When can a US state spend hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to buy a hospital, then allow a church to exclude transgender people from medically necessary care? Apparently, right now. In the State of Maryland, taxpayer dollars are funding a hospital where US Conference of Catholic Bishops policies override medical decisions by physicians and surgeons.
All hospitals, in practice, receive major portions of their funding from taxpayers. No Catholic hospital should therefore be allowed to operate unless they treat all patients equally without respect to faith. But this case is especially egregious because the people of Maryland own the hospital. If hospital management refuses to stop discriminating against LGBTQ people, then the State of Maryland must replace hospital management.
Transgender man Jesse Hammons filed a federal lawsuit last Thursday against the University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS) and St. Joseph Hospital in Towson, after hospital administrators canceled the hysterectomy his medical team had approved as treatment for gender dysphoria.
Hammons’ lawsuit claims St. Joseph administrators told him they were canceling his approved medical treatment because it would “violate Catholic doctrine.” They told him gender dysphoria did not qualify as a sufficient medical reason to authorize the procedure, despite the fact that such procedures are considered the “standard of care” and despite the fact that his St. Joseph medical team recommended it.
Hammons argues in the lawsuit that St. Joseph routinely performs hysterectomies when they are medically necessary for conditions other than gender dysphoria. He claims administrators are discriminating against him solely because of his transgender status.
As a result of the rescheduling, Hammons had to wait six months for his surgery and spend significant amounts of money on pre-operative tests he had already paid for once.
UMMS officials have refused to comment on specifics, but claim in a statement that St. Joseph “does not discriminate nor treat any patient differently on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, disability or sexual orientation.”
Critically, the statement omits “gender identity.”
Their statement and Hammons’ lawsuit agree that St. Joseph adheres to the “Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services,” policies promulgated by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The kicker? Maryland taxpayers own St. Joseph outright
UMMS purchased St. Joseph hospital for $200 million in 2012. But even though UMMS is wholly state owned, UMMS agreed at the time of purchase to abide by Roman Catholic policies and agreed to allow the hospital to require physicians and other “advanced care professionals” to follow Catholic policy as a condition of their employment.
The ACLU is representing Hammons in court
Hammons claims that taxpayer-funded religious discrimination against him is intolerable and must end:
I was shocked when I learned that the hospital cancelled my surgery just because I am transgender. The hospital will perform hysterectomies for everyone else, but they did not think that my life, as a man who is transgender, is equally worthy of protection. While no one should be turned away from health care because of who they are, the fact that this institution is part of the University of Maryland Medical System makes it particularly painful.
The government has no business running a religious hospital. The Supreme Court has been clear that a government-controlled corporation like UMMS must comply with the Constitution. A governmental entity cannot deny medical care based on religious beliefs, and it cannot discriminate against transgender people by denying them health care that is available to everyone else.
Anti-LGBTQ discrimination must not be a part of religious liberty
Hammons’ wife is the Rev. Lura Groen, pastor of the Abiding Savior Lutheran Church in Columbia, Maryland. She says in a statement that she’s appalled her husband has to face discrimination because of his transgender status.
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.
Sadly, Groen is not entirely correct when she says discrimination is not part of religious liberty. As the ACLU notes, it should not be, but it often is. This isn’t the first case where a hospital that accepts massive government funding refused to treat a transgender patient.
It’s not even the most egregious.
Just last year, a California transgender man had already completed his pre-operational procedures, gotten into a hospital gown, and started his IV drip when his hysterectomy surgeon told him administrators had canceled his procedure — saying local Catholic bishops with no medical training had interfered, calling the medically necessary procedure “intrinsically evil.”
The Catholic Church controls a major sector of American health care
Catholic-run hospitals are omnipresent in the United States. The Catholic Health Association of the United States, which calls itself “a ministry of the Roman Catholic Church,” controls more than 600 hospitals and 1,400 other health facilities. It’s the largest group of non-profit health care providers in the nation. Every year, one in six hospitalized patients receives treatment in a CHA facility.
Nobody’s religious liberty is being infringed
While both St. Joseph Hospital and the Catholic Health Association claim they have religious liberty interests at stake in this case, neither is a person with religious liberty interests that can be infringed. In actual practice, it works the other way around: St. Joseph hospital forces physicians and surgeons to abide by religious doctrine they don’t subscribe to. The doctors are for the most part not Catholic, and when they are Catholic, they exercise their own consciences when making medical decisions.
None of Hammons’ medical professionals objected to the hysterectomy. To the contrary, they approved it and scheduled it. Administrators with no possible religious liberty interest cancelled it.
Religious administrators, also acting as taxpayer-funded agents of the State of Maryland, effectively forced medical professionals to deny a man care because of their private religious beliefs. In a very real sense, they forced medical professionals to practice religion.
Discrimination would be intolerable even if Maryland didn’t own St. Joseph
All Catholic hospitals receive massive amounts of taxpayer funding. Catholic churches do not financially support Catholic hospitals; American taxpayers do. According to Rewire, Catholic hospitals systems have long been merging with and purchasing nonsectarian hospitals and chains around the US, making them leading players in the health-care industry. Catholic hospitals receive billions of taxpayer dollars each year and have a combined gross patient revenue of $213.7 billion.
It is a myth that Catholic health care is provided by and for Catholic people. Health-care employees in Catholic hospitals share the same religious and demographic characteristics as employees at non-Catholic facilities. Patients in Catholic hospitals are as religiously diverse as patients at any other hospital.
Not even Catholic people in the US want Catholic hospitals to force religious practice on them. Only 14 percent of U.S. Catholics agree that abortion should be illegal in all cases, and 98 percent of Catholics use contraception.
Catholic hospitals often represent a community’s sole choice
Thirty Catholic hospitals are sole-provider hospitals, meaning they are located more than 35 miles from a similar hospital or provider. And to make matters worse, Catholic hospitals in this category receive more money from the federal government because of their sole-provider status.
Catholic anti-LGBTQ discrimination in health care must end
Jesse Hammons’ case is especially shocking because the hospital that denied him treatment is owned by the taxpayers of the State of Maryland. Almost everyone in the US agrees that taxpayers must never, under any circumstances, pay churches to discriminate against minorities. If St. Joseph administrators refuse to stop denying care to transgender patients, then St. Joseph must be placed under management that does not operate based on religious faith.
On the broader stage, all hospital care in the United States is massively taxpayer funded. Every Catholic hospital in the US (like every other US hospital) depends on state and federal money in order to keep their doors open.
If Catholic hospitals will not stop discriminating against LGBTQ people, then those hospitals must be pressured or forced to by state and/or federal agencies, representatives of the taxpayers who, after all, foot the bill.
No American deserves to have their health care held hostage by Catholic bishops or by any other religious leaders. Religious faith must play no role in denying care to marginalized people or to any human in need.
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