Death sentence for doctors?

Religious Liberty | Refusing to affirm homosexual behavior as a safe, healthy choice can be a career-killer for Christian physicians
by Sophia Lee
Posted 9/24/15, 09:58 am

HIV/AIDS is the most politicized disease of the modern era. From the start of the epidemic, political correctness dampened mobilization against it. When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) first published its report on the strange disease on June 5, 1981, staffers wrangled over how to note the homosexual aspect of the pandemic: Would mentioning that gay men were predominantly affected offend the gay community? Would it inflame and legitimize “homophobes”? Many skittish doctors and leaders tiptoed around telling the gay community to stop having reckless sex. 

Medicine and public health reflect political and social climates. The American Medical Association (AMA)—the largest association of physicians and medical students in the United States—has at least 35 LGBT-related policies, several with little or nothing to do with medical practice. One AMA policy calls the denial of same-sex marriage “discriminatory” and “harmful.” Another supports child adoption by same-sex partners. Another suggests “improving” the curriculum in medical schools to portray sexual history in a “nonjudgmental” and “sensitive” manner.

Such LGBT-affirming narrative has infiltrated many medical institutions so deeply that Christian medical professionals find it tough to speak out, even from a medical standpoint. 

Dr. Caleb (WORLD agreed not to use his real name for job security reasons) is one example. He has had to deny gay patients’ requests for Viagra prescriptions on several occasions. One gay couple asked him to fill out a health report stating they were medically fit to adopt a child. The two men claimed to be “monogamous,” but when Caleb asked why they got tested for STDs every three months, one partner admitted to conducting regular orgies at their home. Caleb wrote on the health report that such a home is not suitable for a child, so the couple filed a complaint against him. The hospital switched the couple to another doctor and destroyed Caleb’s documentation. 

His objection to immorality wasn’t limited to homosexuality and neither was the hospital’s demand that he stay neutral on sexual issues. The tipping point came when Caleb refused to prescribe Viagra to a married man planning a fling with another woman. During tense meetings with the physician-in-chief, the head of human resources, and the hospital attorney, Caleb got an ultimatum: “If you don’t change, you cannot work here.” So he submitted his resignation.

What broke his heart most was the way his fellow Christian colleagues criticized him for rocking the boat. “Other people’s sex lives are none of your business,” they said, and some advised him to change his position to save his job. But Caleb said that would dishonor God. 

“As believers, we are called to be set apart,” he said. “If we’re not set apart by the Holy Spirit, there is something really wrong with our faith.” 

Paul Church is another such doctor who’s facing hostility for voicing his medical and moral convictions. As an urologist working in Boston for almost 30 years, Church has had dozens of patients who self-identify as LGBT. Over the years, Church observed a pattern with his gay patients: A majority also suffered from a gamut of serious diseases, such as HIV/AIDS, parasitic infections, hepatitis, and anal cancer.

Church’s patients reflect well-documented, nationwide statistics: Individuals who practice homosexual behaviors face higher risks of various diseases and sexually transmitted infections. Research also shows the LGBT community has higher instances of mental issues, such as depression, suicide, substance abuse, and eating disorders.

So when the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), one of the nation’s top health facilities and a major teaching hospital for Harvard Medical School, started actively promoting the LGBT movement, Church became alarmed. As a member of the BIDMC staff and Harvard Medical School faculty, he voiced his opposition by citing medical, religious, and moral concerns. On March 30, 2015, Church was expelled from BIDMC for what the hospital president called “unsolicited views about homosexuality that were offensive to BIDMC staff.” 

For about a decade, Church had received emails from the hospital encouraging BIDMC staff to participate in LGBT events such as Boston’s flamboyant, boisterous Gay Pride Week. The hospital also hosts an annual LGBT Achievement Award ceremony that recognizes individuals or organizations for their “outstanding contributions towards advancing LGBT issues.”

That struck him as irresponsible healthcare, Church told me: “The hospital is not Home Depot or Starbucks. In medicine, we have a higher commitment and mission to promote healthy lifestyles and behaviors, but promoting homosexuality is contrary to that mission.”

In 2004, Church emailed the hospital president and members of the Board of Trustees to consider the inappropriateness of such public promotion of LGBT activities, listing the numerous health consequences to homosexual behaviors. He also reminded them that the hospital staff and employees represent diverse moral and religious views on homosexuality. 

In a 2007 follow-up email to the hospital CEO, he stated that he was “frankly disgusted” by the hospital leader’s continued endorsement of an “immoral, ungodly, unnatural, and of course unhealthy” lifestyle. Church acknowledges his frustration prompted him to use words that could be seen as “provocative,” and he said he would take them back if he could. But he stands by his original conviction.

