Israeli Hospital That Refused IVF to Unmarried Woman to Continue Receiving State Funding

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The state is entitled to fund a hospital to the tune of millions of shekels even if it refuses to give IVF treatments to unmarried women, the Justice Ministry said recently.

The ministry’s opinion was written in response to a class-action suit against Laniado Hospital in Netanya. The plaintiff sought fertility treatment at the hospital but was turned down because she isn’t married.

Though Laniado serves members of all the health maintenance organizations, it’s a private hospital owned by the Sanz Hasidic sect. But following years of financial trouble, it signed a recovery deal this past summer under which it will receive 360 million shekels ($103 million) from the government over the next five years, thus making it a state-funded body.

A year before the deal was signed, the plaintiff’s attorney Niv-Yagoda asked the ministry to condition any state funding on Laniado ending its refusal to provide fertility treatments to unmarried women. She argued that this refusal constitutes illegal discrimination, a claim the Central District Court in Lod appeared to endorse when it recently approved the suit against Laniado as a class action.

When the ministry responded to Niv-Yagoda’s request more than a year later, it took the opposite position. It said the danger of the hospital going bankrupt far outweighs the issue of discrimination, and that as long as the Health Ministry, “as a matter of policy, hasn’t seen fit to enforce the obligation of equality toward patients,” it can’t condition the recovery plan on this “extraneous goal.” Or in other words, it won’t force the Health Ministry to stop turning a blind eye to discrimination.

“The bankruptcy of a public hospital would be a serious shock to the health system,” added the Justice Ministry’s letter, written by attorney Eran Assis. “Maintaining the system’s stability is the dominant consideration,” and considerations “relating to the hospital’s conduct in particular cases” are secondary. Thus the fact “that forbidden discrimination is occurring” is “not sufficient” to mandate an end to funding.

In her response to Assis, Niv-Yagoda charged that his ministry “is in practice legitimizing a declared policy of discriminating against patients.” Moreover, she wrote, he is ignoring the fact that Health Ministry regulations specifically require it to “ensure that the institution is acting legally and obeying all laws” when transferring funds.

Laniado, which is seeking to appeal the district court’s decision in the Supreme Court, argued in its brief that it is obligated to obey Jewish law, and requiring it do to otherwise would be “a severe blow to the hospital’s freedom of religion.” Should the plaintiff win her case, it added, it would have to shut down its IVF department rather than violate its religious beliefs.

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