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Catholic Hospital Refuses Transgender Man's Surgery, Gets Sued

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on January 09, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A transgender New Jersey man has filed a sex and gender discrimination lawsuit against St. Joseph's Regional Medical Center after it refused to perform his hysterectomy because it is a Catholic hospital. Jionni Conforti alleges that a hospital nurse originally scheduled the surgery, but was overturned by the hospital's director of mission services, Father Martin Rooney.

Conforti's lawsuit is the latest flashpoint in the battle between equal rights for transgender people and medical practitioners who claim they are unable to perform certain procedures based on religious doctrine.

Standard of Care

Conforti began his gender transition in 2004, and in 2015 scheduled the hysterectomy to remove the uterus with which he was born. According to his lawsuit, however, a hospital administrator then informed him the procedure could not be performed at the Catholic hospital. Conforti was able to have the procedure done at a different hospital three months later, but not before he felt "shocked and saddened" by the hospital's treatment.

"I felt completely disrespected as a person," Conforti said in a statement. "That's not how any hospital should treat any person regardless of who they are. A hospital is a place where you should feel safe and taken care of. Instead I felt like I was rejected and humiliated." His lawsuit is asking for monetary damages and an injunction against the hospital refusing medical care to transgender patients.

Patient Rights v. Religious Directives

St. Joseph's allegedly has a "patient bill of rights" that guarantees medical services without discrimination based on "gender identity or expression," but it is not the first to deny certain procedures based on religious grounds. A recent report from the American Civil Liberties Union revealed that Catholic-run hospitals regularly deny female patients certain reproductive health care options based on religious directives.

Although some religious hospitals have changed their stance in the face of discrimination lawsuits, there is no federal law that requires all medical facilities to perform all medical procedures. Hospitals that accept Medicare are only required to provide stabilizing care in medical emergencies. And it seems that Catholic hospitals' adherence to religious directives when deciding on which services to provide which patients could provide a fertile legal battleground for years to come.

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