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Catholic hospital sued for refusing to carry out sex-change procedure

St Joseph's Regional Medical Center in Paterson, New Jersey, said it was following guidelines from the US bishops' conference (Photo: PA)

A transgender man has sued a Catholic hospital, saying it cited religion in refusing to allow his surgeon to perform a hysterectomy as part of his sex change.

Jionni Conforti had scheduled the surgery at St Joseph’s Regional Medical Center in Paterson in 2015. He says a hospital administrator told him the procedure to remove his uterus couldn’t be done because it was a Catholic hospital.

“I felt completely disrespected,” said Conforti. “That’s not how any hospital should treat any person regardless of who they are.”

The hospital said on Thursday that it followed ethical and religious directives from the US Conference of Bishops in making decisions about care and treatment. The directives say procedures judged “morally wrong” by the Church do not have to be performed.

The lawsuit comes after a federal judge in Texas ordered a halt to new US Health and Human Services regulations that forbid discrimination against transgender people by doctors, hospitals and insurers.

Five states, a Christian medical association and an Indiana-based network of religious hospitals have launched a legal challenge against the regulations, which had been due to go into effect on January 1.

Judge Reed O’Connor ruled on Saturday that religious hospitals would be forced to violate their beliefs or risk severe consequences if they did not change their policies.

Another challenge to the regulations – which Catholic hospitals say would force them to perform gender transitioning procedures and abortions – was filed in federal court last week in North Dakota by a group of Catholic businesses and organisations, including the Catholic Benefits Association and the Diocese of Fargo.

Opponents say the regulations create a moral problem for Catholic employers and religious groups. They say Pope Francis has reiterated Catholic teachings oppose theories that a person’s sex is alterable.

“While initiating a lawsuit is not something we take lightly, this new mandate represents a grave threat to religious freedom,” said Bishop John Folda of Fargo.

Conforti, who is represented by the non-profit Lambda Legal, said a nurse in charge of surgery confirmed the procedure could be scheduled but his doctor was told later it wouldn’t be allowed because it was for gender reassignment.

An email cited in the lawsuit from the hospital’s director of mission services, Fr Martin Rooney, said it couldn’t allow the surgery because it was a Catholic hospital.

But the hospital’s patient bill of rights guarantees medical services without discrimination based on “gender identity or expression”, the lawsuit said.

Conforti, of Totowa, said he felt betrayed and became depressed after the hospital’s decision. Although he had the procedure performed three months later at a different hospital, he said he’s suing so no one else has to go through what he did.

Conforti, 33, is seeking monetary damages and a requirement the hospital perform any needed medical care for transgender patients. He cites the problem of suicide in the transgender community.

“Anything can trigger that. Something may seem small, but to a trans person it’s not,” he said. “I don’t want other trans people to have to go through and feel what I felt.”