Chapter 2.A.2  Wrongful Reasons to Reject Patients

When a patient is protected from discrimination by a civil rights statute, may a physician nevertheless refuse to treat on grounds of religious belief?  The California Supreme Court has granted certiorari to answer that question for a patient denied fertility services, allegedly on the basis of her sexual orientation.  North Coast Women’s Care Medical Group, Inc. v Superior Court, 2006 Cal. LEXIS 8074 (2006).

University Hospital

The case excerpt mentions some of the procedural history of the University Hospital case. The New York Appellate Division's decision was affirmed by the New York Court of Appeals, but on the ground that the trial court had abused its discretion in permitting the case to go forward. The Court of Appeals observed that (a) Mr. Washburn (the petitioner) had no direct interest in the case, (b) Mr. Washburn had not contacted the State Department of Social Services, which had primary responsibility under state law for initiating child abuse proceedings, and (c) the trial court had failed to seek the Department of Social Service's assistance.

Meanwhile, as the state court proceedings were unfolding, HHS received a complaint that Baby Jane Doe was being denied medical treatment because of her handicap. In response to the complaint, HHS obtained the record of the state court proceedings and, after personal review by the Surgeon General, requested the infant's medical records from the hospital. When the hospital refused to provide the records, HHS brought its case in federal court, alleging that the hospital was violating Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. The federal district court granted summary judgment for the hospital on two grounds: first, the hospital refused to operate on Baby Jane Doe, not because of her handicap, but because her parents did not consent to the procedures; and second, the parents' refusal of treatment was reasonable given the medical options. The federal government then appealed to the Second Circuit. 729 F.2d at 147-149.

p. 138, note 1

For a more recent update of Baby Jane Doe's life, see Jamie Talan, A Fighter’s Spirit; 20-year-old Keri-Lynn – Baby Jane Doe – Beat Steep Odds, Newsday, October 13, 2003, at A3.

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