Unlimited arm-swinging is not a credible religious doctrine

Unlimited arm-swinging is not a credible religious doctrine June 3, 2012

Here is an ugly story from New Jersey, via David Badash, “‘For Going Against God’s Will’ Catholic Hospital Denies Gay Man HIV Meds“:

“Joao Simoes sued Trinitas Regional Medical Center in Union County Superior Court,” the Courthouse News Service reports. “He says that the hospital admitted him in August 2011, but that requests for his lifesaving medication were not honored, and his sister was denied visitation rights.”

Susan V. Borga, M.D., from the Department of Behavioral Health and Psychiatry, allegedly approached Simoes while he was confined to the hospital’s mental health wing. Borga is not named as a defendant.

… Borga then allegedly asked Simoes how he got HIV, to which he responded, “I got it from unprotected sex.”

The complaint then says that “Dr. Borga closed the plaintiff’s file, put it down and looked at plaintiff with disgust on her face and asked, coldly, “Is that from sex with men?”

Simoes says he responded affirmatively and that, “immediately after hearing this, Dr. Borga proceeded to exit the room.”

After this consultation, no nurse or doctor came to see Simoes, even though he told them that he needed to take his HIV medication, according to the complaint.

When the hospital finally permitted Simoes to call his personal physician on the third day of his stay, he learned that the doctor had already spoken with Borga about Simoes’ medication, according to the complaint.

Borga allegedly responded: “You must be gay, too, if you’re his doctor.”

“Additionally, apparently realizing that plaintiff’s doctor had an accent, Dr. Borga exclaimed, ‘What, do you need a translator?’ to which plaintiff’s doctor had again responded that Dr. Borga needed to give plaintiff his HIV medication,” the complaint states.

“Dr. Borga responded to plaintiff’s doctor by stating, ‘This is what he gets for going against God’s will,’ and hung up the phone on plaintiff’s doctor.”

The word “allegedly” appears in that story several times for a reason.

[Update: M. McShea writes that this story “may yet prove to be true,” but cautions that “some facts and or names and or circumstances” do not seem to fit. The story is from Courthouse News, and is based on the suit as filed by the plaintiff.]

But if these allegations prove true, then we’re looking at another example of the kind of injustice that arises from allowing any claim of “religious liberty” to trump every other human and civil right. (Hemant Mehta offers another example: “Prominent Israeli Rabbi: Doctors Shouldn’t Treat Gentiles on the Sabbath.”)

Thomas Jefferson famously defended religious liberty by saying, “It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are 20 gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” But what happens when your neighbor says that his 20 gods or God or no God requires him to pick pockets and break legs?

What happens when your neighbor asserts that the essence of his religion is pocket-picking and leg-breaking?

That creates a direct conflict of basic rights. Your neighbor has his right to religious liberty — to freedom of conscience. But everyone else also has their right not to have their pockets picked or their legs broken. The Trinitas Regional Medical Center, allegedly, believes that its right to religious liberty is unlimited and trumps any and all other rights. The story Badash relays illustrates the implications of that view.

The classic rebuttal of this view is the idea that “Your right to swing your arm leaves off where my right not to have my nose struck begins.” The logic of that argument is being challenged, today, by those demanding a “religious liberty” to unfettered arm-swinging. Anyone who objects to having their nose struck, these devout believers say, is an anti-religious tyrant.

I don’t find the logic of this claim compelling.

Nor does it strike me as sincere — not when we see a clear pattern, in which all the noses getting struck seem, not-so-coincidentally, to belong to women and to LGBT people. So I suspect the issue for these devoutly religious folks isn’t really so much that they’re devoted to unlimited arm-swinging as that they just don’t like women or LGBT people very much.

"Well, keep in mind that the great thrust of humanity did not have any power ..."

Advent Calendar Day 14: Pink Flamingos
"Assemblies of God. They expect people to take notes during sermons."

LBCF, No. 214: ‘Bruce’s sermon, part ..."
"Sometime I'd like to see an End Times story where the Antichrist is familiar with ..."

