’60 Minutes’ Reports on Catholic Hospitals, Reproductive Health Services
The impact of Catholic hospitals and hospitals that merge with Catholic health systems on women's reproductive health care was the subject of CBS' "60 Minutes" last night, with the show debating whether women's health care is compromised by Catholic hospitals' religion-based policies. As four out of 10 of the largest health care systems in the United States are Roman Catholic-affiliated, 85 million patients, most of whom are non-Catholic, receive care from these facilities. Catholics for a Free Choice President Frances Kissling, who has embarked on a "crusade to keep Catholic doctrine out of medicine," told "60 Minutes" that many Catholic-based hospitals do not offer family planning services, sterilization services, fertility treatment, condoms or education about condoms or abortion, but that most women are unaware of these restrictions. She added that emergency contraception for rape victims is also unavailable, as are referral services for obtaining the treatment regimen.
Although many Catholic hospitals will permit an abortion to be performed if a woman's life is endangered by the pregnancy, Kissling noted that some facilities will delay abortion services until the pregnancy has reached a life-threatening stage. "60 Minutes" described such a situation in the case of a New Hampshire woman whose physician informed her that she would need an abortion after her water broke at 14 weeks. When the physician approached the hospital to receive permission for the procedure, the Catholic institution responded that she would have to wait until she became infected before the abortion would be permitted, unless the doctor was willing to alter her diagnosis to a more urgent one. In the end, the doctor hired a car to drive the woman 80 miles to another hospital for the abortion, and told "60 Minutes" that the religious affiliation of the hospital "interfered with best patient care," and "interfered with the doctor-patient relationship."
According to Kissling, "Medical decisions made about reproductive health care in Catholic hospitals or hospitals that have merged with Catholic hospitals are made by religious authorities, not doctors. Now doctors are beginning to understand that this is a challenge to their medical judgement and their conscience." Father Michael Place, head of the Catholic Health Association representing Catholic hospitals, responded that Catholics "cannot attack human life ... and we honor our understanding of human sexuality," adding that "every hospital does not provide every service ... we provide a full range of services that are commensurate with our values." "60 Minutes" explained that such values are "a series of rules adopted by U.S. bishops which maintain a theological basis to Catholic health care," and that the local bishop will decide which services are permissible at a Catholic facility. Place asserted that Catholic hospitals are "obliged" to help the poor. But Kissling, who received more air time than Place, said, "We know it is poor women who disproportionately use hospitals" for services others may obtain from their private physician, and as a result, Catholic hospitals "hurt the very population [of] poor women that they claim to help."
The news program reported that at a hospital in Gilroy, Calif., that recently merged with Catholic Healthcare West, the entire OB/GYN staff, led by a Catholic physician, opposed the discontinuation of reproductive health services such as tubal ligation. Kissling concluded that although she believes the "main motive [of Catholic hospitals] is to provide good health care to people," the increasingly conservative Church and vigilant Vatican have left many doctors feeling that "they can't do what they want to do to help women" (CBS' "60 Minutes," 12/10).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.