When Doctors Refuse to Treat LGBT Patients

Apr 19, 2016

Photo credit: Andrey Popov/Shutterstock/Paul Spella/The Atlantic

By Emma Green

Being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender is not a disease. It took a long time, but nearly all medical organizations now agree that queerness is not a “sociopathic personality disturbance,” as the American Psychiatric Association once maintained.

“Nearly all” is an important caveat, though. There are still a few organizations—which most doctors and scholars would likely consider part of the fringes of medicine—that challenge this view. Some are dissenting offshoots of mainstream associations. Others are the de-fanged descendants of ex-gay-therapy groups. They’re often accused of outright bigotry, but these doctors tend to frame their dissent differently, placing an emphasis on “choice.” Patients have a right to choose a therapist who will help them with unwanted same-sex attractions or feelings of gender dysphoria, they say. And physicians and therapists have a right to choose not to provide treatments that conflict with their religious beliefs. These treatments might include sex-change operations, hormone-replacement therapy for transgender people, fertility treatments to same-sex couples, or counseling for patients who are in non-heterosexual relationships.

Some legislators agree. In the first week of April, Mississippi passed a new law making it expressly legal for doctors, psychologists, and counselors to opt out of any procedure or choose not to take on any patient if doing so would compromise their conscience. The law is specifically designed to protect medical professionals who object to gay marriage and non-marital sex. Tennessee’s general assembly just passed a similar law, which would only apply to counselors, and a now-dead Florida bill would have protected religious health-care organizations from having to “administer, recommend, or deliver a medical treatment or procedure that would be contrary to the religious or moral convictions or policies of the facility.”

This legislation is part of a wave of religious-freedom bills that have been introduced and passed in the past year or so, almost all inspired by objections to homosexuality and same-sex marriage. Some of these measures are just for show—pastors could never be legally compelled to perform a gay-marriage ceremony in the way some bills have suggested, for example. But some represent a relatively novel approach to religious-freedom legislation: They offer legal cover to people of faith who don’t want to provide certain goods or services to LGBT people, especially when doing so might seem like a tacit endorsement of their relationships and sex lives.

Medical exemptions, though, deserve to be considered in a category of their own. Doctors and therapists interact with people at their most vulnerable, and their training and expertise gives them incredible power over patients. The advice they provide—or refuse to provide—to an LGBT patient could influence the treatment that person seeks. It could make that person less likely to seek primary care or identify themselves as LGBT to other doctors, which can lead to the “failure to screen, diagnose, or treat important medical problems,” according to the American Medical Association. The medical community has a problem: What should hospitals, private practices, and medical associations do about doctors and therapists who say it’s against their beliefs to provide care to LGBT patients?


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11 comments on “When Doctors Refuse to Treat LGBT Patients

  • I have had this happen, One fundamentalist surgeon walked out in the middle of an operation and refused contact ever after. One Christian doctor insisted I was a cocaine addict, and refused to do anything to test his assertion. He knew this presumably because I was gay.

    I don’t want to be in the hands of such a loon. I want a way to avoid them, not force them to treat me.



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  • Anyone with medical or science chops want to take a look at:
    http://www.mygenes.co.nz/

    The website portrays itself as a scientific rebuttal to the notion that’s been put about in mass media that genetics/epigenetics/events in womb have an impact on an individual’s sexuality. It also appears to downplay the impact of social norms and prejudice on suicide stats and downplay the negative effects of ‘gay conversion therapy.’

    I’m inclined toward believing this website is pseudo science and geared towards confirming bias. Could be that my own bias is blinding me.

    Just curious if anyone who has an education in medicine or sciences related to genetics, social sciences is able to vet the information and research cited by the website and determine whether the website is dangerous nonsense or actual science.



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  • @OP – And physicians and therapists have a right to choose not to provide treatments that conflict with their religious beliefs. These treatments might include sex-change operations, hormone-replacement therapy for transgender people, fertility treatments to same-sex couples, or counseling for patients who are in non-heterosexual relationships.

    While clearly doctors can and do choose which specialisms they develop, any doctor who is not confident or competent in dealing with a particular issue, should be morally and legally obliged to refer the patient to another doctor who is a specialist in that area of medicine.

    If “religious beliefs” interfere with the capability to practise good Hippocratic medicine, get another job!



