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Religion shouldn't influence medical care in hospitals that get Medicare funds, the ACLU says

July 3, 2010 |  6:00 am

A woman arrives at the hospital with a condition called pulmonary hypertension. The arteries supplying her lungs are unable to deliver enough blood, which threatens their ability to delivery oxygen throughout her body. Making matters worse, she is 11 weeks pregnant, which puts additional strain on her weakened body. If the pregnancy continues, the woman surely will die.

St. Joseph's Hospital abortion This was the situation confronting doctors last November at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix. Despite the fact that the hospital was owned by Catholic Healthcare West and its directives do not permit abortion, doctors terminated the woman’s pregnancy to save her life.

The procedure was carried out after the hospital’s Ethics Committee met to discuss the case. The committee approved it because another of its directives allows doctors to provide necessary medical treatment even if the result is the loss of a pregnancy, according to this report posted on the website of the National Catholic Reporter.

Although the patient in Phoenix got life-saving treatment, the American Civil Liberties Union is concerned that other women in similar circumstances might not have the option of ending their pregnancies if they are treated at religious hospitals. On Thursday, the ACLU sent a letter to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services asking the agency to clarify that hospitals receiving government funds may not deny patients “emergency reproductive health care."

"Religiously affiliated hospitals are not exempt from complying with [the law], and cannot invoke their religious status to jeopardize the health and lives of pregnant women seeking medical care,” the letter states.

The law in question is the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, which “requires hospitals to stabilize or transfer patients who are facing an emergency,” according to the letter. “An emergency medical condition is one that, absent proper treatment, places the health of the patient in serious jeopardy, risks serious impairment to bodily functions, or serious dysfunction of any bodily organ or part.”

In some extreme cases, proper treatment involves terminating a pregnancy. With 15% of the country’s hospital beds operated by Catholic hospitals, the risk that some of them may be violating the law is real.

The ACLU outlined three cases in which women already in the midst of miscarriages were denied necessary care by Catholic hospitals; one of those women “developed pulmonary disease, resulting in lifetime oxygen dependency” as a result, the letter says.

Future patients treated at St. Joseph’s in Phoenix might fare worse than the woman who went there in November. Sister Margaret Mary McBride, a nurse and nun who served on the Ethics Committee and consented to the emergency abortion, was excommunicated by the leader of the Phoenix diocese, Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted. Her punishment “sends the message to other hospital employees, at St. Joseph’s and at other Catholic hospitals around the country, that they risk punishment if they provide life-saving pregnancy terminations in the future,” according to the ACLU.

In a statement available online, the Phoenix diocese says that “an unborn child is not a disease. … The direct killing of an unborn child is always immoral, no matter the circumstances, and it cannot be permitted in any institution that claims to be authentically Catholic.”

-- Karen Kaplan

Photo: St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center. Credit: Matt York / Associated Press

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Comments (5)

From Mother Theresa:

I feel that the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a war against the child, a direct killing of the innocent child, murder by the mother herself.

And if we accept that a mother can kill even her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another?

By abortion, the mother does not learn to love, but kills even her own child to solve her problems.

And, by abortion, that father is told that he does not have to take any responsibility at all for the child he has brought into the world.

The father is likely to put other women into the same trouble. So abortion just leads to more abortion.

Any country that accepts abortion is not teaching its people to love, but to use any violence to get what they want.

This is why the greatest destroyer of love and peace is abortion.

Hello 21st Century, we are still struggling with metaphysics from the 15th century, catholic church get out of young boys pants and let's defend something real, an existing human being not an amorphous mass of cells.

If you were going to the hospital most likely you are going to go to the one you want and choose depending upon the person,including his/her religious views. Now when an emergency rises and you are stuck with just one hospital,i believe that the hospital should comply with, and respect your wishes no matter what type of hospital it is. The topic of death isn't the best topic to discuss with some people but when your future might depend on your decision of just thinking it through,could one day help you if you were in an accident of some sort. It would be wise to have your wishes in writing and telling family members, as well. Its your body to decide for,the hospital shouldn't decide for you without your consent. If they deny people from certain medical actions that might save a persons life, is the same as committing what they don't want to commit,just in a reversed view. All in all, its your body and your choice.

So, this male Catholic bishop, God-like, would have condemned the mother to death -- no doubt along with her fetus -- instead of giving her a chance to have another child when her health improves.

Judaism proceeds from the exact opposite reasoning. The mother's life must be spared, if it's the terrible choice of the fetus or the mother, precisely in order that she may have another chance to "be fruitful and multiply".

So, this male Catholic bishop, God-like, would have condemned the mother to death -- no doubt along with her fetus -- instead of giving her a chance to have another child when her health improves.

Judaism proceeds from the exact opposite reasoning. The mother's life must be spared, if it's the terrible choice of the fetus or the mother, precisely in order that she may have another chance to "be fruitful and multiply".



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