LBCF, No. 214: ‘Bruce’s sermon, part ..."
"OT: I've raised a good little Warrior on Christmas.We were at the book store and ..."

LBCF, No. 214: ‘Bruce’s sermon, part ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

TRENDING AT PATHEOS Progressive Christian
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Hypocritical Hippocratic Oath-taker, much?

    Dude may have done dumb with his sex life but that doesn’t call for his medical doctor to start being a judgemental dick.

  • This isn’t “being a judgmental dick.” This isn’t even in the same league. You can be a judgmental dick and still provide the life-saving medicine your patient is asking for. But this? This is murderous bigotry, if it happened as is claimed. This is vile. This is no better, morally, than a lynching.

  • aunursa

    Jewish law requires that a Jew violate almost any law in the Torah in order to save a life. It doesn’t matter whether the day is Shabbat or Yom Kippur or Tisha b’Av or April Fools Day.  It doesn’t matter whether the patient is a Jew … or Christian … or Palestinian … or a Palestian Christian … etc.

  • Borga allegedly responded: “You must be gay, too, if you’re his doctor.”
    “Additionally, apparently realizing that plaintiff’s doctor had an accent, Dr. Borga exclaimed, ‘What, do you need a translator?’

    These are not the actions of a doctor. These are the actions of a grade school bully who somehow managed to get himself a medical license. 

  • michael mcshea

    I see absolutely no difference between Trinitas Regional Medical Center in New Jersey and a dark dungeon in Spain in 1550 during the Spanish Inquisition?  Very little except maybe for the hand sanitizer on the wall in present day.

    If the guy had said he got HIV from a used dirty needle would the good Uber-Catholics have given him some aspirin at least?

    The difference between the old military Don’t Ask Don’t Telland the RC Clergy running these hospitals for profit is Don’t Get Caught Don’t Tell for fear of losing their real hidden “sexuality” whether straight and or gay.

  • I’m currently in the middle of doing my radio show and checked Slacktivist. Thank God I wasn’t on a live mic when I first read the headline.

  • ako

    Yeah, they’re basically trying to make a religion of their bigotry so they can yell “Freedom of religion!” and get away with abusing others. 

    This is the danger of privileging religions – get society acting like some beliefs are more important, more legitimate, and all-around better than others, and you get people going “My right to express my disapproval of your lifestyle trumps your right to not die.”

  • pharoute

    The Google tells me she’s primarially a child/adolescent psychiatrist, wonder why she’d be interviewing adult male patients.

  • You don’t have to be “dumb with [your] sex life” to get an STI. (Or to get pregnant.)

    No form of birth control or STI prevention is 100% effective, even when used 100% perfectly for your entire life. And do we really want to condemn people as “dumb” for not using STI prevention/birth control 100% perfectly? If you have ever used those things more than, say, a dozen times, I guarantee you have not used them 100% perfectly every time. You were just lucky.

  • P J Evans

    Borga should have her license suspended until she can pass a medical ethics class. I wouldn’t want her to be involved in the treatment of anyone I know.

  • The guy admitted to unprotected sex. That’s a huge risk factor for transmission.

  • P J Evans

    He was in a mental ward, so it makes some sense. That still doesn’t give her any right to deny him his prescribed medication because she doesn’t approve of his behavior.

  • Nirrti

     That’s the worst part, that he was in a mental ward. He’s at his most vulnerable and the “good” doctor takes advantage of it by denying his medication. He’s also a mental patient, which gives him less credibility, and those jokers knew it.

    That’s why they were able to treat him like they did. No way they would’ve gotten away with it if the guy was in a regular ward rather than a psychiatric floor. This is just one of the many times in which mentally ill people are discriminated against, disregarded, and treated as outsiders just for being mentally ill.

  • Ouch! That’s definitely not on. At all. Hell, the duty to proper care should be even higher in a mental hospital because of the need to be sure that the patients are getting the right medications and therapy. X-{

  • Zorya_EvenStar

    I wouldn’t let this person treat my cat, much less my kid.

  • Amaryllis

    This doesn’t even make sense.

