Mary Stinemetz beat the state in a precedent-setting religious freedom case, but she’s losing the battle against a chronic liver disease.
Stinemetz is terminally ill after she was unable to get a liver transplant even though she won a legal battle that forced the state to honor her faith and pay for an out-of-state liver transplant.
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No one can say for sure 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.”
A Jehovah’s Witness from the western Kansas town of Hill City, Stinemetz got a Kansas appeals court to find that the state violated her constitutional right to exercise her religious faith when it denied Medicaid coverage for an out-of-state liver transplant.
Stinemetz, 65, refused to undergo a liver transplant at the University of Kansas Hospital because she would need a blood transfusion — something she couldn’t accept as a Jehovah’s Witness. She wanted to receive a special bloodless transplant in Nebraska instead.
The state agreed to cover the procedure but by the time she could get on a transplant list, her condition had worsened to a point where she was no longer eligible for a new liver.
“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.”
Maybe if the state had more readily agreed to fund the transplant instead of battling the case in court, she said, the outcome would be different.
“To be honest with you, they dragged their feet too long,” she said. “That’s OK, because it sets precedent for others who are Jehovah’s people so they won’t have the problems I had.”
State officials had argued in court that there was no medical necessity for a bloodless transplant, and that her religious preference shouldn’t determine insurance coverage.
For 20 years, Stinemetz has suffered from primary biliary cirrhosis, a chronic disease that causes the liver to deteriorate and malfunction over time.
Even now, it’s not easy getting treatment locally because there are few physicians willing to treat her condition without the ability to give her a blood transfusion.
Merlyn Stinemetz said he even has trouble getting his wife admitted to local hospitals so she can have fluid drained from her lungs and abdomen.
The Stinemetzes are planning to go to Denver where they can be closer to their daughter and to doctors who are willing to treat her condition without blood transfusions.
“We wouldn’t be traveling all these miles,” he said, “if we had doctors that would conform to your worship wishes.”
Stinemetz said she has no idea how much time she has left. But she’s more focused on eternity than the here and now.
“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.”