At the intersection of Catholic politics and American healthcare

Writing in the Guardian, Becky Garrison says:

[C]urrently there are 600 Catholic hospitals in the United States, comprising about one-fifth of all hospital beds. Also, about 45 Catholic hospitals in the US are sole providers, meaning they’re the only hospital serving a community. As reported by The Revealer, a daily review of religion in the news and the news about religion, “these hospitals are governed by 72 ethical and religious directives that are written by the USCCB and enforced by the local bishop”.

While Catholic hospitals receive about half of their funding from the Federal government via Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements, Catholic hospitals can claim exemption from federal laws through a web of “conscience” clauses. Ann Neumann, editor of the Revealer, observes: “In most Catholic health care facilities, the conscience of the church supersedes the rights of patients and individual doctors by limiting care services according to Catholic doctrine. Men, women, the elderly, the poor and the victimised – effectively, entire communities served by Catholic hospitals – suffer a drastic and often traumatic loss of patients’ rights when information or services are denied, particularly when a Catholic hospital is the only game in town.”

Bryan Cones, managing editor of US Catholic, a lay-edited national Catholic monthly magazine, places this debate within the larger framework of the ongoing discussion surrounding the intersection of Catholic faith and public healthcare in the United States. “The bishops in general and Olmsted in particular are insisting that their prudential judgment must be followed; that was the US bishops’ position on the healthcare reform bill. I think it is unprecedented in the US Catholic church that the personal judgment of a bishop on a particular ethical situation has to be affirmed by a Catholic organisation or individual.”

Is the “web” of conscience clauses too loose? Are Catholic bishops making decisions best made by patients and physicians? And if so, should the government be supporting hospitals in which this occurs with your tax dollars?

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