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  • Luke Fairman #3
    Apr 20, 2016 at 11:13 am

    Anyone with medical or science chops want to take a look at:

    It is advertising a book and asserts it is an academic site, but shows no reference to association with a university or peer-review!

    The blurb “ALL SERIOUS VIEWERS” looks very suspicious. Science papers and even reputable encyclopaedias, don’t seem to need such assertions about their details.

    I’m inclined toward believing this website is pseudo science and geared towards confirming bias. Could be that my own bias is blinding me.

    http://www.transchristians.org/people/neil-whitehead

    Dr. Neil E Whitehead is a Christian writer best known for authoring the book, My Genes Made Me Do It in which he argues again the role of genes in determining sexual orientation. The book is freely available to read at its website, http://www.MyGenes.co.nz, as can some of his other writings. He has worked for the New Zealand government and the United Nations. While Americans always refer to Jerry Leach, Britains always defer to Whitehead. I have not yet read much of his work but my gut tells me he’s a junk scientist. He regularly promotes evidence against biological motivations for transgenderism and homosexuality.

    Shidlo comments on NARTH’s use of his research – Whitehead interprets Shidlo’s research to mean the opposite of what Shidlo found

    I would just ignore it, and look up information sites which have reputable credentials.
    This is a one man band banging a drum in a series of his books!



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  • Initially I wrote a long comment, buying into the framing about how this is an issue of religious freedom v Dr obligation to treat all patients. Halfway thru I realized this morass can be solved if the bluenose Mind Their Own Business. Which is delivering sound, science/medicine based treatment according to their knowledge experience and training. The patient is not coming to them for moral judgment. What these people want is legally sanctioned freedom to selfsegregate with all the privileges and rights of those who conform to the laws of society. That is they want to work for a publicly funded hospital while refusing to care for people who are members of the public that the hospital has pledged to serve

    I see when the quoted urologist got booted from the hospitals he had practiced at, his solution was to go to work -apparently NOT as a urologist but as a propangandist.

    I agree also with Roedy that I don’t want these nuts to get their hands on me. The hospitals are right to bounce them out. The state should require that any such rogue organizations as those mentioned MUST identify that they are not sanctioned by the medical community or the state. Let people be made aware of what they believe BEFORE the patient is trapped.



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  • Bear with me here….I was recently irritated by a news story where an athlete was in a night club and he and a few of his friends beat two off duty police officers unconscious and then some. The entire incident was video taped by multiple people in the club as well as the club’s security system.

    The DA then had the balls to stand and declare that there was insufficient evidence to charge the (football player, multi millionaire) “man”. I assert loudly that the only reason this did not go to trial and was not a slam dunk win for the prosecution is that there are multiple tiers of justice in our flawed, bullshit system.

    The player garnered special privilege because of who he is. My question here is, why is his identity known by anyone who is supposed to be “blind justice”????

    The same thing should hold for physicians and clinical care. You have absolutely ZERO right to know anything about me that possibly could cause your “trigger of hate” to kick in. Now, I don’t give a rat’s furry ass if the guy at the beer store hates me for the t-shirt i wear or the cross pendant (a favorite lament of the persecuted christian) on a chain around my neck. I do however care greatly if someone at point of care can make decisions clearly based on hate and be protected while they do so.



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  • Crooked Shoes, as my daughter would say “You right!”

    You might like the scene in Ghost Town where the Ricky Gervais character refuses to answer hospital intake questions that don’t have to do with his procedure.



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  • @ Michael

    The questions you mention should not even be on the form. I realize that a part of the point I was making was completely neglected! I will go to youtube for the scene you are referring me to, thanks!

    Bias in the justice system that allows celebrities and the rich to skirt jail time is the model I was setting up to be analogous to info on your chart causing you to get subpar treatment from health professionals.

    I’d even go so far as to say that in instant replay that goes on during sporting events, the computer should block out team logos and the replay should be in black and white.

    People cheat. People hate, gamble, cut corners, covet, are hungover, stupid, uncaring, apathetic……. All the shitful euphemisms about justice being blind and the hippocratic oath, and referees being fair….. It’s all bullshit. It is bullshit because humans are involved in the enterprise. And, wherever possible, especially in the discussion of a human being’s health and well being, that bias and bullshit needs to be actively scrutinized and minimized. (the sports shit is just a convenient coincidence — I would not care one iota if professional sports were to go away tomorrow)….



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