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Baltimore man sues UMMS, St. Joseph Medical Center for transgender discrimination over refusal to perform surgery

A Baltimore man has filed a federal lawsuit against the University of Maryland Medical System and its St. Joseph Medical Center in Towson, claiming he was discriminated against for being transgender when the hospital refused to perform his hysterectomy.

Jesse Hammons filed the suit Thursday in U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland stating the medical institutions violated his First and Fourth Amendment rights and the Affordable Care Act when they canceled the hysterectomy, a treatment for gender dysphoria, a week before it was scheduled in January, according to the suit.

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Some people with gender dysphoria may experience significant distress or problems functioning when their gender identity differs from the sex they were assigned at birth, according to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

In a statement, UMMS officials declined to comment on specifics of the case, citing patient privacy, but said St. Joseph does not discriminate nor treat any patient differently on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, disability or sexual orientation.

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“The health and safety of our patients is, and always will be, our highest priority,” officials said in the statement.

The statement and the lawsuit both note that St. Joseph follows the “Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services,” a set of policies created by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on certain health care issues and practices. UMMS agreed the hospital would continue to follow the directives as a condition of its $200 million purchase in 2012.

Physicians and advanced practitioners seeking privileges at St. Joseph agree to abide by the directives, UMMS officials said in the statement.

Any patient seeking care that is not available at St. Joseph because of the directives can receive care at other University of Maryland Medical System hospitals, UMMS officials said. The statement also pointed to the transgender health program at the University of Maryland Children’s Hospital, which helps children, adolescents and their families explore medical treatment options surrounding gender identity.

The lawsuit claims St. Joseph administrators told Hammons he could not receive his medical treatment at the hospital because it would violate Catholic doctrine, according to the suit.

Catholic health care organizations are not permitted to participate in or cooperate with “actions that are intrinsically immoral, such as abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, and direct sterilization,” according to the lawsuit.

Hammons’ treating physicians recommended that he receive a hysterectomy as a medically necessary treatment for gender dysphoria, the lawsuit says. However, an administrator allegedly later told Hammons’ surgeon that performing the hysterectomy would violate the directives and that the man’s gender dysphoria did not qualify as a sufficient medical reason to authorize the procedure, the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit argues that St. Joseph routinely performs hysterectomies when they are medically necessary to treat a diagnosed condition other than gender dysphoria. When administrators canceled Hammons’ medically necessary surgery, they treated Hammons differently than non-transgender patients who require hysterectomies for other medical conditions, according to the lawsuit.

As a result of the rescheduling, Hammons’ hysterectomy was delayed about six months and caused him to spend more money on an additional round of pre-operative tests and to carry the “stress and anxiety of having to mentally prepare himself for the surgery all over again,” the lawsuit states.

Hammons is represented by law firms Rosenberg Martin Greenberg and Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler, along with attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union.

There are an estimated 1.4 million transgender people in the United States, including 22,300 in Maryland, according to The Williams Institute, a think tank at the UCLA School of Law that studies transgender policies and issues.

The number of transgender people getting gender reassignment surgery has increased as more insurers cover the procedures, according to research by Johns Hopkins Medicine.

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