No transplant for woman in religious freedom case

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Kansas woman’s victory in a religious freedom case came too late for a life-saving liver transplant.

Mary Stinemetz of Hill City is terminally ill with chronic liver disease. The 65-year-old woman is a Jehovah’s Witness, a religion that forbids blood transfusions.

She won a legal battle last year that forced the state to pay for a transplant in Nebraska that did not require a blood transfusion. She continues to receive medical care but Stinemetz is focused on what comes next.

“I am just thankful I have the hope of the Resurrection. That means a lot to me,” she said. “I look forward to the Resurrection if I do die.”

Kansas officials had argued that a bloodless transplant was not a medical necessity, and Steinmetz’s religion should not determine insurance coverage.

The Kansas City Star reported Tuesday (http://bit.ly/OZjDix) the legal victory came too late for Stinemetz. By the time she won, her condition had deteriorated so much that she was not eligible for a new liver. It’s not clear how much time she has left.

“Anything can happen at any minute,” Stinemetz’s husband, Merlyn, said Tuesday. “Her condition deteriorates regardless of what you do. You can’t stop it.”

Stinemetz refused to have a liver transplant at the University of Kansas Hospital because it would require a blood transfusion. After a legal battle, the state agreed to pay for a bloodless transplant at a Nebraska hospital.

“The only thing I had going for me was the liver transplant and that’s out of the picture.” Stinemetz said. “There’s just no cure for it. I’m going to get progressively worse.”

Though she said the delays cost her a chance at a new liver, Stinemetz said the good in the situation is that other Jehovah’s Witnesses won’t have to face the same legal battle in the future.

Stinemetz has suffered from primary biliary cirrhosis for 20 years, a disease that causes the liver to deteriorate and malfunction. She still finds it difficult to locate physicians willing to treat her condition without using blood transfusions. That includes getting admitted to hospitals to have fluid drained from her lungs and abdomen.

The couple is going to Denver to be closer to their daughter and doctors who are willing to honor her religious preferences.

“We wouldn’t be traveling all these miles,” Merlyn Stinemetz said, “if we had doctors that would conform to your worship wishes.”

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