Monday, January 18, 2010

Getting the Emergency Contraception Conversation Right.

USA Today's Faith & Reason columnist Cathy Lynn Grossman gets the controversy over Senate candidate Coakley's "devout Catholic" comment right. Brown and his daughters can rant all they want: the point isn't to bash devout Catholics but to bring attention to laws that should allow all patients' access to the services they need, despite the denomination of the hospital they are taken to.

The excuse that many give to maintain denominational care in Catholic hospitals is that those who do not ascribe to Catholic doctrine can go somewhere else. And yet our federal government funds these organizations in order to provide health care services to the pluralistic American society.

And with 20% of our hospitals operated by the Catholic Church, 50 of them as sole providers for an entire community, ending up at a Catholic hospital in a time of trauma or crisis is likely.

Grossman writes:

In a hospital emergency room, whose religious freedom matters trumps someone else's beliefs?

In the final ugly hours before the critical vote for the late health reform champion Ted Kennedy's U.S. Senate seat in Massachusetts, accusations are flying. One of the newest comes from a conservative Catholic group that wants to see a Republican take the slot and, not coincidently, knock out the Democrats' filibuster-proof advantage in the Senate.

CatholicVoteAction is circulating a quote from Democratic candidate, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley. She was asked by radio host Ken Pittman about the religious liberty rights of Catholic hospital workers who would refuse to administer contraception or abortion-inducing drugs. Her reply:

You can have religious freedom, but you probably shouldn't work in the emergency room.

To which CatholicVoteAction's president Brian Burch, tagging on a fund-raising appeal, says,

Emergency rooms are NO place for religious discrimination.

Who would disagree with that?

Well, it depends on whether you view discrimination against some patients -- you know, the folks who are having the medical emergency -- is worth consideration. These may include rape victims seeking emergency contraception, or women with life-threatening pregnancy complications, gay couples and single women whose life choices don't match these conservative Catholics' views.

Many may not be Catholic at all and may have very different beliefs about their rights to make faith-based decisions -- or decisions based on whatever is their guiding philosophy. (Saturday was Religious Freedom Day and President Obama, in his proclamation, included people of all faiths and none as celebrants of this constitutional right.)

Mass. State Sen. Scott Brown, Coakley's GOP opponent, backs proposals to allow "medical people with religious principles to find another emergency room care provider to administer a pill or service..." according to Pittman.

Do you think, in a genuine emergency, patients are in a position -- if they are even conscious -- to sit up and tell the ambulance driver or triage nurse to take them to a place or hand them off to someone where they'll get the care they seek? Can ER employees be required to violate their conscience or can must patients play roulette with their health or pass someone else's religious test?

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