Playing God With Catholic Hospitals


ACRU Staff


January 6, 2011

This column by ACRU Senior Fellow Robert Knight was published January 5, 2011 on The Washington Times website.

Take a case that, on the surface, looks really bad. Assign an evil motive. Ignore nuanced facts. Stir in media outcry. Demand that the government step in.

That’s the left’s recipe for putting Catholic hospitals in intensive care – the care of the pro-abortion Obama administration, that is.

On Dec. 22, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) wrote to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, asking the agency to investigate Catholic hospitals’ refusal to do abortions when women’s lives are at risk. “The dioceses cannot be permitted to dictate who lives and who dies in Catholic-owned hospitals,” the ACLU said.

On July 1, the ACLU had written to the Medicare agency warning that Catholic hospitals were not providing “emergency reproductive care” in some heart-wrenching cases. The ACLU also complained that the hospitals refused to abort babies conceived in rape. The lives at risk in those latter circumstances would be those of the children, not the women, but this kind of detail gets in the way of the Big Story.

The latest ACLU request was triggered in December after Bishop Thomas Olmsted revoked the Catholic status of St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix for a long list of violations of Catholic doctrine and the hospital’s defense of a 2009 abortion of an 11-week-old baby whose mother had a life-threatening condition.

The story broke in July, when the bishop defrocked the nun in charge of the hospital for bucking church rules. That prompted New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof to describe the church leadership “of mostly aging men” as being “almost as out of touch as it was in the cruel and debauched days of the Borgias in the Renaissance.”

You remember the Borgias? They supposedly poisoned anyone who got in their way.

The rest of the media cooperated with this cartoon. Missing were details in Bishop Olmsted’s statement, such as a seven-year train of violations:

• Contraceptive counseling, medications, supplies and associated medical and laboratory examinations, including, but not limited to, oral and injectable contraceptives, intrauterine devices, diaphragms, condoms, foams and suppositories.

• Voluntary sterilization (male and female).

• Abortions because of the mental or physical health of the mother or when the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest.

An American Life League investigation found that Catholic Healthcare West (CHW), of which St. Joseph’s is a member, funded “at least six organizations that promote abortion, birth control and/or homosexual lifestyles”; assisted in creating “the ‘Healthy San Francisco’ health plan,” which covers abortion; and that “at least one CHW member hospital promotes the nation’s largest abortion chain, Planned Parenthood, on its website.”

St. Joseph’s and other ostensibly Catholic hospitals were thumbing their noses at Catholic doctrine, but the media focus was on the Big Bad Case that could make church authorities look meaner than a late-term abortionist who skimps on anesthesia.

The left uses this Big Bad Case formula so often (think of poor Matthew Shepard) that you’d think journalists would dig deeper. Here’s a question: Was the abortion necessary? Could something else have been done?

Hospital officials defend their call as the best one, but Bishop Olmsted’s statement indicates there is doubt as to the wisdom or morality:

When I met with officials of the hospital to learn more of the details of what had occurred, it became clear that, in the decision to abort, the equal dignity of mother and her baby were not both upheld; but that the baby was directly killed, which is a clear violation of [Ethical and Religious Directive] No. 45. It also was clear that the exceptional cases, mentioned in ERD No. 47, were not met, that is, that there was not a cancerous uterus or other grave malady that might justify an indirect and unintended termination of the life of the baby to treat the grave illness. In this case, the baby was healthy and there were no problems with the pregnancy; rather, the mother had a disease that needed to be treated. But instead of treating the disease, St. Joseph’s medical staff and ethics committee decided that the healthy, 11-week-old baby should be directly killed. This is contrary to the teaching of the Church.

ERD No. 47 says: “Operations, treatments, and medications that have as their direct purpose the cure of a proportionately serious pathological condition of a pregnant woman are permitted when they cannot be safely postponed until the unborn child is viable, even if they will result in the death of the unborn child.”

In other words, procedures aimed at saving the mother but which may kill the baby are different from aborting the baby. “The key is that the prohibition on direct killing avoids imputing a disease process to the child and obliges medical personnel to protect both patients and avoid an objectionable dilemma,” explains Chuck Donovan, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation.

In its Dec. 23 editorial “A Matter of Life or Death,” The New York Times kept the cartoon going and insisted, “No one has suggested that Catholic hospitals should be required to perform non-emergency abortions.” (That would be news to feminists who want the church’s tax exemption revoked.)

The Times continued: “But, as St. Joseph’s recognized, the need to accommodate religious doctrine does not give health providers serving the general public license to jeopardize women’s lives.”

The Times, the ACLU and the rest of the left aggressively defend abortion mills, whose business is killing. The left also makes sure abortionists are not bound by routine medical standards that might help protect mothers from infections or botched abortions.

Remember this as the media campaign intensifies to bring down the heavy hand of government on the Catholic Church.



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