Precinct 333

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Anti-Catholicism Lives

Some folks don't understand the concept of a religious mission. Ellen Goodman is one of those, as she again proves in her latest column. Or maybe she does -- but would rather take another opportunity to engage in a bit of Catholic-bashing, since Catholicism isn't in line with her fuzzy-wuzzy feel-good belief-system.

When I was a kid I just assumed the separation of church and hospital. It's not that I didn't believe in the power of prayer, but when my appendix burst I wanted a guy in a white coat, not a white collar.

Yeah, Ellen, but did you ever stop to think about why the local hospital was St. Anne's, Lutheran, or Beth Israel Hospital? Or why there were so many nuns at some of them? Could it be that there was a union between religion and the hospital?

The first time I realized how different things were in the Bush era was when W. David Hager was appointed to an advisory board of the Food and Drug Administration. Hager was an ob-gyn who prescribed Corinthians and Romans for PMS. After that we saw the government take contraceptive information off one Web site and put phony links between abortion and breast cancer on another. That was just the beginning.

Really? If that were so , Hager would have long ago lost his license rather than gotten a high level appointment. Could it be that he dispensed some good-old spiritually based words of wisdom to his patients? And if he did, is that a problem? Or would you like to impose a gag-order on physicians, inserting the yourself and/or the government into the relationship between a woman and her doctor? I seem to recall your having objections to that in another context. And as for the link between abortion and breast cancer, there were a number of peer-reviewed studies that showed a link between the two, and the verdict on the connection is still out.

Welcome to the era of faith-based medicine.

The administration has just announced that, for the first time ever, federal employees will be offered a Catholic health plan. Starting in November, workers in 31 Illinois counties can enroll in a plan created explicitly according to Catholic tenets and marketed as "faith-based."

This plan is noted most for the things that it doesn't provide: Abortion, of course, even in the case of rape. Contraception, including emergency contraception. Sterilization. Artificial insemination and most other fertility treatments.

We don't know yet what the faith-based health plan will do about paying for other treatments that might challenge Catholic teachings. Will end-of-life care be determined by the patient or the latest directive from Rome?

Gee, Ellen, what's wrong with giving folks the option to not fund activities that violate their religious beliefs and to reject coverage for themselves and their families. And I'm reasonably sure that the policy spells out the end-of-life issues. Based upon only four years of graduate level theological training in a Catholic seminary, I believe the only difference from what you might see in any other hospital setting would be that you cannot cut off nutrition or hydration unless doing so would prevent harm to the patient (such as cutting off hydration when a patient's kidneys have shut down). That would be your first appeal to anti-Catholicism -- the concern about Rome controlling anything in America.

This plan is defended as a "choice." If you don't want it, don't choose it. But if this is an opening wedge, choice may not be so simple, especially in the 100 counties across the country where Catholic hospitals are the sole providers.

What? You raving secularists haven't put your money here your mouth in regard to compassion for the poor and destitute and those in need of medical treatment by opening hospitals in those 100 counties? Not, I would guess, that many of those counties are all that far from other counties with a non-Catholic hospital. But that is anti-Catholic shot number two -- a concern that non-Catholics will be controlled by Catholics since Catholics control the hospitals.

It's no surprise that the first faith-based plan is Catholic since 11 percent of all hospitals are run by Catholics. Many provide the exact same services as their secular counterparts, but the church has long led the fight against abortion and also against state laws that mandate contraceptive coverage. At last count, only 28 percent of their 600 emergency rooms offered emergency contraception to rape victims.

Ah, here we go. Back to your focus on crotch-related issues. You know, Ellen, you really need to seek psychological help for that problem. It seems like a good chunk of your columns end up coming back to the genitals and what folks do with them. Sounds a bit obsessive-compulsive to me.

Oh, my, anti-Catholic attack number three -- Catholics using the legislative process to impose their agenda, never mind that Catholics are American citizens too, and have every right to do so. Yes, Ellen, the Catholic Church is against abortion and artificial contraception. Yes, FAITHFUL Catholics (unlike FAITHLESS Massachusetts legislators whose names begin with K) seek to influence public policy to that end. And that 28% is about 28% too many, and I would guess they are predominantly in states that REQUIRE hospitals to provide such services, regardless of the fact that such services are contrary to the religious mission of the hospitals in question.

But this health care "first" is only a piece of the growing story of faith-based medicine. Another piece is in the "conscience clauses" being pushed to let health care workers and whole institutions opt out of providing health care, especially reproductive care, on religious grounds.

