Medical Emergency: Catholic Hospitals Usurp Patients' Rights
Boston, Rob, The Humanist
YOU CAN'T expect that every hospital will provide all of the medical services you'll need. Some procedures are so specialized that you might have to travel to get them done. Conversely, some procedures are so basic that any hospital should be able to perform them. And if you're in danger of dying, it's to be expected that any hospital would do all it could to save your life.
Sounds pretty simple, right? It should be, but thanks to the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, it's getting awfully complex.
Last year, a nun who worked as an administrator at St. Joseph's Hospital in Phoenix, Arizona, was demoted after she signed off on an abortion for a woman who was eleven weeks pregnant and suffering from life-threatening pulmonary hypertension. With the patient's heart and lungs in jeopardy, doctors determined that ending the pregnancy was the only way to save her life.
Phoenix Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted was furious. Not only did he demote Sister Margaret McBride, he announced that she had automatically excommunicated herself from the Catholic Church by her actions. McBride, an Irish Catholic deeply involved in her church, is no longer eligible to receive sacraments or participate in other forms of church life.
As outrageous as they were, Olmsted's actions might have done some good. They aimed a spotlight on an issue that is often overlooked: growing sectarian interference in healthcare.
Healthcare has been in the news a lot lately, but much of the discussion has centered on the bill backed by President Barack Obama that Republicans in Congress are trying to repeal. Americans obviously have different opinions about that legislation. We can hope, however, that most Americans don't support medical decisions being made subservient to religious dogma.
Yet about a fifth of all U.S. hospitals abide by a series of directives promulgated by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The directives ban abortions for any reason, forbid distribution of birth control (often including "morning after" pills for rape victims), deny sterilization operations such as vasectomies and tubal ligations, and nullify advanced directives and "living wills" that conflict with Catholic doctrine.
Catholic hospitals impose these narrow doctrinal views--which are so strict that even most American Catholics don't support them--while receiving a windfall of public support through direct government subsidies and participation in Medicare and Medicaid programs.
Americans are increasingly finding that medical services they took for granted have evaporated as a spate of hospital mergers across the country has subjected many people to the bishops' directives. Why is this? Because when Catholic hospitals merge with non-Catholic institutions, the latter are required to accept the directives as part of the deal.
Women's rights groups and advocates of reproductive freedom have been speaking out, but too often their complaints fall on deaf ears. In Montgomery County, Maryland--an affluent suburb of Washington, DC, with a well educated population that leans toward progressive politics--state regulators recently ruled that a Catholic hospital group could build the county's first new hospital in thirty years. In making this decision, the board bypassed a rival proposal from a group run by the Seventh-day Adventists. Although both groups are religious, the Adventists had promised to provide the full range of reproductive services. …