Before You Go to a Catholic Hospital, Read This

"Whatever you do, if anything happens, don't take me to St. Vincent's." Those were the words my friend uttered to her husband regularly throughout her pregnancy years ago, when St. Vincent's, a Catholic hospital serving lower Manhattan, was still open. Even though St. Vincent's was the hospital closest to her home, she knew the risks of going to a Catholic hospital with a pregnancy complication. She knew that her care could be compromised – that Catholic hospitals adhere to religious directives issued by the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops governing Catholic health services.

Tamesha Means didn't know this. When her water broke at eighteen weeks of pregnancy, she went to her local hospital. It was historically secular, but had recently been gobbled up by a large Catholic health care system. What happened to her? She got sent home – more than once – with the hospital telling her there was nothing it could do. They didn't tell her that, given her stage of pregnancy, there was almost no chance the fetus would survive, that attempting to continue the pregnancy would put her health and possibly even life at risk, or that, given these factors, the safest course of care would be to end the pregnancy. They didn't tell her any of that even in the face of her bleeding, pain, and signs of infection.

Tamesha didn't get the information or care she deserved because her local hospital is bound by the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care (the Directives), issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. She got care governed by religious directives – and she became infected. And the Bishops got a lawsuit.

Tamesha's story could be yours. That's the point of a new report, Miscarriage of Medicine: The Growth of Catholic Hospitals and the Threat to Reproductive Health Care, released yesterday by MergerWatch and the ACLU. The report shows the continued expansion of Catholic hospitals and systems. It reports on facts that most of us don't know, but should:

  • By 2011, 10 percent of all acute-care hospitals were Catholic-sponsored or –affiliated. Between 2001 and 2011, the number of Catholic-sponsored or –affiliated acute-care hospitals increased by 16 percent, while all other types of non-profit hospitals declined in numbers.
  • In 2011, 10 of the 25 largest health systems in the nation were Catholic-sponsored.

In other words, if you face a medical complication, you have a one in ten chance of landing in a Catholic hospital. This matters.

If you are anything like me, you think when you go to the hospital, medical standards, not religious rules, govern the care you receive. But the Directives prohibit a range of reproductive health services, including contraception, sterilization, many infertility treatments, and abortion care, even when a woman's health or life is in danger. Moreover, they often restrict even the ability of hospital staff to provide patients with full information and referrals for care that conflict with religious teachings. As Tamesha's story shows, they can interfere even with the care you get if you are miscarrying. You want to know that before you walk in the door – or are rolled into the ER – with a complication in your pregnancy.

Don't get us wrong. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is entitled to its religious beliefs. They are free to oppose abortion, to discourage and even demonize it. That's their right and the ACLU will rush to defend it. But when it comes to what goes on in a hospital, we've gone well beyond belief. We are talking about medical care. We can be talking about life and death.

We could be talking about you.

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Anonymous

I'm a Paramedic.
They're losing it - in whole chunks at a time.

Anonymous

Back in 1954 my mother and father went to St Mary's (Catholic Hospital) for my eldest sister's birth. The NUNS told my mother to go take a shower, and forgot about her. She was in there so long the water turned cold. She was yelling for my dad to come and help her. T

The nuns told him that all the silly women in labor yelled. My german grandmother finally told him to go see what was happening. She was in distress and close to delivering on the bathroom floor. My sister's heart rate was falling and my mom wasn't doing real well from the hemoragging. But the nuns assured my dad that they'd save the baby.

My dad said "Save her, we can always have another baby, but what am I going to do with a newborn and no wife"......actually that's a horrible statement by my dad, but better than the nun's statement.

Anyway, they got her into the delivery room and things settled down. Mom and Mary are doing fine, dad has passed.....but the Catholic Church is still the same......

B.R. Jones

I'm perfectly certain someone will comment on this trying to rationalize or justify it by saying something along the lines of, "Well, these are the tenets of our great and mysterious faith and we aren't going to just adjust them because society believes differently or because it's killing people. Don't be such a bigot!"

All I can do is shake my head that this is still allowed to happen in America in 2013. It's as ridiculous as it is horrific. I hope the ACLU will help put a stop to it.

Anonymous

It would be a great help if this site contained either an updated list of medical facilities owned by or run by churches who conduct themselves in the manner being litigated, or a link to sites that do identify them.

Anonymous

Medical Care was, is and will remain a freedom of choice. I can choose to consider preventative interventions, seek care if/when sick, even choose to do what the doctor tells me. In fact, only 68% of prescriptions written are filled so obviously seeking to get better is a choice. I am not Catholic but I support the Catholic owned and operated hospitals to inform those who choose to seek their care. Don't like it, go somewhere else- it's your choice!! Don't like the food or service at a restaurant, you go somewhere else. I value my freedom of choice. But for the ACLU to end this article as they did shows their bias. " Don't get us wrong. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is entitled to its religious beliefs. They are free to oppose abortion, to discourage and even demonize it. That's their right and the ACLU will rush to defend it. But when it comes to what goes on in a hospital, we've gone well beyond belief. We are talking about medical care. We can be talking about life and death."

Anonymous

My wife works for a catholic hospital in their women's and children's wing. From her experience, I can tell you that they are very upfront with employees and patients about what services they do and do not offer regarding delivery, contraception and fertility. We dealt with the fact that many of our infertility expenses would come out of pocket.

The hospital she works for, which is part of a large network of catholic hospitals, routinely sends patients to other facilities to receive treatment that goes against their ethical code. Not only that, but the doctors she works with are the biggest advocates for the patients. They are not all catholic, but they all do what is best for the patient. I'm sure you're familiar with the Hippocratic Oath? So I question how systemic a problem is the subject of this piece?

The problem I have with this piece, is that it is really inappropriate, yet very characteristic, for ACLU publications. As the author states, he or she would gladly defend the rights of a catholic to practice their faith, but then she has already spent the whole article denigrating that faith. How is it in the ACLU's interest to start making such value judgments? This is why many Christians do not like the ACLU.

My advice: leave the value judgements at the door.

For interest, I am a doctor, a Christian, and a Libertarian.

Vicki B., EMT &...

It won't be ME trying to justify it. I've helped deliver more babies than I can recall offhand, and it's dead obvious that anybody helping deliver a baby who says "all the silly women scream when they're in labor" is either a) living in her own little world, in which nothing from outside enters or b) is cold iron and hard as uranium.

I always wish people like that would be blessed with giving birth to something larger than a softball's diameter leaving their bodies and see how "silly" THEY are for calling it that.

Anonymous

What about a Catholic hospital's right as a private institution to choose which services they will and will not provide? Public institutions are a different story, of course. But what else should one expect from a Catholic hospital, really? I see no issue with their selective care; this is more of an issue of the public not being aware of the limited care provided at a catholic hospital with respect to pregnancy/abortion. Whether or not that is the public's responsibility to already know or the Catholic hospital's responsibility to advertise more clearly is another question. But Catholic hospitals, as private institutions, certainly should not be told that they MUST provide a specific service.

Anonymous

I am concerned about the aclu pro-Jewish and anti-Catholic inclination.

Anonymous

I don't think that Catholic hospitals should necessarily be forced into providing services which go against their religious ethics, unless it's the only hospital within a large radius equipped to provide care at a particular level, but that's an argument for another day.

I DO think that Catholic hospitals should be forced into providing patients the appropriate information. This could have been avoided if the doctors tending to that woman had simply told her that she needed to seek treatment elsewhere, instead of putting her off like everything was okay.

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