Transgender man sues Catholic hospital for calling off his hysterectomy minutes before surgery

Oliver Knight, 29, claims he was denied a hysterectomy by St. Joseph Hospital in Eureka, Calif. because he is transgender. (Photo: Courtesy of Kate Donaldson/ACLU of Northern California)
Oliver Knight, 29, claims he was denied a hysterectomy by St. Joseph Hospital in Eureka, Calif. because he is transgender. (Photo: Courtesy of Kate Donaldson/ACLU of Northern California)

A transgender man who was scheduled to undergo a hysterectomy as part of his gender reassignment surgery is suing the hospital where he claims medical professionals canceled his procedure “minutes” before it was to take place.

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Oliver Knight told the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) he that he has suffered from gender dysphoria ever since he was a little girl.

I felt uncomfortable in clothes. I felt disgusting when I showered,” he said. “Once I discovered that I am a man, I went to my doctor to start the process of medically transitioning.”

After having rounds of testosterone therapy and a double mastectomy, Knight was looking forward to getting a hysterectomy to remove his uterus and ovaries. The procedure was scheduled for Aug. 30, 2017 at St. Joseph Hospital in Eureka, Calif.

I felt hopeful as I arrived for the surgery I had waited so long for,” Knight told the ACLU, which helped him file the suit. “[St. Joseph is] the only hospital in the area, and I was so excited that my community offered transgender care. I could get the operation close to home and then recover with my loved ones.”

At first, everything was going smoothly, despite some uneasiness.

I arrived at the hospital and they checked me in and did the surgery prep, which was extremely uncomfortable and triggering,” Knight said.

Knight claims personnel insisted that he wear a pink hospital gown despite his initial refusal. “I asked the nurse if I could have a blue gown, but she told me I was having a ‘female surgery’ and should wear the pink,” he said. “I felt like a child all over again, sitting uncomfortably in a pink dress.”

Knight said the workers even went so far as to hook him up to an IV when his surgeon, Dr. Deepak Stokes, confronted him with some distressing news: It turns out he did “not meet” the hospital’s “parameters for a sterilization,” and the procedure was to be called off immediately, according to a lawsuit filed Thursday in Humboldt County Superior Court.

The decision, Knight claims, caused him to break down on the spot. “I had an anxiety attack and thought about all the pre-op and mental preparedness I had to go through just to get here,” he said. “I freaked out and started crying.”

Workers initially gave him medication to calm him down. But shortly after, they allegedly asked him to leave, and nurses escorted him out of the hospital.

“I felt humiliated and queasy as I sat on the curb waiting for my roommate to pick me up,” he said.

The lawsuit alleges that the hospital discriminated against Knight because he has gender dysphoria and does not identify as a woman, and that their actions were a violation of California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act. Gender dysphoria is defined as a “conflict between a person’s physical or assigned gender and the gender with which he/she/they identify,” according to the American Psychiatric Association.

Knight said he is regularly harassed by members of his Humboldt County community, but he cannot excuse that kind of treatment from medical professionals.

“It seems the hospital does not understand how it feels to be treated inhumanely just because your body parts do not match your soul,” Knight said.

Elizabeth Gill, a senior staff attorney at the ACLU’s Northern California branch, is providing legal representation for Knight against the Providence St. Joseph Health Network, a Catholic nonprofit that says performing a hysterectomy on a transgender man conflicts with its religious mission, according to NBC News.

The hospital regularly does hysterectomies,” Gill told the station. “In fact, Oliver’s surgeon has done hysterectomies at the hospital, which is why he and Oliver did not realize there was a possibility of it being canceled.”

In a letter to Congress on Wednesday, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops vehemently opposed the Equality Act, a recently introduced federal bill that would protect against discrimination related to gender identity.

“Those experiencing gender dysphoria or incongruence must be treated with care and compassion and should receive from health care professionals the same quality of services and moral protection from harm that is due to everyone,” the letter states. “The Equality Act, however, would force many health care professionals to perform certain treatments and procedures associated with ‘gender transition’ against their best medical or ethical judgment with respect to a patient.”

The letter also cites a study by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services that claims surgeries related to gender transitioning “may exacerbate the long-term rate of suicide among those identifying as ‘transgender.'”

But Gill said this opinion is not legally binding, as St. Joseph is “open to the public, is publicly funded and is therefore subject to the requirements of nondiscrimination under California law.”

Meanwhile, Knight claims the hysterectomy was “important” to him as well as necessary to “balance my hormones.” He said the delay has disrupted his life. “I felt like the hospital’s bigotry had set me back years,” he said.

Knight hopes his case will help others in his situation to better understand their rights.

We should continue to fight until we are all treated fairly,” he said. “No one should be denied health care because of who they are.”

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