How far are we, as a society, to take the vague concept of ‘religious freedom?’ A New Jersey doctor, a woman who has dedicated her life to healing, apparently feels that her right to hate in the name of God trumps her Hippocratic oath. In refusing to treat an HIV patient, Susan V. Borja, M.D, effectively played God by deciding who is worthy of living and who is not. Gay men, in her mind, are not worthy of life. Convicted murderers, on the other hand, are.
Joao Simoes is HIV positive. He went to Trinitas Regional Medical Center in Elizabeth, NJ and for an undisclosed reason, was admitted to the mental health wing. According to a complaint filed with the state of New Jersey, Dr. Borja of the Department of Behavioral Health and Psychiatry approached Simoes and after looking at his file, asked how he contracted HIV. His response was, “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. (source, Courthouse News Service)
According to Simoes, three days passed passed before he was allowed to contact his personal physician. It was at that time he learned that Borja had already spoken to his doctor.
“You must be gay, too, if you’re his doctor,” accused Borga.
“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.”
Her standards were apparently not as Godly when it came to the sin of murder. Simoes claimed she was “unfazed” when a man confessed that he was just released from prison where he was serving time for murder.
Borja even refused to allow Simoes’ sister to visit. His sister, did, however, leave HIV medicine at the nurses’ station. The nurses eventually gave the medicine to Simoes, but not before he had missed five doses.
Simoes is suing the hospital, but not Borja.
Religious freedom is one of the most basic liberties. The First Amendment guarantees freedom both of and from religion. But like all freedoms, there are limits. We have the right to free speech, but we do not have the right to threaten another human being’s life. Churches don’t have the right to sacrifice human or animal life, even if it is within their doctrine. Churches don’t have the right to light fires in areas deemed not suitable for fire. Churches aren’t even protected from laws against littering. In short, the First Amendment does not trump the basic laws of a civilized society. It does not grant religious people the authority to determine who lives and who dies, but that is precisely what Borja and Trinitas Regional Medical Center are accused of doing.
Even if we were, as a society, to determine that allowing doctors to selectively treat patients was ethical, how far can we take it? Can a warehouse worker refuse to handle a box full of materials that might be used for weaponry, in the name of religion and without fear of retribution? Can a salesperson be expected to keep her job if she refuses to sell to a customer because of moral objections? Can a driver’s license clerk refuse to issue a license to a known atheist? Can a Jehovah’s Witness doctor refuse blood transfusions to patients?
Libertarians often spout the idea that employees are free to leave if they find certain aspects of their job objectionable. If Borja believes she is in the business of administering God’s word and not medicine, perhaps that is the field she should consider.