    I’m not saying it didn’t happen, although as Fred says, the “allegedlys” are there for a reason. But there’s nothing in Catholic doctrine that says you don’t provide medicine to treat a disease.

    You can make a case for Catholic institutions not being required to provide abortions, or contraceptive coverage, or  some kinds of infertility treatments, or condoms as AIDS prevention. I don’t myself think it would be a good case, but you could make one.

    You couldn’t make a case for what (allegedly) happened here, and call it Catholic orthodoxy:
    “The inherent dignity of the human person must be respected and protected regardless of the nature of the person’s health problem or social status. The respect for human dignity extends to all persons who are served by Catholic health care.”

    (Directive 23  from the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services fifth edition, published in 2009 by the USCCB.)

    Of course Catholic hospitals treat HIV patients. This is just weird.

    (Yes, I know about various cases where “respect for human dignity” wasn’t the first thing to come to mind about a particular Catholic hospital. Therefore, I can only assume that those institutions were not sufficiently versed in their own ethical guidelines. Maybe the Vatican should appoint an inquisitor to make sure that American bishops are following their own doctrinal guidelines, and American Catholic hospitals are being sufficiently respectful and compassionate? )

  • Nirrti

    These guys have been on the side of “follow your conscience” laws that enable doctors to deny care if it goes against their religion plus anti-gay legislation and laws that police women’s bodies….and you say this story doesn’t make sense?

    So I guess someone has to carry a camera and tape recorder with them at all times if they have a mental illness sense no one will believe them if they get mistreated. Good lord…

  • GDwarf

    I wouldn’t let this person treat my cat, much less my kid.

    Well, of course. I mean, cats have unprotected sex all the time…

    I honestly have to wonder just what she was thinking. She might have thought she could get away with it ’cause he was in a mental ward; But that doesn’t fit with her taunting his doctor. I mean, on a scale of 1 to 10 for the person you least want testifying against you on a medical issue surely the patient’s personal physician ranks at least an 8.

    Perhaps she started out taking advantage of his mental state and then found herself justifying it, leading to the idiocy with the doctor. ‘Unno.

  • No-one

    But there’s nothing in Catholic doctrine that says you don’t provide medicine to treat a disease.

    Yes, but we’re talking about Americans here. (Sorry, no offense meant).

    You’re talking about the religious right who find denying all women all healthcare far more important than the mere possibility that they could possibly maybe couldbe getting “contraception”!

  • This really does sound to me not like institutional policy, but rather one particular practitioner who is a monster and an asshole, but with an institutional *culture* that protects and nurtures his practice of his bigotry rather than, as any decent hospital should have done, kicked his ass to the curb if not because he’s a monster and an asshole who basic human decency would not abide to be in the same room with, let alone be in a position of power, then because the man’s a malpractice suit waiting to happen.

  • Dr. Rocketscience


    Not that Dr. Susan Borga’s gender is relevant to her behavior, but that’s two posts where you’ve referred to the doctor as a male.

  • ako

     This really does sound to me not like institutional policy, but rather
    one particular practitioner who is a monster and an asshole, but with an
    institutional *culture* that protects and nurtures his practice of his
    bigotry rather than, as any decent hospital should have done, kicked his
    ass to the curb

    It’s rather like the child sexual abuse problem.  The institution doesn’t have a policy in favor of those abuses, but has an institutional culture that has the effect of protecting appalling abuses and making it easier to get away with seriously hurting people. 

  • You’re right. I have a hell of a time keeping it in my head. I have a hell of a time imagining a woman saying the words “You must be gay, too, if you’re his doctor.”  It just codes so *patriarchal*, so much like a 14 year old boy trying to prove he’s got the biggest testicles in town. I have a hell of a time imagining that a woman could go through the effort, face all the difficulties that come with pursuing a male-dominated field to work for a hospital run by one of the world’s all time great patriarchies without somehow having learned the barest minimum of compassion, empathy or even basic human decency. I have a hard time comprehending such a thing.

    So I need to work on that. 

