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Religious affiliation should not trump patient health: Catholic Hospital denies life-saving tubal ligation to pregnant woman

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Yet another woman is being denied important medical care in the name of Catholicism. Jezebel reports:

Jessica Mann, a 33-year-old social worker, is in her third trimester of pregnancy with her third child. Mann has pilocytic astrocytoma brain tumors, meaning that any future pregnancies could be fatal. Additionally, the tumors mean that she will not be able to give birth naturally due to the risk of seizure—instead, she’ll receive a Cesarean section under full anesthesia. At the recommendation of her obstetrician and a maternal fetal medicine specialist, she decided to opt for a tubal ligation (to get her tubes tied) while under anesthesia, immediately after giving birth.

But her hospital, Genesys Regional Medical Center, follows the US Conference of Catholic Bishops Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services. As such, it is refusing to allow doctors to perform the tubal ligation. Instead, Mann will have to undergo and recover from additional surgery and anesthesia at a later date, when she would otherwise have been home taking care of her newborn. (The Catholic Church is pro-family?) The ACLU of Michigan is helping Mann.

Loretto Catholic hospital in Minnesota, photo by the National Archives and Records Administration, courtesy of Wikicommons.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has sounded the alarm on Christian privilege bestowed on Catholic hospitals by American law. We opposed the Catholic takeover of hospitals in Washington, which eventually helped nudge Governor Inslee to strengthen regulations for hospital partnerships and Attorney General Robert Ferguson to issue a formal opinion declaring that hospital districts that provide maternity care and that receive taxes, must provide information on contraception and abortion.

Our June 2013 letter to Washington Gov. Inslee highlighted many of the problems with submitting women’s health to Catholic ideology. The overriding concern is that Catholic hospitals are religious ministries first, and medical organizations second. The American Medical Association Principles of Medical Ethics says, “A physician shall, while caring for a patient, regard responsibility to the patient as paramount.” Unlike the medical profession, which is committed to patients and patient care above all, Catholic health organizations are committed to church doctrine above all. They are driven primarily by religious beliefs, not by the tenets and ethics of the medical profession.

The religion-over-medicine philosophy is exemplified by the Bishops’ Directives, the same directives that are preventing Mann’s doctors from performing her tubal ligation. Rather than relying on evidence-based medical science, the Bishops’ Directives are based on “theological principles,” and “flow principally from the natural law, understood in the light of the revelation Christ has entrusted to his Church.” (For a full breakdown of the directives’ depravity, read our June 2013 letter.)

The first two directives revealingly focus on religious concerns, not on patient health and well-being, including that providing health care “be animated by the Gospel of Jesus Christ and guided by the moral tradition of the Church.”

The theme of placing dogma before medicine continues throughout the document. The Bishops’ Directives mandate respect for the wishes and decisions of patients, unless those decisions conflict with Catholic beliefs:

  • Directive 24: “In compliance with federal law, a Catholic health care institution will make available to patients information about their rights . . . to make an advance directive for their medical treatment. The institution, however, will not honor an advance directive that is contrary to Catholic teaching.
  • Directive 25: “Each person may identify in advance a representative to make health care decisions as his or her surrogate in the event that the person loses the capacity to make health care decisions. Decisions by the designated surrogate should be faithful to Catholic moral principles and to the person’s intentions and values . . . .
  • Directive 59: “The free and informed judgment made by a competent adult patient concerning the use or withdrawal of life-sustaining procedures should always be respected and normally complied with, unless it is contrary to Catholic moral teaching.”

This means that patient decisions on abortion, contraception, voluntary sterilization, etc. are secondary to Catholic dogma.

The Bishops Directives’ (and therefore the Catholic Church) oblige Catholic institutions to follow the Directives—“Catholic health care services must adopt these Directives as policy”—and also require all secular medical affiliates to comply with Catholic teachings: “Any partnership that will affect the mission or religious and ethical identity of Catholic health care institutional services must respect church teaching and discipline.” (Directive 68)

These directives are appalling violations of the rights of individual conscience. They impose the Catholic religion on all patients, regardless of their beliefs. Yet Catholic hospitals receive vast infusions of federal funds. And unfortunately, many secular facilities are being forced to merge with Catholic hospitals to stay afloat, and are being forced to follow the Bishops Directives, placing Catholic theology over patients’ health and rights.

Religion has no right to determine what medicine is. That is for doctors and medical science. Nor does religion have any right to refuse to provide legitimate medical services to a citizen. That is for the citizen to decide. The antiquated medical notions of a conclave of celibate men with no medical training—the Catholic Church hierarchy—cannot be allowed to dictate to a woman what she can and cannot do with her body.

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14 Responses

    1. Define “legally binding.” Local Catholic Hospital won’t let Dr’s perform tubal ligations or vasectomies even though both the Dr. And the patient are fine with it.

        1. In MO, and several other States laws have been passed allowing Religious hospitals to deny procedures which conflict with their beliefs. I personally think it’s unconstitutional, but it needs to be tested.

          1. It has to be unconstitutional, because it’s forcing religious beliefs on a captive audience, and hospitals — Catholic hospitals included — receive both state and federal funding via Medicare and Medicaid.

  1. I too am very disturbed by the issue of the Catholic Church building hospitals as Majorana Ferion mentioned. This is an underhanded attempt by the Catholics to force their dogma on those people who know no better.

    1. What’s worse is that in many places, there’s no choice but the Catholic hospital/medical complex. *side-eyes PeaceHealth*

      I haven’t had many issues with them (yet), other than making me pee in a cup and wait for the test results every time I go in for my birth control.

  2. A few years back it was reported that the Church owned 1 in 9 beds overall, 1 in 6 critical care beds & they haven’t stopped their purchasing/partnering spree since then. They especially like to target hospitals with the only critical care unit in a region. And, they are making money at it, while the amount of “charitable care” provided is on the lower end of the scale.
    Women’s health
    LGBT health
    Everyone’s EOL choices
    All are being managed based on the Church’s dogma rather than best medical practices, and somehow Congress & the AMA appear to think this is just fine.

  3. I don’t think people understand that this more than the woman’s reproductive health issues. The Catholic Church also will interfere with end-of-life decisions also. This will mean already difficult decisions will be complicated when the Bishops force directives on patients.

    1. I’m reminded of Terri Schiavo case. A whole mess of people got involved with something that should’ve strictly been up to the closest person to her, the husband.

      I swear that that people blow off the significance of this because they think it’s just women’s parts but I always wonder if people would be so damn chipper about “religious liberty” if they couldn’t get a blood transfusion because the Jehovah’s Witnesses bought a hospital and they got into one helluva car accident. If it was an equal opportunity part like a kidney or a lung, people would stop being so damn cavalier about it.