functional integrity’ of the body.”
A focal point of the lawsuit is that Hammons was denied this service specifically because he is transgender. While the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops prohibits treatment that results in ‘direct sterilization,’ the procedure is preformed regularly for cisgender patients. The text of the lawsuit, as reposted in the Daily Mail, states:
“Defendants cancelled the surgery based on a discriminatory and unconstitutional application of Catholic religious doctrine. When they cancelled Mr. Hammons’ medically necessary surgery, Defendants thus treated Mr. Hammons – a man who is transgender – differently from non-transgender patients who require medically necessary hysterectomies for other medical conditions.”
In a report by NBC News, Block explained that one of the specific issues in this case is that the Catholic regulations of St. Joseph’s are now representative of the larger public system. This, he said, “raises all the same fact patterns about sex discrimination against transgender patients in the context of transition-related surgeries at hospitals, but it also has this added feature where it’s not just a private religious hospital but part of the University of Maryland hospital system.”
Hammons did eventually receive the surgery at a separate facility on June 24th, seven months after the original date. He said that he felt the effects almost immediately and his mental health improved ‘drastically’ after the hormone imbalance was resolved. He added, “I can really just see how wrong it was to be denied in the first place.”
Hammons’ wife, the Rev. Lura Groen, addressed the religious liberty defense which may be used in this case by the hospital:
“Discrimination is not a part of religious liberty. As Jesse’s spouse, I see the pain discrimination– and the fear of discrimination– causes on a daily basis. As a faith leader and taxpayer, I am appalled that this act was done at a government institution and in the name of religion.”
The hospital’s public statement said, “UM SJMC was built on a mission of loving service and compassionate care.” While this should be the basis of any Catholic service, Hammons was not treated with compassion in this instance. As transgender rights are consistently under attack, especially in areas of healthcare, it is vital that Catholic hospitals end discriminatory policies and commit to fully serving each patient regardless of gender identity. This would be a fulfillment of the mission UMMS already professes: “loving service and compassionate care.”
—Catherine Buck, New Ways Ministry, August 6, 2020