A lesbian woman, from California, US, is appealing a court decision that upheld a decision made by her doctors to withhold fertility treatment from her on religious grounds. Her case will be heard in the California Supreme Court, the highest court in the state, after having been heard in various courts over the past five years.
The woman, Guadalupe Benitez, who is now 33, was kept on a waiting list for fertility treatment for almost two years, before she was told that neither of her two doctors - Christine Brody and Douglas Fenton - would treat her. She claims that each doctor said that treating her and allowing her to have children, because of her sexual orientation, conflicted with their religious beliefs. Both of the doctors deny that this was the reason they denied her treatment, and say that it was the fact she is unmarried that was the deciding factor. However, at the time, Ms Benitez had been with the same partner for 15 years, and the couple had also legally registered their domestic partnership. Since the case was originally filed, Benitez has received fertility treatment elsewhere and given birth to a son, now three years old, and twin daughters.
Ms Benitez's case was initially unsuccessful in the state courts, but she won an appeal three years ago, the court finding that patients can sue health care providers who discriminate against patients on the basis of sexual orientation, and that federal law does not exempt health care providers from the civil rights laws. Later, in 2004, a court found that doctors working in the commercial sector must comply with the State's anti-discrimination laws and treat all patients equally, whatever the religious beliefs of the individual doctors. However, on appeal by the doctors, this decision was later overturned.
Jennifer C. Pizer, one of the lawyers acting for Ms Benitez, said that 'our client's doctors' behaviour goes against established medical ethics and violates California civil rights law'. She added that the 'doctors claim a right not to comply with California's civil rights law because they are fundamentalist Christians and they object to treating a lesbian patient the same way they treat other patients'. Ms Benitez said that she was intent on taking the case as far as it would go as the doctors 'humiliated my family and me by refusing to perform the insemination procedure after they'd been treating me and promising it to me for nearly a year'. She added 'I don't want anyone else to have to suffer the humiliating treatment by their doctors that I endured'.