The Travail of Religious Medical Institutions

on August 12, 2020

Charitable activity is part of religious duty which has had enormous benefit to society. Yet today it is threatened by antidiscrimination law and policy. Behaviors that Christians commonly recognize as sinful are made antidiscrimination categories by understanding them as part of personhood. The charitable religious practitioner, whether an individual or organization, is then in the position of discriminating against persons when objecting on conscience grounds against facilitating sinful behavior.

This is the terrible reality for Catholic hospitals today. In the last month, defenders of liberty of conscience were riveted by a lawsuit against Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center. A woman sought removal of her healthy uterus in pursuit of her claimed identity as a man. The move was not unprecedented. Last year an appeals court in California ruled against another Catholic institution, Dignity Health, which declined to perform a hysterectomy on a woman claiming identity as a man. The plaintiff in that case later testified before the House Oversight and Reform Committee in February of this year in its hearings critical of the Trump Administration’s efforts to defend religious freedom.

In Roman Catholic Christianity, in particular, charitable activity ranks high in importance. But it must be offered in accordance with Catholic teaching. Religious social service is really an exercise of religion, and in times less polarized than our own, would be understood by most people as protected by the First Amendment. But it must be conducted by religious standards, otherwise it is not true to its mission, and not distinctively religious.

The conflation of personhood with wishes and personal behavior and then claiming discrimination if a religious party declines complicity in others’ sexual choices is always on full display by the mainstream media. And so it is with the current controversy over religious hospitals.  

Equally likely, if not certain, are stories of personal trauma and hardship if the religious party declines to be complicit in sinful behavior. The Washington Post’s article detailing the St. Joseph Medical Center case is no exception.

We are told that the patient to be served by the hospital, Jesse Hammons (a woman married to a woman, but identifying as a man) needed a hysterectomy to “feel more comfortable in his body.”  The idea that feeling comfortable requires removal of a healthy organ would have been met with derision in any previous generation. But the Post takes it as reasonable and compelling.

The article quotes Hammons as saying “I felt like this hospital didn’t see any worth in my life and the care that I needed.” This is a clear example of the “affective revolution,” and in particular the “affective rights thesis” discussed in an article by this writer earlier this year. Essentially, what one feels establishes truth and thus justice.

But proceeding on the assumption that feeling establishes reality, the Post observes a “pattern of denying care to transgender patients.” But of course this is not some new, disturbing trend. The “pattern” has been caused by an inherently irrational concept, that a person of one sex belongs to the opposite sex if they say so. Catholic teaching against sterilization is not new; the hospital is simply acting in accordance with it. And without fidelity to religious teaching, a religious organization has no reason to exist.

There is no reason to think that a Catholic or other religious medical institution maintaining a standard of traditional sexual morality would deny care to a “transgender” identifying person (or a homosexual identifying person) in anything that does not violate its religious precepts. This was well argued by Wesley Smith in a National Review article in July. Smith rightly pointed out that the hospital would not refuse to perform a hysterectomy on a cancerous uterus. But it would refuse to perform a hysterectomy for the purpose of sterilization, or a vasectomy to sterilize a man.

Smith’s article was somewhat optimistic, this writer believes, in thinking that the threat that religious institutions will close is an effective defense against the secularist jihad. Faced with a final decision against them from the courts – and ultimately, as this conflict plays out, from the Supreme Court – some may close. Others, however, may acquiesce. But it is doubtful that the ACLU or the LGBT leadership will be dissuaded in any case by the loss of access to medical care. Their passion is such that inferior access to care is to be preferred to “discrimination,” and of course, the Left would see an entirely secular medical system as desirable. It is the state’s responsibility to address problems in all of life.

With these demands for irreversible changes to the body, another crucial issue appears. That is the priority given to a person’s desires at any given time. This might be called the “sovereignty of the present.” What one wants now absolves one of past responsibilities, and rules over future prospects. Too bad if one regrets one’s decision in the future.

But the sovereignty of the present does make some sense if we are nothing but a bundle of sensations and desires. Yet no legal system can finally treat what a person wants at the present moment as justice. It must treat people as rational and moral beings, responsible for our actions. And in that case, we cannot define ourselves by what we want, as I argued in an article last year.

As noted in the Post’s article, the lawsuit against St. Joseph Medical Center cites the recent Bostock vs. Clayton County, Ga. decision. In that decision the Supreme Court read sexual orientation and gender identity into the Civil Rights Act of 1964. That decision, however, concerned only Title VII of the act, which deals with employment discrimination, not the provision of goods and services. Yet it seems reasonable that sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) categories will be applied to all antidiscrimination law in time, without sustained and vigorous argument against it.

Even then, claims of personal pain, the Left’s trump card, may prevail. These claims were highlighted in the Post’s article, and also in the testimony of the plaintiff against Dignity Health to the House Oversight and Reform Committee, cited above. As the Post says, personal pain and anguish have been determined by medical authorities (in this case by a “transgender health” association) to make anatomy altering surgery “medically necessary.”

Use of terms that come from gender ideology make a delusion seem like justice denied by religious exemption. This includes such terms as “gender identity” (as if one’s real sex could be different from that of one’s body) and “sex assigned at birth” (as if sex were “assigned” by someone or something, and not something that objectively exists). And as is common in SOGI cases, the plaintiff obtained the desired service elsewhere.

