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3 Nuns Started This Hospital 180 Years Ago—Now It’s Being Sued for Following Its Mission

By Teresa Haney posted on:
October 3, 2019

In 1854, three religious sisters made the perilous journey from Ireland to the United States to start St. Mary’s Hospital. Now the oldest continuously operating hospital in San Francisco, St. Mary’s has grown into an entire network of hospitals known as Dignity Health.

To this day, the physicians, nurses, and staff of Dignity Health share the same goal as those three Irish sisters: to respect the inherent value and worth of each person. They do this because Dignity Health shares the Catholic belief of its founders that every person is created in the image and likeness of God. For more than 180 years, Dignity Health has been living this mission.

But now, a court in California ruled against Dignity Health by reinstating a case against the hospital simply for living out its mission. 


Sued for Following Its Mission

In 2016, a biologically female patient who identifies as transgender was scheduled for a hysterectomy at a Dignity Health Hospital. Upon learning that the requested procedure would remove healthy organs, Dignity Health declined to host the surgery. Instead, Dignity Health referred the patient to a hospital that would be able to accommodate the request.

Dignity Health’s decision was rooted in its Catholic belief that every human is created in the image and likeness of God. Because of this belief, Dignity Health cannot participate in the removal of healthy body parts because of that person’s beliefs about their gender. This applies equally to men and women.

But this explanation did not satisfy the patient, who sued Dignity Health.

While the case was originally dismissed, a California Court of Appeals reversed that decision and has allowed the case to move forward. Alliance Defending Freedom filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of the Catholic Medical Association defending Dignity Health’s freedom to act in accordance with its religious beliefs.

This case is currently ongoing. But what you may not know is that the outcome of the Harris Funeral Homes Case could lead to more cases like this one.


Redefining Sex Would Have Consequences for Religious Healthcare Providers

October 8 marks the day of oral arguments for R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission at the U.S. Supreme Court.

In Harris Funeral Homes, the Supreme Court will decide if unelected officials can redefine “sex” to include “gender identity” in federal law.

If “sex” is redefined, it will cause big problems for freedom of conscience. That new definition could carry over to the definition of sex discrimination in the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare. And if that happens, Dignity Health and other religious hospitals could be forced to participate in surgical efforts to alter sex in violation of their religious principles.

This would be bad for two reasons.

  1. A medical professional’s freedom shouldn’t hinge on someone else’s beliefs about their gender.
  2. If healthcare providers are forced to participate in procedures they disagree with, more and more religious healthcare providers may close their doors, which would be devastating.

As a Catholic, I choose to seek medical care from Catholic healthcare professionals who I know will prioritize my physical and mental health, along with my spiritual health.

And it’s certainly not the role of any court in the United States to tell people what they should and shouldn’t believe. The First Amendment protects the freedom of religious organizations and individuals to live out their faith. It’s time California gets on board with the Constitution.


Teresa Haney

Teresa Haney

Legal Secretary

Teresa Haney is a Legal Secretary for the Center for Life at Alliance Defending Freedom.


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