Court: health agency violated woman's religious freedoms

The Kansas Court of Appeals ruled today that a state health agency violated a Hill City woman’s religious freedoms by denying her access to a bloodless liver transplant in another state.

Mary D. Stinemetz is a Jehovah’s Witness whose beliefs prohibit blood transfusions. There is a recognized procedure for doing the surgery without transfusions, but no facility in the state performs it. Stinemetz, however, found a hospital in Omaha will to perform a bloodless transplant.

Because Stinemetz is a Medicaid recipient, however, she had to get approval from the Kansas Health Policy Authority, which denied her request to go out of state.

The Kansas Court of Appeals said:“There is no question that the KHPA would authorize a liver transplant for Stinemetz in Kansas, including a bloodless liver transplant if a medical facility was available in Kansas to perform the technique. However, the KHPA denied Stinemetz’ request for prior authorization for out-of-state services on the ground that her religious preference did not constitute a medical necessity.”The opinion written by Wichita’s Judge Tom Malone agreed with Stinemetz’s religious claims and ordered the KHPA to grant her request.

A bloodless procedure is less expensive. Under state regulations, the court pointed out, Stinemetz’s request would have been approved if she’d found a facility within 50 miles of the Kansas border, such as Kansas City, Mo.

Wrote Malone:“Here, the KHPA has failed to suggest any state interest, much less a compelling interest, for denying Stinemetz’ request for prior authorization for the out-of-state liver transplant.” Stinemetz has been awaiting the transplant since 2009.

Read the decision:

Stinemetz v. KHPA