Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Should a physician be able to refuse a medical procedure based on her religious beliefs?

An unmarried lesbian patient wants to be artificially inseminated and the doctor refuses to perform the procedure based on her religious beliefs.

It's the battle between free exercise of religion and unlawful discrimination.

Currently being appealed and possibly worthy of Supreme Court hearing, the case of North Coast Women's Care Medical Group v. Benitez raises an important constitutional question of first impression.

A pretrial ruling was made that doctors could not claim religious liberty in defense of unlawful discrimination.

In appealing, defense counsel argues that the trial court did not respect physicians' rights to the free exercise of religion under both federal and state constitutions.

Defendants claim that doctors who refuse to treat a patient based on their religious beliefs can satisfy their nondiscrimination obligations by referring the patient to another physician and paying any additional costs to the patient. In Benitez' case, defendant North Coast did offer to pay for her procedure when the second clinic she went to did not cover her treatment. Benitez refused to accept North Coast's payment.

Plaintiff's counsel argues that physicians cannot refuse to perform a medical procedure (in this case artificial insemination) on a protected group of people (homosexuals) due to their religious convictions. They claim that endorsing such religious beliefs would allow those beliefs to be superior to the law of the land.

Furthermore, since lesbians are already alienated from the medical system due to hesitancy in revealing their sexual orientation to their doctors, allowing a physician to refuse a procedure would further shut down communication with doctors. Plaintiffs also claim that a ruling in favor of the defendent would hinder the compelling interest that California has in maintaining the health and well being of all its residents.

"If the pink slip doesn't fit,
get redressed!"
Click to see my wardrobe of remedies.

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