Worried that Church might be communicating his “bigotry” to his patients, the hospital CEO conducted his own in-house review of Church’s record but found no complaints about discrimination or unprofessional behavior. (In fact, one gay patient later wrote Church supporting his right to voice his opinion, even if he didn’t agree.)

In 2011, BIDMC kicked off Pride Week under the theme “Making It Better,” based on the viral YouTube video “It Gets Better,” created by gay activist Dan Savage to empower bullied LGBT and transgender youth around the world. The administration produced its own “Making It Better” video with appearances from lesbian, gay, and transgender employees and patients praising BIDMC for creating an inclusive and supportive space for LGBT individuals. One bearded employee who had transitioned from a woman to a man talked about how BIDMC supported the decision.

That a medical center boasting “pride, respect, and equity” would so prominently emulate a movement synonymous with a controversial figure aggravated Church enough to ignore the disciplinary threats he’d received from his superiors. He emailed the producers of the “Making It Better” video offering to participate in the upcoming video to present a view from “the other side.” 

That July, the chief of surgery asked to discuss official complaints against him. Church entered a small conference room and faced the grim-faced chief, the head of human resources, the chairman of the urology department, and the hospital attorney. They presented a folder containing printouts of Church’s email archives. His email to the video producer was “humiliating” to the hospital, they said. He’d “crossed the line” and would be investigated on harassment charges, they said.

Ultimately, the administration told him he could either resign voluntarily or face suspension. After swallowing his initial shock, Church refused to resign—he did nothing wrong, he told them, and there was nothing in his emails that he wouldn’t say in public. But he was spooked enough to contact the nonprofit law firm Liberty Counsel to defend him if necessary.

Several months after that meeting, a formal “Peer Review Committee” sent Church a “Letter of Reprimand” for violating BIDMC’s policy against “harassment and discrimination in the workplace” and sending “inappropriate content” through the BIDMC email system. The committee also ordered him to cease any kind of communication to any persons in BIDMC “concerning your opinion about sexual orientation, homosexuality, or other protected status”—which Church’s lawyers say is equivalent to a “gag order.”

Church then requested the hospital’s communication department remove him from the mailing list for Pride Week-related emails, but he kept receiving them. The last straw came when Church posted three comments to pro-LGBT articles on the hospital’s intranet. The first in 2013 criticized the affirmation of “sexual perversions” in a medical center, and the other two in 2014 were simply Bible verses: Leviticus 18:22 and Romans 1:26-28.

This time, the hospital president and its 25-member Medical Executive Committee (MEC) got involved to determine Church’s punishment, reflecting BIDMC’s gravity toward the issue. The committee, made up of physicians, administrators, and appointees (including at least two known gay activists), allowed Church to appear before them and defend himself.

On Feb. 18, 2015, Church stood before the MEC and read a two-page statement.

“I want to make it very clear that I am not here today because of any charges relating to patient care or professional conduct involving doctor-patient interactions,” he said. “By failing to warn the public about risks and dangers of certain behaviors common to homosexuality and the LGBT group, the medical center does a great disservice to the public at best, and at worst is complicit with a deception perpetrated on the public by a self-serving political-social agenda. This is not only bad policy, it’s bad medicine.” 

The committee did not agree. On March 30, it decided to expel Church for violating the terms of the 2011 Letter of Reprimand and for his “unacceptable departure from professional standards.” BIDMC bylaws allow an appeal hearing, so Church requested one. He had his hearing with the Appeal Panel on July 29 and 30. On Sept. 9, Church learned the panel had voted to uphold the MEC’s decision, which now will be passed on to the BIDMC Board of Directors for final action. Church’s last chance to reverse the revocation of his staff appointment is to appeal to the Board, and he has. He told me he’s “not ready to fold just yet.”

Meanwhile, the 65-year-old Church is considering retirement. Officials at one of Church’s two practice locations asked him to stop working there because they were concerned about how the publicity from his case might affect their LGBT population. BIDMC has also reported him to the Board of Registration in Medicine, which might affect his ability to renew his medical license.

“I never intended to be a martyr, but I’m willing to take the fall,” Church said. “I don’t want [this case] to be about me, I want it to be about the bigger issue—the issue of [homosexual] behaviors being promoted as harmless behaviors to the public like it’s just another flavor of ice cream.”

Sophia Lee

Sophia is a senior reporter for WORLD Magazine based in Los Angeles. Follow Sophia on Twitter @SophiaLeeHyun.

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