In the News 2017

Irish experience of church’s role in healthcare is mirrored in US

Ireland is not the only country grappling with a Catholic influence on public healthcare. So are our American cousins.

One in six hospital beds there is Catholic-owned or affiliated, as are four of the top 10 healthcare systems in America, according to a report published by the Catholics for Choice organisation.

The Catholic bodies operate to “directives” written by the Church hierarchy and circulated across all states that forbid procedures ranging from abortions to sterilisations. The Catholic influence on the sector is expanding as Catholic organisations merge with secular facilities, according to the report called Is Your Health Care Compromised?.

Commenting on the US experience, Jon O’Brien, the Irish-born head of Catholics for Choice, told the Sunday Independent: “There is a bit of a problem when you have a religious authority whose antiquated, outdated, unscientific and sectarian perspectives on what services should be provided to whom, get in the way of people getting the services that they need.

“There is a major, major problem globally when religious institutions, with extreme views that are not represented by the majority of the population, take our taxpayer money and want to have their cake and eat it.”

O’Brien’s organisation describes itself as a “voice for Catholics” that advocates that a woman should be free to “follow her conscience” on sex and reproductive health. Its report, issued earlier this year, outlined how those reproductive choices are constrained at Catholic hospitals.

“Catholic facilities do not provide a full range of reproductive healthcare services and often don’t follow accepted medical standards.

“Instead, they follow the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services (the Directives), a set of guidelines mandating that health professionals and hospitals follow standards set by popes, bishops and Vatican councils,” the report says.

It adds that there are 72 directives that explicitly forbid Catholic facilities from providing procedures ranging from abortion, in vitro fertilisation (IVF) and modern forms of contraception.

According to the report, the “sheer size of Catholic healthcare in the US” means the directives have a “far-reaching impact” on patients and doctors.

It outlines the 2010 case of a nun who was brought before an ethics committee and later excommunicated for authorising an abortion at a Catholic hospital in Arizona.

That was despite the fact that the termination was necessary to save the woman’s life.

Just last week, a lawsuit was filed against a Catholic hospital in California for refusing to perform an elective hysterectomy on a woman who identifies as a man and is undergoing gender realignment.

This piece was originally published by Irish Independent.

Catholics for Choice