We hope that you have been following the Baby Gianna Story (see Part I, Part II, and Part III) this week. Among the many things that we take away from this heartbreaking yet life affirming story is the critical need to keep Catholic hospitals Catholic.
It would be very easy to try and lay all the blame for the non-Catholic practices that occurred to Jessica and Rebecca at the feet of the St. Mary’s Medical Center administration. That might make us feel better but it would likely accomplish little.
For sure, St. Mary’s Medical is responsible for what occurs under their roof. The recommendation of a physician at a Catholic hospital to abort a child should never happen. Period. Further, whether or not under current law Catholic hospitals in Pennsylvania and elsewhere can prohibit doctors in good standing with the state from practicing within the hospital is one thing, what they say and do while there is entirely another. Catholic hospitals have a moral obligation to monitor and prevent any such recommendation from occurring.
The remedy to this unacceptable situation is not simple. This is a battle that must be fought on several fronts.
Visibility. There needs to be a system in place to provide the necessary visibility to Bishops and to those who desire truly “Catholic” health services. For every story about an abortion recommendation that becomes known, like in this case, there are likely myriad that never become known. We also know—and Matthew and I know first hand—that the practice of de-facto euthanasia, as well as several other un-Catholic practices, are widespread in Catholic hospitals. In all too many cases, these practices are known and accepted.
What is needed is a comprehensive and standardized monitoring system for Catholic hospitals. There is an obligation that comes with the “Catholic” banner. This process should not be left up to the individual hospital. A comprehensive and standardized methodology for monitoring needs to be put in place to provide the necessary visibility. Only with visibility can you have…
Accountability. Bishops, corporately and individually, need to make sure that these monitoring procedures are in place. With this visibility, Bishops must hold these hospitals accountable. Practices such as offering off-site abortions and other such efforts that seek to skirt the letter of the law while directly contradicting its spirit must be stopped at all costs. There is still a caché associated with the Catholic banner and Bishops must understand this leverage and not be afraid to use it. It is their only true weapon.
Just this week, Bishop Robert Vasa of the Diocese of Baker revoked the “Catholic” title from St. Charles Medical Center over their continued performing of sterilizations. It was regrettable, but necessary.
Bishops, in particular, need to be conscious and wary of the impacts of hospital mergers with secular institutions. When this happens, these hospitals desire to keep the Catholic name while acting as a secular institution. To get around such Catholic restrictions, hospitals will engage in disingenuous behavior.
“When non catholic hospital and catholic hospitals merge they’ve carved out a room and say that’s not part of the Catholic hospital even though its in the same physical structure,” says Lester A. Ruppersberger, D.O., a pro-life gynecologist on staff at St. Mary’s.
Bishops need to be alert to such things and ensure that they don’t continue. They should work closely with the hospital administration to ensure that such practices do not start and certainly do not continue, and hold the hospital accountable. It is tough to say, but any Bishop who does not hold them accountable and chooses to look the other way puts his soul in jeopardy. They should all follow Bishop Vasa’s example.
The Legal Battle. One of the things that came to light in the Baby Gianna story is that hospitals in Pennsylvania (and I am sure elsewhere) have no legal ability to prevent doctors who provide abortion services from practicing at their facilities. This is an unacceptable situation. Freedom of religion must allow for Catholic hospitals to only associate themselves with doctors who share their moral principles. Without this ability, Catholic hospitals will not remain Catholic.
However, it is too much to expect that individual hospitals can take on this battle alone. This needs to be a corporate effort led by the Bishops to pick and win this fight. It is no longer acceptable that the religious prerogatives of Catholics continue to be eroded day-by-day. A concerted effort to make the case and win the legal battle needs to be initiated soon, before it’s too late.
We have watched over the last decades as the right to distinctive Catholic health-care has been destroyed, step-by-step. The fight must be engaged now while there is still Catholic healthcare to fight for.
