Doctor Refuses to Treat Baby Because Her Parents Are Lesbians

A lesbian couple from Michigan say that their pediatrician refused to continue seeing them and their newborn daughter after the doctor “prayed on it” and decided she couldn’t give them the best care due to their life choices, discrimination that is unfortunately perfectly lawful in Michigan.

Krista and Jami Contreras of Detroit, Mich., had a history with Dr. Vesna Roi. They had attended her practice at Eastlake Pediatrics in Roseville for a prenatal checkup and had gotten along well with her. She had a holistic approach that they liked, and was soothing and friendly. Feeling comfortable, they decided to book Dr. Roi for after their baby was born so their baby girl could have her first wellness appointment. It was important to them that they feel comfortable with the doctor who would be examining their daughter, and they thought Dr. Roi was a good match for them. Little did they know, Dr. Roi wasn’t as comfortable.

On the morning of the wellness appointment in October of last year the couple reached the doctor’s office only to be told by another doctor that after “much prayer,” the apparently religious Dr. Roi couldn’t in good conscience see the Contreras and their six-day old baby because of the women’s relationship, and that the appointment would be handled instead by a different doctor.

“I was completely dumbfounded,” Krista Contreras told the Birmingham Patch. “We just looked at each other and said, ‘Did we hear that correctly?’ …. When we tell people about it, they don’t believe us. They say, ‘(Doctors) can’t do that. That’s not legal.’ And we say, ‘Yes it is.’”

And they’re right, this kind of discrimination against LGBT people is already legal. People mistakenly think that religious exemptions that allow people to refuse service to LGBTs are new, but there is already significant scope to discriminate under existing law.

While all major medical bodies have built-in safe-guards in their ethical standards, these do not technically prohibit denial of service–though they may trigger investigations and disciplinary hearings if a complaint were to be made. As the Patch notes, there are about 22 states where LGBTs are protected from the kind of discrimination the Contreras faced, but that’s it. Michigan has no LGBT protections either specifically relating to doctors refusing service, or when it comes to things like employment, housing or public accommodations. Worse still, federal law doesn’t expressly cover this circumstance either, so essentially what happened to the Contreras could and probably will happen again.

For her part, Dr. Roi has in fact written to the couple, saying in part: “Dear Jami & Krista, I am writing this letter of apology as I feel that it is important and necessary. I never meant to hurt either of you. After much prayer following your prenatal (visit), I felt that I would not be able to develop the personal patient doctor relationship that I normally do with my patients.”

Dr. Roi never expressly mentions her reason for denying the Contreras her services, but she does then say, “Please know that I believe that God gives us free choice and I would never judge anyone based on what they do with that free choice.”

Dr. Roi also apologized for not telling the couple herself, saying that in arranging for her colleague to deliver the news and then offer them a wellness check-up she hoped that she wouldn’t impinge on what was to be a happy day with their daughter, but now realizes that this may have been a mistake.

What is quite difficult in this circumstance, and judging by the sincere tone of the apology letter, is that Dr. Roi seems to be genuine in her beliefs and also quite genuine when she says she meant no harm to the couple. It seems she has employed her very best efforts to accommodate what she believes is her personal duty to her religion, while at the same time trying to stand by her medical ethics (however mistaken her conclusions) and her duty of care to the couple–and in this instance that has led her to believe she must refer the Contreras to another doctor.

At the same time though, whether Dr. Roi has meant harm or not, harm has been inflicted here. The couple say they find this embarrassing and dehumanizing, and yet again we are in the difficult position of seeing someone’s religion encroaching on secular life and the basic civil rights of others. Sadly, there is now an appetite sweeping the U.S. to further empower religiously motivated discrimination.

Michigan’s Senate itself is currently looking to pass a Freedom of Religion Restoration Act that would further codify that people like Dr. Roi cannot face a lawsuit if they discriminate based on their personal religious faith. The legislation of course would also allow people to deny same-sex couples all manner of services including potentially refusing them legal representation and counseling, as well as more mundane but still important things like refusing seats in restaurants and other such things we often take for granted.

Given that the laws already allow for this kind of discrimination though–discrimination that even some conservatives apparently feel is too broad–it begs the question that when it comes to new license to discriminate bills, what new powers, exactly, does the Right want? How far are they willing to take this denial of service? Until it endangers lives, because if we’re allowing doctors to refuse “service,” that is what could happen.

This story represents the real danger of license to discriminate bills, and it should be a wake up call to how pervasive, arbitrary and mean this ongoing spat over so-called religious freedom has become.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.

231 comments

Margaret G.
Margaret G.2 years ago

C. wrote about Sandra's comment that Jesus might have cured a gay lover of a Roman centurion,

"Sandra your expectations are a bit unfair and a great part of the problem; a deity is not comparable to a physician and this is far from a "fair" world."

So, Christians are not expected to try to emulate Jesus? And "Imitation of Christ" by Thomas a Kempis can be ignored?


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Margaret G.
Margaret G.2 years ago

Adam S. wrote,

" Funny how you support the separation of Church and State unless it's not convenient for you."

Would Adam please explain his comment? It has me thoroughly confused.

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Margaret G.
Margaret G.2 years ago

ron D. wrote,

" ... There is no civil right to require anyone you choose to do business with you whether they want to or not. ..."

I thought that the 1964 Civil Rights Act said that it is illegal to refuse to do business with a person based on their race, religion, gender, age.

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Margaret G.
Margaret G.2 years ago

Roxana S. wrote,

" ... ....to refuse a particular service like abortion and termination of life is one thing but to refuse service entirely makes litigation in this instance well earned."

Wondering what Roxana thinks of a doctor's refusing to do an abortion if the mother's life is in danger.

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Joie J. Lech
Joie Jameson3 years ago

Being a healthcare provider~this story makes me sick. NO ONE should be judged by anyone, especially health care providers, because of how they were born.

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Elizabeth Z.
Elizabeth Z3 years ago

How sad. A doctor's job is to treat their patients, not judge them.

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Timothy W.
Timothy W3 years ago

Jennifer H.
Maybe they need to change the guidelines for issuing licenses to Physicians.

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Jennifer H.
Jennifer H3 years ago

This is so wrong. I thought people became doctors to help people; not a chosen few. Maybe they need to change the oaths they take.

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Timothy W.
Timothy W3 years ago

Susan T.
Your Dr. didn't quit seeing you because of Obama care, your Dr. quit seeing you because of greed. Regardless that is quite a bit different than a Dr. deciding not to care for someone because of religious beliefs. What is next. Christian Dr.'s refusing to care for anyone but Christians?

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Susan T.
Susan T3 years ago

Sorry. My Dr stopped seeing me because of Obamacare....deal with it and move on.

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