April 27, 2013

Catholic Hospitals Are Scary Prospect

A physician visiting the sick in a hospital, G...
A physician visiting the sick in a hospital, German engraving from 1682 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Hospitals are not exactly fun places. Going there typically means that there is something terribly wrong with you or someone you love. The stakes are incredibly high, and while we do not like to think about it, each of us is almost certain to spend more time than we would like in a hospital during the course of our lives.

As someone who already has an irrational fear of hospitals, I could tell by the title of Sara Lin Wilde's (Friendly Atheist) recent post, Why Catholic Hospitals Should Scare You, that I would not need much convincing. It turns out I was right.

Sara's post describes a trend where Catholic organizations are merging with previously non-religious hospitals and imposing strict adherence to Catholic doctrine on the resulting institutions. And of course, the imposition of Catholic doctrine is not limited to Catholic patients but apply to anyone receiving care in the hospital.
The implications for patient care can be very serious, especially if you’re a woman or an elderly person… but many people don’t know about the possible ramifications until it’s too late.
She notes that Catholic hospitals often have a way of placing the teachings of their church over the freedom of their patients to make medical decisions and that this can impact the quality of care received.

The implications are obvious when it comes to reproductive health, but Sara also discusses some of the ways in which Catholic doctrine can influence end-of-life care. This was the part I found most troublesome. As if the thought of having to make end-of-life decisions for an aging parent was not difficult enough, it sounds like some viable options could simply be removed in some Catholic hospitals because they happen to conflict with church teaching.

Sara makes two particularly disturbing points in her post that I found worth highlighting: (1) Catholic hospitals can and do place religiously-based restrictions on all patients, including non-Catholics; and (2) those of us living outside of large urban areas may not have the option of seeking care elsewhere because we may not have access to other hospitals. That is more than enough to scare me.

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