Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Catholic Health Care: A Rare Success Story.

I write a lot about the discrimination in Catholic hospitals, enforced by the Church's Ethical and Religious Directives that prevent women, gays, and elders from receiving certain health care services.

Here's a little success story that came my way today from a friend out West:

Bishop Robert Vasa of Baker announced that the church will no longer officially sponsor St. Charles of Bend. The hospital serves about a quarter of a million people in central Oregon. To be considered Catholic it had to adhere to a list of guidelines. Bishop Vasa says the hospital was openly breaking guideline number 53 by providing a form of sterilization called tubal ligation. Several hundred women underwent the procedure each year.

Vasa: "The issue of sterilization because it was so prominent and prevalent at the hospital was one that they deemed they could not alter and I deemed I could not accept."

A spokesperson for the hospital says St. Charles is the only hospital serving Bend and the surrounding rural community. So board members felt they needed to provide the procedure. St. Charles did not receive any funding through the Catholic church, but Catholic Mass will no longer take place at the hospital. The cross on top of the building will remain.

Got that? A Catholic bishop told a "Catholic" hospital where to go because it continued to perform tubal ligations.

This is a success story for two reasons: 1. Women in that area, where St. Charles is a sole provider of health care services, can still access the medically-sound, legal tubal ligation procedure; and 2. What does the hospital lose? Nothing! The Catholic church provides no funding.

But my follow-up to that second point is more measured: If the Catholic church offers hospitals under it's control no benefits, why would hospitals remain affiliated with the church? Reputation in a community? Tradition? Faith?

This is the larger, more important question we should be having with regard to patients' rights and Catholic health care. If you've got an answer, let me know.

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