I was plowing through my unread pile of newspapers and came to the report by Patrick Howington of October 17; “Hospital Merger- Altered Catholic rules pose problems.” A subtitle asserted that “Hospital officials say fears of church interference are overblown.” Really! In point of fact, they are not overblown at all. A number of examples of church and secular hospital mergers were listed for which the winks and nods and work-a-rounds that were approved by a local bishop were overturned later by higher authorities or changes in rules. We are not talking about a theoretical problem.
By coincidence (or perhaps as a sign) as I read this article today, the leadoff report on the CBS Sunday Morning Show focused on a Catholic hospital in Phoenix. A woman who was 11 weeks pregnant developed severe pulmonary hypertension as a complication of her pregnancy. The result for both her and her fetus would have been fatal. The local hospital Ethics Committee considered her case and gave its approval for an emergency abortion to save the life of the mother. That decision was shared by the nun who sat on the committee. The woman’s life was saved but her pregnancy was sadly but predictably lost.
The local Bishop of Phoenix heard of the matter, declared that “Scandal” was caused by the hospital (a term of art in the Catholic Church when its “Directives” are violated), declared that the hospital was no longer Catholic, and excommunicated the all-too-human Sister Margaret of the Ethics Committee. One Sunday Morning interviewee stated that it was a “cruel act” to excommunicate the nun. To me the actions of the Bishop were positively medieval– right up there with the burning of witches. I say Sister Margaret is a Saint, martyred by her own church.
I had a similar patient some years ago at the University of Louisville Hospital who was treated by her doctors in the same way: that is to say according to the highest standards of medical practice. Fortunately we did not have to consider the personal or church standards our local Catholic Bishop might have held. If the merger proposal moves forward, we will have to do exactly that for every single admission, regardless of the patient’s faith, because University Hospital has promised not to put the Catholic Church in a state of Scandal.
Who can say these women should have been treated differently? In fact, I believe no physician in Louisville would have denied these woman the medical care they did receive. If there is one of you out there, tell us why below. If you are a Catholic bishop or priest in Louisville, tell us what you would have done in these cases. We have every right to know what you may or not permit in the future.
Peter Hasselbacher, MD