Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Health Groups Join to Fight Religious Bias Case

(Link) Docs denied artificial insemination to California woman just because she's a lesbian. Let the legal smackdown begin!

1 comment:

LNewsEditor said...

JIC Post:
By Christopher Curtis
PlanetOut Network

A broad group of health care and community organizations are banding together to support a California woman who was denied insemination because she is a lesbian.

In the summer of 2000, the North Coast Women's Care Medical Group and Doctors Christine Brody and Douglas Fenton refused to inseminate Guadalupe Benitez.

She had received 11 months of treatment from the San Diego clinic, but at the critical moment when she needed insemination, both Brody and Fenton refused to treat her, citing their personal religious beliefs. The move forced Benitez to go outside of her health plan to receive services.

Benitez sued the medical group based on a California law outlawing discrimination by business establishments, including health care facilities.

While her legal fight continues, attorneys on both sides are fighting a concurrent legal battle about whether doctors have the right to discriminate based on their religious beliefs.

In 2003, a California appeals court ruled against the religious doctors, but in 2005 they appealed.

After the California Medical Association (CMA) and the Christian Medical and Dental Associations (CMDA) filed briefs in the California Court of Appeal in San Diego supporting the doctors, several organizations filed amicus briefs on Tuesday supporting Benitez.

The organizations supporting Benitez include the Anti-Defamation League, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) and the National Health Law Program.

In a prepared statement, Benitez said she appreciated the support. "Doctors are supposed to heal, not judge. Being turned away because of who I am was a devastating experience. I'm so grateful that these wonderful doctors and community leaders have stood up to the California Medical Association to say that discrimination in health care is wrong."

Joel Ginsberg, executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association (GLMA) told the PlanetOut Network he was "perplexed" by the CMA's involvement in the suit.

The CMA represents more than 34,000 California physicians, and on its Web site claims: "Dedicated to the health of Californians, CMA is active in the legal, legislative, reimbursement and regulatory areas on behalf of California physicians and their patients."

Peter Warren, a CMA spokesman, told the PlanetOut Network the issue was not the patient's sexuality but her marital status. "Marital status is not a protected class (under California law)."

"And all we're saying is the doctors ought to make that argument in court," Warren said.

Ron Lopp, another CMA spokesman, added, "All it comes down to is a jury should decide the case. If they say these guys discriminated, then that's the end of it."

"If you look at our history, we are totally against discrimination," Lopp added. "In the early days of the
HIVcrisis, people were terrified and CMA stepped in and did HIV training."

But Ginsberg says the CMA's argument does not work. "The law seems quite clear that a sincere religious belief does not exempt you from otherwise applicable civil rights laws. Medical ethics are clear that it is improper to refuse care based on medically irrelevant personal characteristics of the patient."

Jennifer Pizer, senior counsel in Lambda Legal's Western Regional Office who is representing Ms. Benitez, added, "We vigorously defend everyone's right to free exercise of religion, but there is an essential limit when religion becomes a force for harming others."