February 18, 2010 at 12:28 pm
I wish our bishop knew what Catholic health care looked like. First, we've got the Albany Catholic Charities doing a needle exchange program. Then, longer term, we're losing a lot of Catholic maternity services. 3 years ago there were three Catholic hospitals in the area offering maternity services. At the end of this year, there will be only one.
The most recent merger won't provide abortions, but it's doing the hospital in a hospital scheme so that they can do tubals and vasectomies. The Catholic hospital in Troy delivers a full 2/3 of the babies born in Troy, compared to about 1/3 at the secular hospital. But now, the secular hospital is going to create this "hospital in a hospital" that will be a "separate entity inside the structure of Samaritan Hospital" so that technically the hospital system is within the Ethical and Religious Directives except for the maternity ward.
It's evidently important enough to provide sterilizations that they're squeezing 2 hospitals worth of patients into less than half the maternity beds that currently exist.. in the whole county. It's *that* important, and now in a city where the hospital system is allegedly under the Ethical and Religious Directives, there is absolutely NO option for Catholic maternity services for those of us who don't want to be asked if we're getting our tubals. I wrote to Bishop Hubbard with no response. I contacted the VP of planning in charge of this hospital in a hospital thing to ask how Catholic maternity care was being preserved for women who want it, and got blown off. Thank God I'm low risk enough to stay home to give birth with my NFP friendly CNM, but many people need hospital based maternity services and aren't going to be able to get ones that follow the Ethical and Religious Directives. It's really, really upsetting. What is happening to *Catholic* healthcare?!
February 18, 2010 at 1:07 pm
I am in the Harrisburg, PA area and our local Catholic hospital has a "reputation". It gives me a thrill when I hear people complaining about how noone in the system will prescribe birth control or perform sterilizations. It's also (IMHO) the best available health care in the area. it makes me very proud to be a Catholic, and very happy to have had a Catholic mother who is also a doctor deliver my most recent two children. I hope and pray that the laws won't destroy what we have.
February 18, 2010 at 1:08 pm
I am so grateful for you taking on this challenging topic. I have worked in two Catholic hosptials and have associated with the rest of them in our town. It's frustrating how many times pro-life attitudes are dismissed with a wink and a nod. At one teaching hospital, most of othe OB/GYNs thought they were prolife because the provided the sterilizations that prevented conception and subsequent abortions. A similar example comes from a pediatric hospital with a clinic where a very large number of girls are prescribed the pill for "dismenorhea." Physicians freely admit that's what they have to do to prescibe the pill. It's hard enough to work in healthcare and keep your principles. It's even harder when a Catholic hospital can't keep their own.
February 18, 2010 at 1:47 pm
And speaking of euthanasia in Catholic hospitals, my reference to this series contains a link to a classic article on the subject from HPR.
February 18, 2010 at 8:11 pm
We had our 4th in a Catholic hospital, attended by a Catholic doctor. I was able to develop a wonderful doctor/patient relationship with this doctor because of my openness to discussing NFP with him. He had recently stopped performing sterilizations and I spent my pregnancy trying to encourage him to stop prescribing contraception. He, like many other OB/GYNs was afraid of not having enough patients if he decided to become an NFP only Doc.
It's sad to think that even in a Catholic hospital he was afraid he would not get enough business and therefore would not adhere to his Catholic principles. I still pray for him.
February 18, 2010 at 9:01 pm
Seton took over Brackenridge Hospital in Austin, Texas. It has a floor that is "not part of the Catholic hospital." I am pretty sure this was worked out with the Bishop who was there at that time.
February 18, 2010 at 11:31 pm
Many Catholic hospitals have decided not to have OB providers as hospital employees because they can't rely on them to uphold Catholic principles in their offices. We have a situation where a practicing and faithful Catholic would have trouble even getting into a residency in OB/GYN because to the ACOG, abortion, contraception, and sterilization are fundamentals of women's health care. Alan Guttmacher fought the battle and won. We need to fight back, maybe too little too late, but we need to fight.