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Doctor Refuses to Treat Baby of Lesbians

“First, do no harm” is what all doctors vow when becoming licensed to practice medicine. Except Dr. Vesna Roi seems to adhere more closely to the “What would Jesus do?” philosophy instead of the Hippocratic oath. Yet despite Jesus (and God, Buddha and Muhammad) being known for his propensity to practice tolerance, he apparently told the Michigan doctor to do the exact opposite.

Jami and Krista Contreras interviewed pediatricians for their daughter before she was even born, choosing Dr. Roi because she aligned closely with the couple’s holistic approach to medicine. The Contrerases brought their baby into the doctor’s office for a checkup when she was just six days old only to find they would have to see a different pediatrician, as Dr. Roi refused to see her because, “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.”

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Dr. Roi knew the Contrerases were lesbians when she met them in person, but didn’t let them know that she would eventually refuse to care for their baby because she “felt that [the initial consultation] was an exciting time for the two of you and I felt that if I came in and shared my decision, it would take away much of the excitement. That was my mistake. I should have spoken with you that day.”

According to USA Today, Dr. Roi won’t comment on the specifics of the case due to the federal HIPPA privacy law, and while she apologized to the Contrerases in a letter, she still thinks her way is the right way: “My life is taking care of the babies. I love my families, my patients. I love my kids. And I have become very close with all my patients.”

Refusing treatment of a baby? There’s a special place reserved for those who do that, too.

Roi never expressly said she wouldn’t reat the baby because her mothers are lesbians, although it was implied in her apology letter when she wrote: “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. Again, I am very sorry for the hurt and angry feelings that were created by this. I hope that you can accept my apology.”

Even if Roi had copped to her homophobia, though, it still would have been legal since Michigan isn’t among the 22 states with laws protecting LGBTQ people from discrimination based on their sexual orientation. But while Michigan might not prohibit it, the American Medical Association still frowns on it in their ethical advisory rules. In a statement about diversity and cultural sensitivity in the medical profession, the AMA said:

“Respecting the diversity of patients is a fundamental value of the medical profession and reflected in long-standing AMA ethical policy opposing any refusal to care for patients based on race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or any other criteria that would constitute invidious discrimination.”

However, the fact is the AMA also says physicians are ultimately permitted to refuse treatment “if it’s incompatible with their personal, religious or moral beliefs.” Except it’s difficult to imagine how a pediatrician could have feelings of incompatibility with a baby. A doctor’s job is to keep their patients healthy, not judge their lifestyle—which, in a newborn baby’s case, would be one that includes lots of sleeping, crying, eating and pooping. In the case of the newborn baby’s parents, that lifestyle usually consists of sleeplessness and starry eyes.

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The Contrerases are upset and angry, looking to raise awareness of the discrimination they faced because “it was embarrassing. It was humiliating. ... It’s just wrong. You’re discriminating against a baby?” Jami said to MyFoxDetroit.com. “As far as we know, [our baby] doesn’t have a sexual orientation yet, so I’m not really sure what that matters.”

Shooting the messenger often lands a person on the wrong side of right. But refusing treatment of a baby? There’s a special place reserved for those who do that, too, although it’s probably not somewhere where they’ll meet the gods who they say told them to do it.

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Photograph by Mandi Wright, Detroit Free Press

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