Friday, September 9, 2011

The Illusory Catholic Hospital, Part I

Whenever I drive into town, I pass by St. Alphonsus Medical Center. And every time I drive past that red and white sign, I get a little irritated.

Why? Oh, I’m so glad you asked! Well, I’m irritated because I’m Catholic. The hospital is allegedly Catholic, too. But I’m becoming more and more certain that there is very little about it that is “Catholic”, other than the fact that Mass is said in the hospital chapel three times per week. For one thing, I looked at their website. The word “Catholic” does not appear there at all. And yet, the Diocese of Baker lists St. Alphonsus as one of the Catholic hospitals located within the boundaries of the Diocese.

About three years ago, I looked at every Catholic hospital or medical group website I could find on the internet. I found that many mentioned their “Catholic tradition” and also made note that they were in compliance with a document issued by the USCCB called “Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Services” (ERDs for short). Catholic hospitals are supposed to adhere to the document. Notice that the title of the document says “Directives”. It does not say “guidelines”, or “suggestions”, or “options”.

About a year and a half ago, thinking I might write an article about Catholic hospitals, I made a quick survey of Catholic medical group websites: there was little mention of the ERDs. Perhaps the vast majority of “Catholic” health service organizations have decided that the ERDs are optional.

In February of 2010, Bishop Robert F. Vasa severed the relationship of the Diocese of Baker with St. Charles Medical Center in Bend, Oregon. His primary concern was that the hospital had been performing tubal ligations; apparently, nothing was hidden in this regard, as the hospital’s Board had assumed that strict adherence to the Ethical and Religious Directives was “optional” – or at least subject to their own interpretation of them.

This was a justified and necessary move on the bishop’s part, and imparts a strong message that the Catholic Church is serious about its stand on sterilization. However, it is doubtful that this message has had any effect on “Catholic” hospitals and medical conglomerations. After all, what are the consequences for the medical organizations? There do not appear to be any negative consequences at all, in a material sense; in fact, the administrators of such institutions would perhaps see a clear path to performing sterilizations – a “service” for their community that will doubtless bring in some additional funds. When St. Charles lost its Catholic affiliation, a Bend hospital official noted that he was disappointed in the split, but that “we have an obligation to provide comprehensive health care services to our patients while remaining true to our values of compassion and caring for all." Though that may the hospital’s motivation, one might suspect that the Board of Directors sees a negative consequence of not offering such “services”: a loss of potential income. And the phrase “comprehensive health care services” should not go unnoticed: this language has been used repeatedly by pro-abortion groups and individuals as a euphemism for abortion on demand. It makes one wonder whether abortions are currently being committed at St. Charles.

Sometimes I think I should take a different route into town.

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