Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Catholic Hospital Revises Sterilization Policy

This seems like a good sign. Read the full article here.

Queen of the Valley Medical Center, a Catholic hospital in Napa, California, says “we have clarified our policy regarding sterilization” of women via tubal ligation, and that their new policy is fully in conformity with the Ethical and Religious Directives (ERD)issued by the US bishops. Catholic hospitals are required to adhere to these directives.

My first thought was that, since this hospital is under the jurisdiction of the Diocese of Santa Rosa, they must have seen Bishop Vasa coming! Bishop Vasa severed ties with St. Charles Hospital in Bend, Oregon, in 2010 over the issue of direct sterilizations which the hospital was performing, which are against Church teaching.

The hospital spokesperson notes that the “decision to review and revise the policy was made internally”. The article also states that Bishop Vasa “said he was not aware that Queen of the Valley was revising its policy, but commended the hospital for doing so and for being more consistent with Catholic moral teachings.”  Further:

The Obama administration’s birth control plan has been a “wake-up call” to Catholic hospitals, Vasa said Friday, adding that he hopes hospitals will strengthen their consistencies with Catholic teachings so they may “stand fast” against future government mandates.

Vasa said the argument over birth control is much more than a health care issue. “It’s a religious freedom issue,” he said.

The article also noted that:

Following Catholic doctrine against birth control, the hospital has never performed tubal ligation simply upon request, but allowed the surgery if a woman’s physician gave a medical reason, such as asserting that a pregnancy would be a danger to her health, said Sister Marian Schubert, vice president of Mission Integration.

I suspect that many if not most Catholic hospitals have been doing exactly what is described above: allowing a tubal ligation if the woman’s physician gives a medical reason related to health issues anticipated in future pregnancies. (See this post.) The article goes on:

But such circumstances are now considered a form of direct sterilization and against the moral teachings of the Catholic Church, Schubert said.

Well, I’ll take some exception to that last statement: this is not a new teaching. It’s been clearly stated in the ERD for years. It’s only that the Catholic hospitals themselves are now beginning to take notice. I experienced this personally when I served (ever so briefly) on the Ethics Committee of our local Catholic hospital. And those that don’t want to pay attention to it will of their own accord sever their relationship with the Catholic Church, as did Catholic Healthcare West (see my post here).

Sister Schubert also clarified the instances where a tubal ligation is considered an indirect sterilization, and is thus licit:

Queen of the Valley will continue to be allowed to perform surgeries that result in indirect sterilization, such as removing cancerous ovaries or fallopian tubes, Schubert said. Another example of indirect sterilization is if a woman is hemorrhaging and the uterus must be removed to stop the bleeding — the hospital would perform that surgery to save her life, Schubert said.

Sister Schubert said that the policy revision is “not out of concern over the hospital losing its Catholic status”. Well, that’s good, if the motive is simply to be true to Catholic Church teaching on the sterilization issue. But there’s a bit of a warning sign here, I think:

…[T]he policy change does not affect Queen of the Valley’s commitment to the care of women, and the hospital will “continue to provide wonderful care.”

“We will do right by our patients,” Schubert said. “We always have and always will.”

Both St. Helena Hospital and Kaiser offer tubal ligations at the time of C-section, laparoscopically as a same-day surgery, and as a non-surgical office procedure.

The article concludes with several paragraphs on the availability of tubal ligations at other centers, and different procedures that can be used, which should assuage the doubts and fears of any women who desire to have themselves sterilized as a contraceptive measure. That doesn’t necessarily reflect on the hospital, of course.

I do sincerely hope, though, that hospital staff are trained to provide women with the reasoning behind Church teaching against direct sterilization – other than “well, the celibate old men in Rome said so”. Certainly, many people are not willing to listen to reason on this, but some might be persuaded to listen.

That’s my hope, because the Church doesn’t teach these things in a vacuum, just to make it difficult to procure a procedure; rather, these teachings reflect a beautiful truth about life and the providence of God.

That’s what the world needs to know. And the time is ripe: contraception and the Church’s teachings are on display in the public square right now, as they have not been in a long time.

See also: Catholic Hospitals Are...Not

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