Imagine if you lived in a town where the only hospital was owned by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and you were in a car accident — you’ve got a ruptured spleen, you’re bleeding internally, and your life is at risk. The surgeon is going to go in and stitch up and cauterize everything, but you’re warned that they don’t keep any kind of blood supply in the hospital, and they refuse to do blood transfusions — they have an in-house professional ethicist (who is a Jehovah’s Witness, of course) who rejects the morality of exchanging sacred blood, and the administrators have signed an agreement with the church to never, under any circumstances, carry out blood transfusions.
If you need a blood transfusion, they say, don’t worry, the ambulance will take you to a different hospital…50 miles away. You, unfortunately, are in shock, you’ve got a gusher pouring blood into your body cavity, and this is not an option. You get to die.
We would not tolerate this situation. That hospital would have a change of ownership as fast as the public could drive it, and if anyone did die because of that kind of criminal neglect and refusal to follow standard medical procedure, a malpractice suit would be the least of their worries. Someone would be going to jail.
So why are Catholics allowed to buy up and impose Catholic dogma on hospitals? Is it because their ignorant dogma does the greatest harm to women (especially those slutty ones who have sex) and bizarre rules about reproduction don’t directly harm men?
But Catholics are buying up hospitals all over the country. They’ve got declining attendance, they’re closing churches, they’re having trouble recruiting priests, but they’ve still got buckets of money, and they’re using that money to impose control in another way — by taking over your health care.
Catholic institutions across the nation are merging with secular hospitals, clinics, and even small private practices at an unprecedented rate. Optimists explain that the consolidation and shared infrastructure help reduce costs. Pessimists point out that the aggressive mergers come at a time when Catholic bishops are exerting and expanding their authority. “I see it as a conscious effort to achieve through the private market what they failed to achieve through the courts or at the ballot box,” says Monica Harrington, a San Juan Island resident who’s spent the last year fighting a Catholic hospital in her town.
Three of the largest health-care systems in the Northwest—PeaceHealth, Providence Health & Services, and Franciscan Health System—are Catholic entities, and they’re busy making new deals in our state. According to MergerWatch, a nonprofit that tracks Catholic hospital mergers across the nation, there was a record-breaking 10 mergers announced in Washington State in 2012.
It’s a chilling story. Catholics can’t get their way in popular opinion, so they’ve followed another path, buying up and limiting health care options so that you have no choice but to follow their ancient biblical rules. The linked article is an examination of the growing move to limit your medicine to Catholic medicine in the Pacific Northwest, but it applies everywhere. They interviewed doctors who reported on their constraints.
Three physicians working in Whatcom County eventually agreed to speak with me. PeaceHealth bought out the secular hospital in 2008. Since then, PeaceHealth has systematically bought up nearly every specialty clinic in the area, from cardiologists to pediatricians, hospice to oncology. The physicians who agreed to meet me for coffee talked about the mindfuck of being raised Catholic, turning to atheism, and excelling in medicine—only to wake up one day with the church as your boss. The first physician joked grimly about the religious directives being “medieval torture porn.” He talked about the struggle of trying to balance his duty to patients with the edicts of a Catholic hospital.
These religious directives are nightmarish. They aren’t always followed — these really are rules laid down by religious fanatics who have no experience or connection to the actual practice of medicine, and conscientious doctors try to find workarounds — but what limits them now is competition. If Catholics get a monopoly on health care in an area, then the trouble really begins.
To understand Catholic health care, it’s important to know the rules that guide Catholic hospitals, otherwise known as Ethical and Religious Directives (ERDs). These directives are drafted and tweaked by the rotating cast of mostly white, mostly celibate bishops couch-surfing at the Vatican. ERDs operate like a code of conduct that medical staff in Catholic hospitals agree to abide by, regardless of whether or not a particular staffer is Catholic. For the most part, the directives aren’t suggestions—they’re prescriptive.
“Any partnership… must respect church teaching and discipline,” one directive states. The church monitors the implementation of these directives through hospital ethic committees overseen by regional bishops like our very own Archbishop Peter Sartain.
Sure, in 43 pages of Ethical and Religious Directives, there’s some common-sense guidance to be found. But they’re also flush with horrifying detail. As you’d expect, the directives pertaining to women’s fertility read like a misogynist romance novel or found art from the Middle Ages: “Catholic health institutions may not promote or condone contraceptive practices.” Emergency contraception can only be given to rape victims, and even then only “if, after appropriate testing, there is no evidence that conception has occurred already.” Vasectomies and tubal ligations are also prohibited. Egg and sperm donors are deemed “contrary to the covenant of marriage,” surrogate motherhood is prohibited because it denigrates “the dignity of the child and marriage,” and doctors at Catholic hospitals can’t help infertile couples conceive artificially—using their own eggs and sperm—because test-tube babies “separate procreation from the marital act in its unitive significance.”
Then there’s this: “Abortion… is never permitted.”
Not even when the egg attaches outside the uterus and puts a mother’s life in danger: “In case of extrauterine pregnancy, no intervention is morally licit which constitutes a direct abortion.”
The short-sighted and selfish male readers out there (and we know we have no shortage of those assholes in the atheist community) aren’t possibly quite as outraged as they should be. These rules affect women, right? I got mine, let them worry over it, it’s not my fight.
Unfortunately, Catholics also have some weird ideas about LGBT relationships. Another set of people who are going to be hurt by this Catholic takeover are those who are in any kind of relationship that doesn’t fit their narrow definition of one man, one woman…and give them the power to flex their ideological muscle, and you might find yourself snubbed if you’re divorced.
So maybe you aren’t gay and your sexual relationships are conservative and conventional. The other big problem is death, which all of us will do someday. Washington state passed a death with dignity law a few years ago, allowing physician-assisted suicide in terminal cases. Guess which hospitals ignore the law and will prolong your suffering indefinitely?
Don’t let Catholics control your hospitals. Keep the church out of your health care decisions. Make Catholic Ethical and Religious Directives (ERDs) illegal — individuals may follow them at their personal discretion, but no health care facility gets to impose them on their patients, especially when they defy the law.