Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Illusory Catholic Hospital - Part II

[On September 9, I posted "The Illusory Catholic Hospital, part I."]

A Catholic hospital is in the news again: LifeSiteNews reports that a “Catholic” hospital in Barcelona, Spain, admits to continuing its practice of committing abortions and vasectomies, even though the Cardinal Archbishop there has ordered it to stop doing so (see also the links to several other stories LSN has run about this hospital at the end of their article).

So, it’s not just the US that has this problem with “Catholic” hospitals, but I’ll keep my focus on American hospitals just because I have some experience with them.

Scouting around on the web, it looks to me as though most of the Catholic medical service nets in existence in this country are run by non-Catholics. That begs the question: How can an organization maintain a truly Catholic vision when the administrators are not Catholic? Frankly, I think it is unrealistic to expect that non-Catholic administrators will be able or willing to fully grasp the significance of key Catholic health teachings such as sterilization and in vitro fertilization.

In addition, it seems that most Catholics-on-the-street either don’t care or don’t pay attention to the “ethics” of a hospital – a conclusion I reached as a result of a brief stint on the Ethics Committee of the Catholic hospital in my parish. Now that was an interesting episode in my short Catholic life! Let me explain…

I was the parish secretary at the time, and sat at my desk listening to the parish priest and a religious sister discussing the hospital ethics committee. She was saying she didn’t have time to serve on the committee any longer, and he was voicing his own reluctance to take on the duty.

“I’ll do it,” I volunteered.

They both looked at me, and then at each other, and in a manner reminiscent of the old “Life” cereal commercials with little Mikey, they said, almost in unison, “Yeah! Let Jay do it!”

So I was duly appointed and approved. And I attended a grand total of two meetings. After attending that second meeting, I was "banned" from further attendance and participation. My offense? Well, in my first meeting, I questioned a Catholic doctor who was advocating for a tubal ligation for his patient. In the second meeting, I informed the (mostly non-Catholic) committee that the tubal ligations they generally approved qualified as “direct sterilization”, which was inconsistent with Church teaching. Since they were almost all non-Catholics, they were a little reluctant to grasp the concept. It didn’t help that a previous bishop had encouraged – even requested – the hospital to come up with a protocol that would allow tubal ligations under a very broad range of “exceptions”.

Prior to that second meeting, I had emailed the hospital administrator who was in charge of the ethics committee. I told him that I had researched the sterilization issue, and that there were problems with the hospital’s protocol for handling them, and that we needed to discuss this as a committee before any more decisions were made. He told me that we would discuss it “later”.

And, also prior to that second meeting, I informed our parish deacon, who served on the committee, that I was going to insist that the issue of these illicit sterilizations be discussed. He was so distressed by this prospect that he declined to even come to the meeting, and he later resigned from the ethics committee.

Well, that second meeting was very short…though to me it was an eternity, because I really don’t like confrontation, and it was a very tense meeting. I made my point about sterilization; the administrator squelched me; and then a request for a tubal ligation was presented. No one would comment because I had just said we couldn’t approve such requests. So finally, when it was clear that no one else was going to broach an opinion, I said, “Well, obviously we have to say no, because this is a direct sterilization.” Someone asked “How do you figure?” and I explained it again. The administrator decided that we would have to table the discussion, and that the meeting was adjourned. The whole thing took about 20 minutes.

It was actually a full two weeks later when the pastor of our parish told me that the hospital administrators had “banned” me from any further meetings. The priest was upset, but not about my being booted from the committee. He told me, “At least they’re not mad at me.” So although my concerns about the hospital’s practices were legitimate, I was unsupported – even castigated – by a deacon, a priest, and a “Catholic” doctor. Fortunately, Bishop Vasa did appreciate and understand the significance of the information I was able to give him, and he was able to put a stop to the wanton approval of tubal ligations.

In the final analysis, one might wonder if it is even realistic to believe a Catholic hospital is a viable concept. There simply seems not to be a demand for it. Even among the faithful themselves, those lamenting the loss of their Catholic hospital are few and far between. Since Catholics use artificial contraceptives and have themselves sterilized in the same proportions as the general population, it seems doubtful that there will be a huge outcry among these “faithful” when formerly Catholic hospitals start doing these procedures without having to justify them in some way.

So what is the “next step” for Catholic medical care? The cards are stacked against it, especially given the Obama administration’s stance on conscience clauses and health care in general; but some of those cards are, sadly, part of the Catholic deck. This suggests to me that a strong program of catechesis is necessary in order to bring errant-thinking Catholics back into the fold. Too long have the faithful been allowed – and in some cases, even taught – that it is okay to disagree with the Church on artificial contraception, sterilization, in vitro fertilization, and even abortion. In the almost ten years I have been Catholic, I have heard virtually no teaching on the evils of artificial contraception and sterilization from my parish priests. Although my experience is admittedly limited, a number of friends, acquaintances, and family members affirm my suspicion that this is not a topic anyone wants discussed. That would be tantamount to declaring that “the emperor has no clothes”.

But such a declaration must be made – and clarified – if we as Catholics want to make a serious run at the Culture of Death in this country. It is clear that some additional episcopal guidance is in order: merely withdrawing the "Catholic" designation of a hospital is not enough. A hospital stripped of its Catholic affiliation generally keeps its Catholic-sounding name (e.g., St. Charles), and might even maintain that cross on the top of its main building. With condoms and other contraceptives being sold in the pharmacy and tubal ligations and other unethical procedures being made available, uncatechized Catholics may assume Church approval in these matters.

Taking a firm stand with “Catholic” hospitals that do not comply with Church teaching is an important first step. We’ve seen a few bishops taking this step recently, and they are to be commended for it. But taking a firm stand with the faithful must be implemented as well.

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