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Groups oppose
efforts to allow health care providers to discriminate
against gays

Groups oppose
efforts to allow health care providers to discriminate
against gays

Several key medical and community organizations are speaking out against friend-of-the-court papers filed in a court case in San Diego that say health care providers should be able to discriminate against patients on religious grounds, including discriminating against gays and lesbians. The case involves a San Diego lesbian who was denied in vitro fertilization services because the providers cited religious beliefs against gay men and women becoming parents. The California Medical Association and the Christian Medical and Dental Associations filed friend-of-the-court papers saying that health care providers should be allowed to discriminate.

But a board array of medical, gay rights, and community-based organizations this week filed an amicus brief with the court opposing any decision that would allow health care providers to legally discriminate against their patients.

"Medical ethics are clear that when a doctor is willing to perform a service for some patients, it's ethically inappropriate to refuse that service to others in a discriminatory manner," said Joel Ginsburg, executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association, one of the groups that signed the brief. "We think it's important for the community to recognize that the positions of the CMA and the CMDA in this case do not reflect generally accepted principles of ethics in the practice of medicine."

In addition to GLMA, the signers of the brief include the Anti-defamation League, the American Academy of HIV Medicine, the International Association of Physicians in AIDS Care, the American Medical Student Association, the Asian Pacific American Legal Center of Southern California, Bienestar Human Services, the California Pan-ethnic Health Network, the California Women's Law Center, the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, the Mautner Project, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, and the National Health Law Program.

"The expertise and stature of these diverse organizations underscores how many patients are placed at risk by CMA and CMDA's approach to these issues," said Jennifer Pizer, senior counsel in Lambda Legal's Western regional office, who is representing the woman denied fertilization services. "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."

In the lawsuit, Guadalupe Benitez charged that her doctors refused to inseminate her after she had received 11 months of preparatory treatment from the clinic. The doctors claimed that because of their personal religious beliefs about gay people, they would not administer the treatment and asserted that their fundamentalist Christian beliefs exempt them from California's civil rights laws.

Benitez's lawsuit was thrown out of state court initially, but she won an appeal two years ago that said patients can sue health care providers who discriminate against them based on their sexual orientation, and federal law does not exempt health care providers from state civil rights laws. Last fall Benitez won a legal ruling in the trial court saying that doctors in a for-profit medical group must comply with California's antidiscrimination laws and treat all patients equally, whatever the doctors' personal religious beliefs may be. The doctors asked the court of appeal in San Diego to review that ruling before trial, and the court ordered both sides to submit briefs. The parties' briefs can be found at

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