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Calif. Doctors Reverse Course In Anti-Gay Suit


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Calif. Doctors Reverse Course In Anti-Gay Suit

by Ed Welch 365Gay.com Los Angeles Bureau

Posted: September 20, 2005 9:00 pm ET

(Los Angeles, California) The California Medical Association on Tuesday asked an appeals court in San Diego to withdraw its friend-of-the-court brief supporting two fertility doctors who refused on "moral grounds" to treat a lesbian patient.

Guadelupe "Lupita" Benitez alleges that after she had received 11 months of preparatory treatment from the North Coast Women's Care Medical Group clinic in San Diego, and at "the critical and brief moment when Benitez needed to be inseminated", doctors Christine Brody and Douglas Fenton refused to inseminate her.

Both Brody and Fenton said that because of their personal religious beliefs about gay people, they would not administer the treatment Benitez had been promised. In court papers the doctors also say they object to treating unmarried heterosexual women and they claim that their fundamentalist Christian beliefs exempt them from California's civil rights laws.

Benitez's lawsuit was thrown out of state court initially, but she won an appeal two years ago with the court saying that patients can sue health care providers who discriminate against them based on their sexual orientation, and that federal law does not exempt health care providers from state civil rights laws. That unanimous state appeals court decision set an important precedent as the first ruling of its kind in the nation. (story)

With that ruling allowing her to proceed, Benitez' case returned to the trial court, where Lambda Legal represented her as co-counsel.

Last fall, Benitez won a legal ruling in the trial court that said doctors in a for-profit medical group must comply with California's anti-discrimination laws, and treat all patients equally, whatever the doctors' personal religious beliefs may be.

The doctors being sued asked the Court of Appeal in San Diego to review that ruling before trial, and the court ordered both sides to submit briefs. The CMA brief in support of the doctors was then filed with the court in May.

In asking the court to withdraw its brief the CMA, said that the Association did not realize at the time the brief was filed that the suit involved the denial of service to a lesbian couple.

The organization asked the court to replace its original brief with a new one prepared in association with Kaiser Permanente opposing discrimination in medical practice.

"... Physicians who offer a given service to the public may not decline patients because of race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, or other bases which constitute individious discrimination," the CMA and Kaiser Permanente brief reads. "These standards are applicable regardless of the religious or ethical beliefs of the physician."

The support from the medical association was greeted with praise by Lambda Legal.

"As the largest AMA state affiliate, CMA is a very influential medical organization in California and throughout the country," said Lambda attorney Jennifer C. Pizer.

"When they originally sided with the doctors in our case I was very troubled to think that they would support behavior toward a patient that violates our state's professional standards and civil rights law. We are gratified that in their new brief they make clear that discrimination against individuals for medically irrelevant reasons like sexual orientation and marital status is not only bad medicine for individual patients, it is bad public health policy for California."

©365Gay.com 2005


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