The Post’s article notes that St. Joseph’s Medical Center was acquired by the University of Maryland Medical System in 2012. It then received a “written agreement” that it could continue to provide services according to the medical guidelines of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Time will tell how much protection this gives the Catholic institution.

This leads to another consideration. Wesley Smith noted in his article the threat that Body Integrity Identity Disorder will be the next frontier in the war against religious freedom and human nature. This delusion involves the belief that one’s true self is one-armed, one-legged, or paralyzed. By the logic now used with respect to sexual anatomy, such a person should be able to demand amputation of a healthy limb (or really any other part of the body, such as the eyes).

Smith points out that Body Integrity Identity Disorder is now being normalized with the term “transabled.” Predictably, what is being emphasized in normalizing it is that it is a “really, really strong desire.” Following the same logic as transgenderism, this establishes truth and justice.

It is reasonable that in coming years there will be many aggrieved people, sterilized, unable to have the normal sexual functioning they would like, their bodies altered to have the characteristics of the opposite sex. Or people with arms or legs amputated, blind, or deaf, because that is what they thought they wanted. It is a striking illustration of the consequences of human will against divine plan. But whatever happens in the future, the duty of both Christian individuals and organizations will not change. And that is, in all of life, to obey God rather than men.

  1. Comment by Jim on August 14, 2020 at 7:52 pm


  2. Comment by Diane on August 15, 2020 at 12:56 am

    Catholic hospitals are taxpayer subsidized through Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements. My aunt was denied a tubal ligation after her Catholic OB-GYN insisted she have one. A sixth pregnancy, he said , would likely kill her (she suffered complications during her fifth pregnancy. Birth control pills were not an option. With five children, needing their mother (one being an infant), permanent contraception was the best way to prevent another pregnancy and preserve her life. The so-called “pro-lifers” at her local Catholic hospital decided it would be better she risk another pregnancy and almost certain death. Not nice, Christian people. Pretty theologically warped.

  3. Comment by George on August 16, 2020 at 2:06 pm

    Since when is payment for services rendered considered a subsidy. With so many choices for such services at secular run hospitals, why trash the Catholic hospitals for adhering to rules long established within their domain ? And one more thing. I believe your story is in fact made up or heavily embellished. Just another attempt to hate against those who serve the Lord by serving their fellow men.

  4. Comment by Diane on August 16, 2020 at 11:36 pm

    Of course you don’t believe me. Anything that runs counter to your personally-gratifying agenda is easily dismissed as embellished or untrue. Rather arrogant of you. The story is true. And Catholic hospitals wouldn’t be in business without Medicare and Medicaid paying their bills. BTW, I lived in a senior living community located near a Catholic hospital. We were regularly advised to let our loved ones know that should we become incapacitated and be transported to the Catholic hospital, to have us discharged, once stabilized, to another facility. Catholic hospitals do not have to honor end-of-life documented wishes if they conflict with Catholic doctrine. You knew that, didn’t you?

  5. Comment by George on August 17, 2020 at 10:10 am

    Diane, you don’t understand Medicare or Medicaid. It pays the medical bills of the patient. It doesn’t pay the hospital’s bills. This is true for all hospitals. It pays for services rendered. BTW The government run Medicare/Medicare generally pays less than private insurance. BTW Are you a Christian? Anti-Catholic? No one is forced to go to a Catholic run hospital. I am not Catholic but have been treated well with my experience in them. Please stop being so bitter . Try and think of the good that most all charity hospitals provide. Have a blessed day.

  6. Comment by Rick Plasterer on August 18, 2020 at 3:33 pm


    Planned Parenthood is also funded by the federal government. Your comments invariably involve tear jerking stories of how people are pained if religious believers decline actions that they understand to be sinful or evil. Of course the objectionable goods and services are generally readily available elsewhere. But whether they are or not, requiring action against conscience is morally repugnant at a basic level (not to mention that the deliberate physical impairment the article refers to is indeed irreversible and obviously wrong).


  7. Comment by Diane on August 19, 2020 at 10:31 am

    In regard to your comment, I note that you are male. Please advocate for vasectomies for men. That should take care of your issue with abortion. Oops, Catholic hospitals won’t do those either. No surprise, the institution is run by men. Please save yourselves.

    I would note, too, that Jesus invariably told tear-jerker stories of how ordinary people were pained by those with sincerely held religious beliefs/conscience. Maybe you’ve heard of Jesus? Get out a bible and take a read.

  8. Comment by Rick Plasterer on August 24, 2020 at 4:28 pm


    I’m just now seeing your comment. Like most people on the liberal/left side of the cultural spectrum, you believe that Jesus is a friend of your polemic against authority in the name of self-will. Not at all. Of course his ministry was largely about healing. He was sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. He healed them and exorcised demons. But he was not an antinomian, setting aside the moral law (Matt. 15:1-20; Mk. 7:1-23). Jesus indeed set aside mere ceremonial commands, relating to external religious observance, but not moral commands relating to God and neighbor.

    And the consequences of disobeying God are eternal death, as Jesus made clear in his command to repent (Lk. 13:1-5), and in his admonition against facilitating sin (Matt. 18:7-9). Jesus healed people who were objectively impaired in body or captive to demons. He did not save by giving people the evil desires of their heart. Jesus healed, he did not maim, as is now being demanded of religious hospitals and medical providers. To receive him as Lord, as all true Christians do, is to receive him as the God of Israel, who required obedience of Abraham, the father of all who have faith, regardless of pain to Abraham or others (Gen. 22:1-3).


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