Saturday 10 October 2009

8-year lawsuit settled over US lesbians denied IVF

A lesbian couple has won a landmark case against a Californian clinic, where doctors allegedly cited their religious beliefs as grounds to refuse the couple IVF (in vitro fertilisation) treatment.

Guadalupe Benitez, 36, of Oceanside, and her spouse, Joanne Clark, sued doctors Douglas Fenton and Christine Brody, at North Coast Women's Medical Group in Vista for discrimination in 2001. The doctors treated Ms Benitez with fertility drugs and provided her guidance about self-insemination but allegedly told her they would not inseminate her, due to their religious objections.

The couple was, however, referred to another clinic by the North Coast doctors, which they were told would have no moral objections. Ms Benitez underwent treatment and the couple have since had three children. The discrimination case was finally settled after eight years for undisclosed sum of money. 'It's been a long, hard fight to get to this point,' Ms Benitez said following the settlement announcement, adding: 'But we know we've made a difference in the law that will help people in California and across the country.' The clinic released a statement saying it welcomed lesbian and gay patients.

Californian civil rights law prohibits discrimination in businesses which serve the public. Although the law does allow doctors the option to refuse certain medical procedures, such as abortion, if a procedure is available to the public, it must be made available to all.

The case went through a state appeals court in San Diego in 2006 which ruled in favour of the doctors. However, in 2008, the California Supreme Court barred Christian doctors denying treatment to patients on the grounds of sexual orientation. The ruling stated that the laws preventing discrimination based on sexual orientation extended to the medical profession. According to Jennifer Pizer, the lawyer for Benitez and Clark, the ruling 'shows a journey that our whole society is taking together, away from intolerance and towards inclusion.'

In the UK, the introduction of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008 (amending the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990) allows lesbian couples to more easily receive IVF treatment on the National Health Service (NHS). Prior to this, the 'need for a father' criterion in the 1990 Act enabled some clinics to deny same-sex couples and single parents IVF treatment, through statutory interpretation. This was challenged in two legal battles earlier this year in Scotland and England. In both cases the initial decisions to deny treatment, made by NHS trusts, were overturned following threats of legal action.

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