Catholic Health Association Responds to ACLU/Merger Watch Report

By Sister Carol Keehan
President & CEO, Catholic Health Association

Every year in this country thousands of babies are born in Catholic hospitals. Over the past two centuries, millions of families treated in Catholic hospitals have received extraordinary care— both in the joy of welcoming an infant or in the pain of losing one.

A recent report from the American Civil Liberties Union and Merger Watch makes claims about how pregnant women are treated in Catholic hospitals. These allegations, some of which have been the subject of since-dismissed lawsuits, are both unsubstantiated and irresponsible. To frighten families with scary, one-sided stories and exaggerated data is grossly disrespectful to the thousands of physicians, midwives and nurses working in Catholic hospitals who are so devoted to their patients and to the care they deliver.

The Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Healthcare Services are guidelines by which Catholic hospitals operate – and they are consistent with the delivery of safe, effective medical care. One of the first directives states: “In accord with its mission, Catholic health care should distinguish itself by service to and advocacy for those people whose social condition puts them at the margins of our society and makes them particularly vulnerable to discrimination: the poor; the uninsured and the underinsured; children and the unborn; single parents; the elderly; those with incurable diseases and chemical dependencies; racial minorities; immigrants and refugees.”

Given the pluralistic nature of our country and advances in obstetric medicine, there may be a need to revisit certain aspects of the ERDs, which has been done repeatedly over the years to respond to new clinical information and health care delivery changes. This is best accomplished in an environment of respect and dialogue, not irresponsible and unsubstantiated accusations.

The ACLU report focuses in large part on cases in which pregnant women experienced premature rupture of membranes, which is one of the most stressful obstetric events. In this situation, parents want and need to know that every option for saving their baby was exhausted. There is nothing in the Ethical and Religious Directives that prevents the provision of quality clinical care for mothers and infants in these and other obstetric emergencies.

Catholic hospitals are not only safe for women and their infants but also the choice of so many patients who seek holistic care from a trusted, compassionate provider. Physicians, too, choose Catholic health care—not only for its quality care but also often because of its deep concern for those who are vulnerable.

We are fortunate in this country to have several independent organizations with oversight responsibility for all hospitals. The Joint Commission accredits hospitals across the country and, in each state, a licensing agency does so as well. These organizations have robust standards and ensure compliance with routine inspections. They would not accredit or license a hospital that is unsafe for mothers or infants under any circumstance. ##

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