Trans Man Fights NJ Hospital for Blocking Surgery

NEWARK, N.J. (CN) – A transgender man claims in a federal complaint that a Catholic hospital in New Jersey refused to schedule the hysterectomy he needs for the gender-reassignment process.

Jionni Conforti brought his Jan. 5 complaint in Newark, taking aim at St. Joseph’s Healthcare System and the Rev. Martin Rooney. The plaintiff says he has been undergoing hormone therapy and other treatments since 2014 when the then-31-year-old was diagnosed with gender dysphoria in 2014.

After a double mastectomy in Texas that year, Conforti says he followed up on a recommendation for a hysterectomy and consulted with Dr. Brian Day in his hometown of Totowa, N.J.

Dr. Day was “happy” to perform the surgery, according to the 27-page complaint,

and proceeded to put Conforti in contact with officials at St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Paterson, which has a nationally recognized Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

But after Conforti reached out to schedule the procedure, Dr. Day allegedly informed him in June 2015 that the hospital’s administration would not permit his surgery because it was being performed for the purpose of gender reassignment.

Conforti says he received an email later that day from a priest who serves as the hospital’s director of mission services.

“This is to follow up to your e-mail inquiring about scheduling a total hysterectomy here at St. Joseph’s to remove all female parts based on the medical necessity for Gender Reassignment,” Rooney wrote, according to the complaint.  “This is to inform you that as a Catholic Hospital, we would not be able to allow your surgeon to schedule this surgery here at St. Joseph’s.”

Dr. Day has admitting privileges only at St. Joseph’s two locations, meaning he cannot perform Conforti’s hysterectomy at all.  “As a result of this denial of access to medically necessary treatment, which followed [him] having found a surgeon he felt comfortable with … [Conforti] felt betrayed by St. Joseph’s Healthcare and became deeply depressed,” the complaint says.

Prior to the hysterectomy engagement, Conforti had used St. Joseph’s services for years. He says their discriminatory actions are contrary to the hospital’s Patient Bill of Rights, which expressly entitles all patients to “treatment and medical services without discrimination based on … sex, … [and] gender identity or expression.”

“St. Joseph’s Healthcare’s refusal to allow Jionni’s hysterectomy to be performed at their facilities is particularly humiliating and degrading to [him] because he knows SJRMC provides access to the very same laparoscopic hysterectomy procedure and related treatments to other patients who do not fail to conform to sex stereotypes and are not transgender,” the complaint says.

Conforti says that the hospital’s decision violates New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination protections for sex and gender identity and is also outlawed by Section 1557 of the federal health care law, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Christopher Cook with Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan signed the complaint, which is joined by attorneys at the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund.

“No hospital should be allowed to decide who their patients are, particularly when they receive government funds,” Lambda Legal staff attorney Omar Gonzalez-Pagan said in a statement about the case.  “Denying care to someone at their time of need because of their sex or gender identity is not only dangerous and humiliating, it’s against the law.”

Gonzalez-Pagan argued that denials of treatment for religious reasons can put patients in a huge bind. “In the United States, one in six hospital beds are in Catholic hospitals,” he said. “These health care providers must comply with federal and state anti-discrimination laws so that the health of LGBT people who walk through their doors is not endangered.”

A spokesman for St. Joseph’s did not return a request for comment.

Transgender-rights battles are underway across the country. On the same day Conforti filed suit, a Texas lawmaker introduced legislation to limit transgender people from using the bathroom of their choice. The move came after a federal judge granted the state a New Year’s Eve injunction  against an Affordable Care Act rule that it says would force doctors to perform sex-change surgeries despite their religious objections.

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