Sunday, May 23, 2010

Pondering a nun, an abortion, hospitals run by religious institutions and how one person’s “good” is another person’s “evil”…

The other day my sister C-Money and I were discussing the case of the nun in Arizona who was excommunicated for authorizing an abortion at a Catholic hospital to save the woman’s life.

My sister remarked that the nun likely knew that there would be consequences of some sort or another.

Then she added that courage is what you do even when you know the risks.

Shall we?

I’ve been following coverage of the news story about the nun, Sister Margaret McBride, who was excommunicated from the Catholic Church for approving an abortion in order to save a woman’s life.  The specific situation is disturbing – the 27 year old woman was 11 weeks along in her pregnancy when a serious heart condition placed her life in peril.   Doctors said that the woman would face certain death if she continued the pregnancy.  The Catholic Church allegedly has a loop-hole for such cases at Catholic hospitals…so Sister Margaret McBride, an administrator at the Arizona hospital, approved the abortion procedure.

The woman survived.

Sister Margaret McBride was excommunicated.

In the eyes of church officials, she “consented in the murder of an unborn child”.

CBS News quotes Rev. John Ehrich, the medical ethics director for the Diocese of Phoenix - "There are some situations where the mother may in fact die along with her child. But - and this is the Catholic perspective - you can't do evil to bring about good. The end does not justify the means."

Alrighty then.

As someone who lives in a region with several Catholic hospitals, I’ve known that not all hospitals are the same for quite some time.  There is a never-ending debate over the role of religion in hospital administration that everyday folks are probably not even aware of.  On the surface it is all so simple – churches have rights, hospitals run by religious institutions often build policy based on religious doctrine and patients can choose to not go to a hospital if they disagree with that shit.

But things are never as simple as they first appear.

When a person has a medical emergency, they are taken to the closest medical facility…and that should be a good thing.  In cities, there are usually several hospitals to choose from for elective things…but if a body lives in a rural area there may only be one hospital serving a large area, so the issue of choice does not apply.

That brings us back to the issue of hospitals run by religious institutions, those rights and the policy positions based on religious doctrine.

Even if you aren’t Catholic you are subject to Catholic ethics at a Catholic hospital…or [insert religious institution here] ethics at a [insert religious institution]'s hospital.

Even if your doctor isn’t Catholic she has to adhere to the policies of the hospital she is practicing medicine at.

That may not mean a damn thing…or it could mean everything.

Rape survivors who are taken by ambulance to the nearest medical facility may not be offered emergency contraception to prevent pregnancy.

Women who would like to have a tubal ligation procedure after giving birth are denied that option.

And a woman facing certain death should she continue a pregnancy might have died...but for the decision of a nun working in hospital administration.

It all depends on hospital policy…policy based on faith dressed up to look like medical ethics.

Think about that for a moment - the difference between life and death for many of us could all ride on the actions of one nun in administration.

Other writers have pointed out the rancidity of a church automatically excommunicating a nun for authorizing an abortion yet protecting, enabling and not excommunicating pedophile priests.

But my focus keeps coming back to what this all means for people living in communities all of the everyday folks who assume that hospitals are all the same and doctors will do everything they can to save a person’s life…and I can’t help but wonder what other scenarios are out there, unexplored and not yet pondered, that may challenge the ethics of a religion and thus limit the life saving options for doctors.

Tis true that “you can't do evil to bring about good”…

…and ‘tis also true that everyone isn’t working from the same definition of  “good” or “evil”.

Many are now asking the question are Catholic hospitals safe for pregnant women and this bitch is wondering who else they aren't safe for.



Nat said...

One of the reasons I left the Church was because, to them, all I am is a baby producing machine...

Then there are cases like this one. Or like the one in Brazil last year:

Where the excommunicated a 9-year-old girl's doctor for performing an abortion. The girl was raped by her step-dad (had been since the age of 6) ... they didn't excommunicate him though.

Messed up.

MiniKat said...

Something to ponder...

In 1979 at the age of 39 my mother chose to give birth at St. Luke's rather than St. John's in case something happened during delivery. She already had 3 teenagers at home and didn't want to leave them behind if a nasty surprise occurred during delivery.

Apparently the Lutherans were more willing to sacrifice the baby in order to save the mother, especially if there were other children to take care of.

When she told me that I thought it was rather sensible, even though they would have chosen her over me in an emergency.

Miss Trudy said...

Adding to the elements of "disturbing" in the case of this particular nun, is that as I read, she had consulted with an ethics panel--a Catholic ethics panel--before approving of the life-saving measure, and didn't approve of it until it had been consensually agreed that this was the way to go. That is, she did not take this decision lightly nor hurriedly. The fact that the decision to excommunicate her come from all-male church leaders who tend to protect men within their ranks who abuse children and harm them for life, speaks volumes. I have notices that a great many of these cardinals and bishops really hate when nuns make autonomous decisions without consulting them, even though nuns--as opposed to priests--cannot expect to get funds from the Catholic church to support their orders, but have to be self-sufficient and self-sustaining. So they pretty much expect them to support themselves, yet remain 100% under the male hierarchical thumb and whenever they don't, they often take harsh measures against them.

Jen said...

Who else aren't they safe for?

Here's a short list:
1) the gays. or, really, anyone who is "living in sin" and not officially married and sufficiently hetero. catholic hospitals are under no obligation to allow LGBT patients' partners to visit or make medical decisions. (and yes, i know this is true at all hospitals, but catholic hospitals have that extra "religious objection" to hide behind if we ever get hospital protections for queer relationships.)

2) people with DNRs. or any end-of-life requests that aren't 100% in line with the ERDs (the religious doctrine masquerading as health care policy from the conference of catholic bishops). think Terri Schiavo debacle. would've been even more complicated if she were at a catholic hospital, where they are under no obligation to honor any legal documents like medical directives or power of attorney or DNRs that they don't agree with.

i've had the pleasure of reading through the ERDs in the past couple weeks. my warning to you, my friend: if you read them, please take your blood pressure medicine first.

xbekx said...

Thank you for writing about this.

I have deliberately avoided the Catholic hospital in my city because of the potential for issues like this to crop up. But, I have the privilege to live in an area with two hospitals, neither of which is so far away that one would be chosen over the other by emergency personnel.

Jeffrey Ricker said...

Instead of spewing forth the stream of invective that would probably not do my blood pressure any good, I will just say that this is why the church—every church—needs to get the fuck out of medicine because how fucking dare they be so arrogant as to make these sorts of decisions for someone else.

To choose not to save the life of a woman because she is pregnant seems, to me, grounds for charges of murder.

The Truffle said...

I seem to remember the Hippocratic Oath: First do no harm. Letting a pregnant woman live instead of die would apply here, yes?

Anonymous said...

@The Truffle - that is the Hippocratic oath's most famous part, but the rest of it forbids medical and surgical abortion. It also forbids all surgery ("cutting for stone") and recommends only training the sons of doctors to be doctors. It is not used anymore. But yes, benevolence and non-malfeasance are two important bioethical principles, and have been around since the Hippocratic oath.

I know of someone who had an anencephalic fetus that suffered an intrauterine fetal demise, and she was an employee of a Catholic institution. Even after the never was alive never could be alive fetus without a heartbeat turned septic, they refused to approve the procedure to remove it from her uterus to save her life.

She had to secretly go to another hospital and pay for the procedure out of pocket. What's worse? It happened to her, again. And, again, the demise turned septic, and even though it almost killed her the first time.

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