  • erikagillian

     I think the problem is that things like the pharmacists allowed not to hand over emergency contraception (which stops fertilization! and in fact if a woman was pregnant would help prevent a miscarriage! I know you guys probably know this but there is so much lying about it out there, I feel I must mention it), and the bishops claiming things things that are none of their business are their business and generally the various churches and religious peoples attempting to control people not their religion has given rise to individuals thinking they can too.  And since that woman believes, along with her hierarchy, that homosexual sex is a sin it’s her right to withhold his medication.  And there’s been people saying since AIDS arrived that it was a punishment from God maybe she sees medicating it as getting in God’s way.  And now Kansas is trying to force doctors to lie.

  • Amaryllis

    Yes, I still say this story doesn’t make sense. Which is not to say that it didn’t happen; lots of things happen that don’t make sense to me.

    To put it another way, if you tell me that a Catholic health care institution refuses to recommend condoms for AIDS prevention  I will be sad but not surprised. If you tell me that that hospital refuses to provided a treatment, morally neutral in itself, for a disease already present, yes, I will be surprised. It doesn’t fit the usual storyline.

    And since that woman believes, along with her hierarchy, that homosexual
    sex is a sin it’s her right to withhold his medication.

    See, that’s the part I’m having trouble with. You can justify refusing to prescribe condoms for AIDS prevention  or Plan B for emergencies if you believe that contraception is a sin in all circumstances. You can tell yourself that you’re refusing to collude in sinful conduct, that you’re trying to prevent sin from occurring. (To be clear, I don’t think this a reasonable position for a health-care provider to take. Passing judgment on other people’s conduct is not part of their remit.) But withholding medication does absolutely nothing to prevent a “sin” from occurring, because it’s already occurred.

    And there’s been people saying since AIDS arrived that it was a
    punishment from God maybe she sees medicating it as getting in God’s

    And I say again that no Catholic institution has any excuse for believing that AIDS is a punishment for gay sex. That meme was merely an accident of the way that AIDS was introduced in the U.S., and was, back in the day, mainly a fundamentalist Evangelical talking-point, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson and that crowd. Of course, these days it’s getting hard to tell the right-wing Evangelicals from the right-wing Catholics, but I  thought that even the fundamentalists had by now dropped that line of argument as indefensible.

    Any health-care provider– any medical doctor, for God’s sake– knows that the virus doesn’t discriminate between gay and straight; it attacks men and women and innocent children. Any Catholic healthcare provider should be aware of the prominent role that Catholic hospitals and Catholic Relief Services play in worldwide AIDS/HIV care. Yes, they SHOULD BE providing condoms as well as antiretrovirals and nursing care, but the fact remains that they DO provide care for AIDS patients with the full blessing of the Church.

    Is why this doctor’s attitude doesn’t make sense. To me.

  • Baby_Raptor

    These people knew that there were going to be situations where their beliefs would conflict with what they’re required to do, and they chose this job anyway. They weren’t forced to become doctors. This shouldn’t be legal. They should be in jail.

  • DiscreteComponent

    This may be a little off topic but it does need to be kept in mind when talking about rights.  It is held as a truism of teaching constitutional law that all students have difficulty understanding the reach of a right.  That is, when does my right for ‘x’ end?  I’ve always been inclined to this test.  “My right to swing my fist ends at your noise.”  In the case we are dealing with here it could be applied thusly:  “Dr. Borga right to practice her religion ends where interferes with  Mr. Simoes right to the medical treatment prescribed by his doctor.”  ‘Nuff said

  • P J Evans

    As I understand it,  the bishops have told Catholic-run hospitals that their duty as Catholic institutions is to save souls. If people are suffering, it’s for their own good, even if that means ignoring the patient’s directives.

    The USCCB is a bunch of douchebecks.

  • DiscreteComponent

    One wonders if Dr. Borga’s oath taken as a doctor included “Primum non nocere” or not?  Also did she take it before God?  Finally how her ‘confessor’ will explain just what kind of sin her actions have led her into?

  • You know, if they are granted the right to allow someone to suffer due to freedom of religious conscious, that opens the door for all kinds of other “trampling over rights due to religious objection” options.  For example, if they have the right to hurt someone by denying them treatment on a religious objection to that person’s choice of lifestyle (being homosexual,) then I have the right to hit them in the kneecaps with a baseball bat on my religious objection to their choice of lifestyle (being bigots.)  Why should their rights to religious objection exceed my own?  

