Health Care Antidiscrimination Laws Protecting Gays and Lesbians

Can doctors withhold treatment because of a patient's sexual orientation or gender identity?

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Many gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) people experience discrimination and bias when attempting to receive health care, sometimes because they're not always aware of rules protecting them. A number of states have laws that protect LGBT patients against differential treatment -- or outright refusal to treat -- based on sexual orientation and gender identity. In addition, American Medical Association ethics rules prohibit physicians from refusing to treat patients based on their sexual orientation. Here are the ins and outs of these antidiscrimination rules and a list of which states provide protection.

AMA Ethics Rules Prohibit LGBT Discrimination

The American Medical Association has taken a clear stance on physician treatment of gay, lesbian, and transgendered patients. In its ethics opinions -- which serve as a model for how all physicians and their employees should practice medicine -- the AMA states: "Physicians who offer their services to the public may not decline to accept patients because of race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity or any other basis that would constitute invidious discrimination."

The American Medical Association also makes clear that a doctor's right to religious refusal applies to particular treatments or procedures (for example, abortion), but not to particular groups of people (like lesbians). In addition, the AMA states that it will "work to reduce the health disparities suffered because of unequal treatment of minor children and same sex parents in same sex household" and work with local medical societies to provide sample printed nondiscrimination policies to distribute to doctors and hospitals. In fact, the AMA has adopted more than 25 rules and opinions calling for the equal treatment of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered patients, doctors, and medical students. You can access all of these rules on the AMA website at www.ama-assn.org (click "About AMA," "Our People," "Member Groups and Sections," and "GLBT Advisory Committee").

States Prohibiting Health Care Discrimination

In almost half of U.S. states, discriminating against LGBT patients is illegal. Twenty-two states have laws that prohibit discrimination based on a person's sexual orientation in "public accommodations" -- meaning most businesses that serve the public. Public accommodations include the provision of health care services by physicians, hospitals, and other health care providers. Fourteen of these twenty-two states also prohibit public accommodations discrimination based on a person's gender identity.

States Prohibiting Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation

California

Maine

New Mexico

Colorado

Maryland

New York

Connecticut

Massachusetts

Oregon

Delaware

Minnesota

Rhode Island

District of Columbia

Nevada

Vermont

Hawaii

New Hampshire

Washington

Illinois

New Jersey

Wisconsin

Iowa

 

 

 

States Prohibiting Discrimination Based on Gender Identity

California

Iowa

Oregon

Colorado

Maine

Rhode Island

District of Columbia

Minnesota

Vermont

Hawaii

New Jersey

Washington

Illinois

New Mexico

 

 

If you live in one of these states, doctors cannot lawfully refuse to treat you just because you are gay or lesbian. Of course, this doesn't mean that all health care providers comply with the law. Many hospitals and doctors are not aware of their obligations under state law, and others choose not to follow the law.

Attorneys and gay rights groups have begun challenging health care providers that refuse treatment based on a patient's sexual orientation or gender identity. Other groups focus on training hospital staff and other health care providers to meet their obligations under the law.

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by: , J.D.

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