Just this month, the House of Representatives passed a provision that protects employees and hospitals from laws requiring them to provide abortions or even abortion referrals. Last July, Mississippi joined Arkansas and South Dakota in giving health care workers and institutions the right to refuse performing any medical service on moral or religious grounds. Meanwhile we have pharmacists lobbying to refuse handing over emergency contraceptives as if the drugstore were their personal chapel.

Well, I have no problem with a "conscience clause" for an individual. No health care worker should perform a medical procedure against his beliefs. How would you like a doctor who opposes sterilization performing your vasectomy?

Imagine that -- having a "pro-choice" policy regarding abortion and birth control, one that allows those who dissent from YOUR orthodoxy to refuse to participate. I realize that promiscuous sex, contraception and abortion are all sacraments in your mind, but others dare to believe differently. How kind of you to agree that there is something reasonable about such conscience clauses -- or to at least pretend that you do, with your condescending jab about "personal chapels", which implies that you believe that anyone who would take advantage of such a provision is somehow a religious fanatic who shouldn't be in the medical field.

But how do you define an institution's conscience? Is it the collective belief of the doctors, the employees, the patients? Or is it an edict of the bishops?

It's really quite simple, Ellen, and is probably spelled out in the incorporation papers, charter, and mission statement of the institution. If it was founded by a religious group as part of the religious mission of that group, and if it remains affiliated with that group, then the standard theological tenets of the faith should apply. And if that means that bishops have a say in the matter regarding a Catholic hospital, then so be it. Quit appealing to anti-Catholic bigotry -- this is number four.

And while we are talking about faith-based medicine, since when is a hospital or a health care plan a religion? This year the California Supreme Court ruled that Catholic Charities of Sacramento had to provide its employees with birth control coverage because the charity didn't just serve or employ Catholics. Well, neither does a hospital.

Actually, yes a hospital or health-care plan is part of a religion if it is founded by a religious community with a religious mission. The California Supreme Court blew it in the decision it made. By that logic, the parish school down at St. Miscellaneous is also not a religiously based institution, because Bob the janitor is a Baptist and the school takes any family that can come up with tuition, regardless of religion. Do you really think that such a result is reasonable? According to the logic of the decision, the absence of discrimination based upon religion is evidence that an organization is not religious -- and the very discrimination needed to remain a religious organization is illegal under other statutes.

As Frances Kissling of Catholics for a Free Choice says, "All health care institutions receive most of their money from the government. If they want to be truly private, they wouldn't take Medicare or Medicaid. Then they could be run like a Christian Science Reading Room."

Anti-Catholic attack number five -- the Catholic Church getting government money! And attack number seven in the same paragraph, because anytime Frances Kissling is quoted an author is presumed to be engaging in an anti-Catholic attack. After all, the group she heads has no membership and is fully funded by liberal foundation grants.

We used to talk about doctors playing God. Now religion is playing doctor. What happens when the church defines medicine and the government gives it a religious seal of approval?

Another anti-Catholic attack. That makes eight. The Catholic Church will control medicine.

Will there be a sign on the emergency room door warning that this hospital does not remove feeding tubes? Will a young woman even be told that she can have her eggs harvested before chemo for later use? Will an AIDS patient be advised about condoms?

Well, since there is nothing to prevent the transfer of a patient to another hospital, the feeding tube rule is not that big a deal. And based upon my conversations with at least two Catholic medical ethicists, yes the young woman will be advised about the possibility of egg harvesting -- and its unavailability at the hospital. As far as the AIDS patient goes, the more responsible option is to advise him or her to STOP HAVING SEX, so as not to risk spreading the disease. Only those who believe that sexual activity is the highest purpose in life would think otherwise.

"Can you imagine if Jehovah's Witnesses opened a hospital, got funding, and then said oh, by the way, we don't do transfusions?" asks Susan Berke Fogel, who co-chairs the American Bar Association's ethics committee. What if a Jewish hospital insisted on circumcising all boys, she adds provocatively. Would that too be approved as faith-based medicine?

At some point doesn't religious practice become medical malpractice? We can only pray.

Ah, the logical fallacy presented by the parade of horribles. She's gone from folks being up-front about the ethical limits imposed by their faith to a group hiding its beliefs until it has its hands in the public till. She's gone from refusing to perform certain procedures to forcing people to receive them. Those are hardly the same thing -- but Ellen doesn't care. And she gets in her final, implicit attack -- that being faithful to Catholic medical ethics makes a physician guilty of malpractice. And then she ties it all up with a blashemous bow.

It's a pity you have no faith Ellen. Why must you tear down and attack those who do?


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons License.