Wednesday, November 11, 2009

USCCB Not Just Assaulting Abortion, They Have End of Life Rights in Their Sights Too.

I just finished posting a comment at AlterNet to an article about how what we can do to fight Stupak-Pitts making its way into the health care bill. Here's what I wrote:

More assaults on women's rights are coming and we would be negligent to not prepare:

1. conscience clause will probably resurface after health care reform (if not in the Senate's form of the bill). "Pro-life" groups are already organized to assert conscience clause laws in response to repro rights and end of life issues. (They don't like Stupak because it doesn't address conscience issues.)

Montana's Supreme Court is expected to uphold constitutionality of aid in dying by end of the year. Pro-life groups are working to better integrate "anti-euthanasia" efforts into their platform in preparation for the conscience clause battle. And employing resources of medical groups and orgs. to push for conscience clause.

Whatever you make of USCCBs role in Stupak-Pitts, Catholic hospitals have 1/5 of all US beds. They are emboldened to push this issue.

2. Federal funding for abortion, as contested in Stupak-Pitts may lead to "pro-life" groups addressing federal funds for hospitals (secular and Catholic currently receive 50% of budgets from medicare/medicaid) and other health care centers

3. Frances Kissling and others have called for a push by choice groups to refocus on overturn of Hyde

Working to get rid of Stupak-Pitts is essential, yet the amendment is only part of a larger effort to limit access or eliminate abortion. Looking at the personhood movement and other efforts around the country, I fear it's hook-or-crook time for emboldened "pro-life" groups.

I know abortion is the big topic, but the Catholic church - in conjunction with evangelical "pro-life" groups - has been quietly working to address the growing aid in dying movement in the US. As my readers know, two states have Death with Dignity laws (Oregon and Washington) and Montana is expected to uphold a ruling that determines aid in dying constitutional by the end of the year. A case has been brought to the Connecticut courts and New Hampshire has an aid in dying bill in committee (sort of).

Two minutes ago, I got confirmation that the USCCB is now redefining their Ethical and Religious Directives (which govern all Catholic hospitals in the US, about 1/5 of beds) to include artificial nutrition and hydration as required for all persistent vegetative state patients. The announcement reads:

U.S. Bishops To Vote On Revision Of Ethical Directive On Nutrition And Hydration At November Meeting

WASHINGTON—The full body of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) will take into account the most recent Catholic teaching on care for the chronically ill and dying when they vote on a proposed revision of the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services at their November 16-19 general assembly in Baltimore . The proposed revision states more definitively the moral obligation to provide medically assisted nutrition and hydration to patients in a “persistent vegetative state.”

The revision draws from
Pope John Paul II’s March 2004 Address to the Participants in the International Congress on "Life- Sustaining Treatments and Vegetative State: Scientific Advances and Ethical Dilemmas" and the Congregationfor the Doctrine of the Faith's August 2007 Responses to Certain Questions of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Concerning Artificial Nutrition and Hydration. The current Ethical and Religious Directives, which predate both documents,reference only the conclusions of "some state Catholic conferences, individualbishops, and the USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities."

“It would be useful to update the
Ethical and Religious Directives by inclusion of references to these authoritative documents as well as byincorporation of some of their language and distinctions,” said Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport , Connecticut , Chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Doctrine. “It is particularly appropriate to do so since the recent clarifications by the Holy See have rendered untenable certain positions that have been defended by some Catholic ethicists.”

The current Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services says, “There should be a presumption in favor of providing nutrition and hydration to all patients, including patients who require medically assisted nutrition and hydration, as long as this is of sufficient benefit to outweigh the burdens involved to the patient.” Along with other changes, the proposed revision says, “As a general rule, there is an obligation to provide patients with food and water, including medically assisted nutrition and hydration for those who cannot take food orally. This obligation extends to patients in chronic conditions (e.g., the ‘
persistent vegetative state’) who can reasonably be expected to live indefinitely if given such care.”

To be adopted, the proposed revision must be approved by a majority of bishops present and voting at the November meeting. The revision has been undertaken with the collaboration of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities and in consultation with the
Task Force on Health Care Issues, the Catholic Health Association, the Catholic Medical Association, the National Catholic Bioethics Center , and the National Catholic Partnership on Disability.

Persons seeking credentials to cover the meeting may find information at Credential applications should be submitted by November 7 by fax (202-541-2173) or mailed to:

November Meeting Credentials
Department of Communications

When I saw Bobby Schindler speak at the PA Pro-Life Federation conference in Scranton last month he alluded to this new change by the USCCB. He also referred to his most recent article that pushes for a discontinuation of the diagnosis of PVS, saying that the tests used to make the diagnosis are not effective and often erroneous.

For months I have been urging feminist and pro-choice groups to pay attention to the increased efforts being made by Catholic and "pro-life" groups to address euthanasia. End of life rights are too being sacrificed for evangelical and Catholic ideology. Our hospital and health facility patients are vulnerable to the imposition of "pro-life" restrictions.

Watch for these groups to use the public's lack of information or understanding or general fear of end of life issues to work conscience clauses through "the back door."

Thanks to Lois Uttley at for the hat tip.

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