Doctor Refuses to Treat Sinner
by JUSTIN D. BARNARD
Director of the Institute for Intellectual Discipleship
August 19, 2008 - Yesterday, the California Supreme Court issued a ruling in a fascinating case that underscores the urgency for Christians to think deeply about health, human well-being, and their roles in the healing professions. In North Coast v. San Diego, the court considered a case in which a lesbian couple was refused infertility treatment by an attending physician at the North Coast Women’s Care Medical Group. The physician in question, Dr. Christine Brody, refused to provide treatment based on her religious convictions. In this case, Dr. Brody claims that her convictions forbid her from “active participation in medically causing the pregnancy of any unmarried woman.” Therefore, she refused to provide the infertility treatment for Guadalupe T. Benitez, the lesbian partner of Joanne Clark.
In its hearing, the California Supreme Court considered the extent to which both religious freedom and free speech “exempt a medical clinic’s physicians from complying with the California Unruh Civil Rights Act’s prohibition against discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation.” Ultimately, the court ruled in favor of Benitez finding that Dr. Brody’s right to free speech and free exercise of religion do not exempt her from compliance with the Unruh Civil Rights Act which states that California’s citizens are “entitled to the full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities, privileges, or services in all business establishments of every kind whatsoever.”
Many Christians will undoubtedly decry this decision as being another strike against religious liberty in a culture in which gay and lesbian advocacy becomes increasingly militant. Already, one California attorney is on record as saying, “This court is allowing two lesbians to force these individuals to choose between being doctors in the state of California or being able to practice their faith.” However, it is worth asking whether, in this particular case, such a conclusion is warranted.
Christians believe that the active practice of homosexual activity is sin. But it’s not the only sin. Lying, gluttony, gossiping, jealously, and covetousness are also sins . . . just to name a few. Doctors, including Christian doctors, treat sinners all the time. (Imagine a revision to the patient information forms that would allow doctors to refuse treatment for specific kinds of sin!) Moreover, Christian doctors regularly treat sinners who are (quite obviously, from a physician's perspective) guilty of sexual sins. So how does this ruling force Christians to “choose between being doctors” and practicing faith?
Presumably, Dr. Brody possesses certain convictions about the sanctity of marriage and the importance of childbearing and rearing in a parental context with both a father and mother that render her participation in the creation of life outside of such bounds morally impermissible. As laudable as this may sound, it does not go far enough.
In the biblical narrative, the blessing of children is regularly set in stark contrast to the pain of infertility (see for example, the story of Hannah in I Samuel 1-2). Indeed, the injunction to be “fruitful and multiply” is part of the creation mandate itself. Thus, Christians should be chief among those who “weep with those who weep” at the unexpected discovery of an inability to bear children.
At the same time, Christians – particularly those in the medical professions – should be cautious about the distinction between an ordinate desire for health and an inordinate or disordered desire to achieve one’s personal ambitions at whatever cost. Sadly, even many Christians today who suffer the anguish of infertility not only develop, but cultivate, a disordered desire to procure their own genetic offspring at whatever cost. The ordinate desire for health and for children, becomes an inordinate desire to fulfill a personal crusade. Perhaps sadder still, “health” clinics across the country now provide a full range of infertility services designed to satiate such disordered desires at whatever cost.
Dr. Brody’s willingness to provide such treatments (in this particular case, intrauterine insemination) for married couples is an indication of her complicity in this industry. And as the industry that it is, the court is (ironically!) correct to evaluate its practices on the basis of anti-discrimination legislation that applies to “all business establishments of every kind whatsoever.” For unlike medical practices whose aim is the restoration of health, infertility clinics provide services whose aim is the satisfaction of desire through the acquisition of a product – namely, a child. And just as it is wrong for a Christian car salesman to refuse to provide service to a gay couple who wants to satisfy their desire for a new Oldsmobile, it is likewise wrong for a doctor to refuse to provide service to a gay couple who wants to satisfy their desire for a new baby.
Of course, it does not follow from this that Christian ought to be in the business of making babies for gay couples (or selling Oldsmobile’s for that matter!). Perhaps what does follow from the foregoing paragraph – together with the residual moral squeamishness that readers might rightly experience – is this. Christians ought not to be in the “business” of creating children by such means for anyone. Otherwise, our moral objections to providing such services to gay and lesbian couples will strike the rest of the world as the hypocrisy that it is.