The archbishops of Chicago and New York have penned a letter to the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that explains the importance of allowing doctors and medical staff to follow their consciences and religious beliefs in regards to gender transitioning procedures. The missive comes in response to recently proposed changes to the nondiscrimination provision of the Affordable Care Act, which now consider such objections to be discrimination on the basis of sex.
The letter from Cardinal Blase Cupich and Cardinal Timothy Dolan, published at America Magazine, began by expressing their agreement that no patient should be discriminated upon in the healthcare industry based on their sex. They said that they “wholeheartedly support” all efforts to ensure everyone receives the best healthcare available, without exception. This is the policy of all Catholic hospitals, which are estimated to serve one in seven of all Americans in need of healthcare.
“Catholic hospitals do not discriminate against anyone and to do so would be offensive to the embracing and expansive healing ministry of Jesus Christ.” The letter continued, ”However, if health care facilities are to be places where the twin pillars of faith and science stand together, then these facilities and their workers must not be coerced by the government to violate their consciences.”
While the archbishops agreed with the spirit of the provision, they took umbrage at how it treats those working in the medical industry. The new HHS rules would consider any objection to performing gender transitioning procedures to be sexual discrimination. This does not leave any room for medical professionals to object, whether based on the doctor’s religious beliefs or the conviction that the surgery would be detrimental to the patient.
“This is government coercion that intrudes on the religious freedom of faith-based health care facilities. Such a mandate threatens the conscience rights of all health care providers and workers who have discerned that participating in, or facilitating, gender transition procedures is contrary to their own beliefs,” the archbishops wrote.
The archbishops went on to cite the constitutional protections to the freedom of religious practice. They reiterated that the constitutional rights of healthcare workers to follow their conscience and religious beliefs need to be protected as well.
“In a society that protects the free exercise of religion, religious health care providers cannot be expected to violate the teachings of their religion as a condition of continuing their care, and religious health care workers cannot be expected to violate their consciences as a condition of employment.”
It is not the patient they object to, but the procedure
Before closing the letter, the archbishops argued that to object to gender transitioning procedures is not a discriminatory action. They wrote that religious healthcare facilities have always welcomed and treated those who identify as transgender in the same fashion as everyone else. It is not the patient they object to, but the procedure:
“The focus of such an objection is completely on the procedure, not the patient. Prohibiting the removal of a healthy, functioning organ is not discrimination, provided that the same determination would be made for anyone of any sex or gender, which is true at Catholic hospitals.”
Before closing, the prelates explained that it is not possible to separate religion from healthcare at a Catholic hospital, because the practice follows an important aspect of Christ’s ministry: healing the sick. In this, a Catholic healthcare provider’s work at a Catholic healthcare facility could be construed as faith practice.
“The promise of the Catholic hospital reflects the promise of the Catholic faith. It is a place for healing. It is an institution that has grown out of Christian fidelity to Jesus Christ, who healed the sick and cared for the poor. We are motivated by our faith in the God who makes all things new.”