    I do not think that they have completely thought through the kind of precedent they are heading towards….

  • Matri

    Sure they have.

    Precedent for them: It’s their Rights!
    Precedent for Others: Not Allowed.

  • Amaryllis

    I have no time at all for the USCCB.

    But I’m still having trouble blaming them for this one.

    According to their own words, “A Catholic institutional health care service is a community that provides health care to those in need of it.” Directive 1. Health care. Bodies, not souls.

    It’s true that they immediately caveat that with “This service must be animated by the Gospel of Jesus Christ and guided by the moral tradition of the Church.” So, I’m not surprised if a Catholic hospital won’t perform an abortion even to save a woman’s life, or a bishop excommunicates a hospital administrator who is brave enough to put compassion and respect for an actual person above purity of doctrine. Saddened and enraged, but not surprised, because if I squint sideways and backwards I can kind of see where they’re coming from. If they think that the performance of an abortion is a sin, they won’t do it.

    But there is nothing sinful about the act of giving a dose of antiretroviral medicine. We’re led to believe that the doctor or hospital or whoever would have had no problem providing said medication of the patient had acquired the infection through blood transfusion, or even drug use or heterosexual sex, right? Her problem was that he was gay? So there’s nothing intrinsically immoral about the medicine itself, in the way that some other procedures are considered by the more rigid, doctrinaire doctrinists to be intrinsically immoral. And refusing to provide it could in no way be construed as saving anyone’s soul.

  • LectorElise

    More and more, I’m starting to see the appeal of your point of view. I think this is a sign I need to spend less time following the goings-on of the catholic church and its affiliates.

  • Tonio

    I made a mistake similar to the one that Ross  did, which was to assume that homophobes are almost always males.

    As cruel and hateful as Dr. Borga’s actions were, was this official hospital policy? Was she acting on her own? Did she believe that this was what the administration wanted? None of that would absolve the hospital of culpability for the actions of its employees.

  • AnonymousSam

    To put it another way, if you tell me that a Catholic health care institution refuses to recommend condoms for AIDS prevention  I will be sad but not surprised.

    This just in, Pope Benedict XVI refuses to recommend condoms to Africans to prevent AIDs.


  • PollyAmory


  • PollyAmory

    He was in a mental hospital. Maybe she was attending?

  • This just in, Pope Benedict XVI refuses to recommend condoms to Africans to prevent AIDs. 

    Condom use might be justifiable, but only in very specific circumstances.  

  • Well, the man wears a dildo on his head so I’m not surprised.

  • Erikgamle

    What came first poverty or the Roman Catholic Church? This case reflects a belief system that us disintegrating under the pressure of it’s own fallibility,if it wasn’t so sad even the devil would be laughing.The Pope should be crucified,he could atone for the sins of his flock in perpetuating a catalogue of misery.As a never been a Rat Catcher ie R..C    I wish them all a speedy delivery to the purgatory of their choice . Sorry purgatory is backdoor reincarnation and as such is anethema to these bastards,just a single ticket to oblivion

  • One of the worst places you can go to is a hospital psych ward.  I mean, I’m a straight white male (and on top of that, very religious) and have gotten the same level of “care” at both religious and non-religious ones that Joao did.  That’s how poorly the mentally ill are treated by the healthcare system in America (and it’s far worse in most of the world).  My treatment was so extreme that it’s likely the only reason I’m still alive are my unearned societal privileges.  Which makes me wonder what the number of people is of those who were NOT as lucky as me.  Which is one of the reasons why I’m incensed that anyone would actually SUPPORT things that enable people to further mistreat people according to their own bigotry… let alone claim that to not do so would be depriving them of THEIR freedom…  It sounds more to me like people are annoyed that they don’t have the right to abuse people who aren’t like them.

  • If Dr. Susan V. Borga did indeed refuse the patient’s requests for his medication, I submit that her name be officially changed to Oathbreaker Susan V. Borga.