Thursday, December 3, 2009

Does the Vatican Have a Say in Your Health Decisions?

I've got a new article up at AlterNet today on Catholic Ethical and Religious Directives and Patients' Rights. Here's an excerpt:

Across the country, an increasing number of secular medical facilities are merging with Catholic hospitals to stave off the effects of a difficult economy; a union that proves less than holy for those, like Rich, who seek medical procedures no longer performed by the joined facilities. And many hospitals under Catholic management operate according to doctrine that restricts or prohibits performance of "non-Catholic" procedures, including tubal ligation, a surgical method of sterilization that devout Catholics consider an infringement on God's plan for reproduction.

There are currently about 600 Catholic hospitals in the United States. They manage nearly 20 percent of all hospital beds or one in five of all medical visits logged every year. Forty-eight of these hospitals are considered “sole providers” for a region, rendering many communities without vital medical care options. These organizations are under the direct supervision of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). Local bishops and both the institutions and their employees are held to strict standards of care dictated by Ethical and Religious Directives (ERDs), which are approved by the Vatican.

The Ethical and Religious Directives are 72 points that outline Catholic medical doctrine. Some of the more contested directives specifically prohibit patient access to, information on, or referrals for procedures or counseling.

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