Calif. Court Considers Medical Rights

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June 19, 2008


"On the heels of its ruling on same-sex marriage, California's highest court will decide another potentially landmark civil rights case: whether doctors can refuse to treat certain patients for religious reasons.

"The case reaches back nearly 10 years, to when Guadalupe "Lupita" Benítez of Oceanside was trying to conceive. Benítez, who is gay, says doctors violated her civil rights because they refused her a fertility treatment, saying it was against their religion to perform insemination on a lesbian.

"...Jennifer C. Pizer, a lawyer with the gay rights group Lambda Legal who is representing Benítez, said that while the law protects doctors who refuse certain treatments on religious grounds, it does not allow them to do so on a discriminatory or selective basis. In other words, when doctors refuse a treatment, their refusal must apply to all patients -- not to a group, such as unmarried women or lesbians.

"'All you have to do is imagine, for a moment, a doctor agreeing to an abortion for women of color but saying, 'I will not' for white women. Or a Jewish doctor saying, 'I will do an abortion for Muslim women, but not Jewish women.' Or vice versa,' Pizer said. 'Just imagining those possibilities shows how deeply problematic such a notion would be.'"