Catholic Health Association defends abortion at hospital

Following up on yesterday’s big news out of Phoenix, a leading Catholic health group has come to the hospital’s defense, after the local bishop stripped the facility of its designation as “Catholic”:

Contradicting a local bishop responsible for determining compliance with Roman Catholic healthcare ethics, Catholic Health Association President and CEO Sister Carol Keehan is defending the actions of a large Phoenix hospital that saw its official religious status removed this week over what the Phoenix diocese determined to be ethical lapses.

St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center, the largest hospital in Arizona at 697 beds, was officially labeled non-Catholic on Tuesday, 115 years after its founding by an order of Catholic nuns, because hospital ethicists in November 2009 allowed a mother of four to terminate her 11-week pregnancy after discovering she had a serious health condition.

Bishop Thomas Olmsted said the American bishops’ rules forbid abortion in all but the narrowest circumstances, such as when a pregnant woman has a cancerous uterus and active treatment of the disease has the indirect effect of killing the fetus. St. Joseph’s President and CEO Linda Hunt said the case in question was such a circumstance, because the woman had a heart condition that threatened her life and was being aggravated by her pregnancy.

“Our medical staff did try to save both lives,” Hunt said in a statement e-mailed from corporate parent Catholic Healthcare West. “We will always try to save both lives. In this case it was impossible. Rather than let both the mother and the baby die, we saved the only life we could.”

Olmsted has publicly disagreed with such statements. “When I met with officials of the hospital to learn more of the details of what occurred, it became clear that, in the decision to abort, the equal dignity of mother and her baby were not both upheld,” the bishop said in a statement Tuesday.

Later Tuesday evening, Keehan defended St. Joseph’s and CHW, praising the system’s “long and stellar history” of protecting life.

“They had been confronted with a heartbreaking situation,” Keehan said of the situation at St. Joseph’s in an e-mail. “They carefully evaluated the patient’s situation and correctly applied the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care to it, saving the only life that was possible to save.”

Stay tuned for any updates…


  1. Perhaps this is an opportunity for the hospital to affiliate with the local Episcopal or Methodist congregation and continue its work in saving lives.

  2. In the hospitals statement on the matter, their CEO, Linda Hunt, said “Consistent with our values of dignity and justice, if we are presented with a situation in which a pregnancy threatens a woman’s life, our first priority is to save both patients. If that is not possible we will always save the life we can save, and that is what we did in this case.”

    It is hard for me to understand exactly how this contradicts church teaching granted that the assessment that both mother and child were going to die without the procedure.

  3. Mike,

    I dealt with this extensively at my blog in a series of 8 posts and debates on every thread back when it happened. It’s NOT what the administrators claim, and I say that as a medical scientist who has discussed this with several OB/GYN’s.

    Here’s the list of posts:

    In short, I will say here that the staff never attempted to treat the disease first.

    They could have told the husband that there was another hospital less than half a mile away if they wanted an abortion (In one of my posts, I link to a map of all the hospitals within 2 miles).

    The mother only needs to be brought to 23/24 weeks of pregnancy before a C-section is done to attempt to save the baby.

    Typical of renegade nuns, they advance their agenda through lies and paint the Bishop as the monster. And then they wonder why Rome is investigating the women’s religious communities.

    Look no further.

  4. “Perhaps this is an opportunity for the hospital to affiliate with the local Episcopal or Methodist congregation and continue its work in saving lives.”

    Does that mean they can then terminate lives with no repercussions? If so, sad.

  5. Ellen Parrish says:

    This goes way beyond this one case – see below – and honestly – when was Sr. Keehan appointed bishop, or teacher/correcter of bishops?

    From the bishop himself, regarding the matter: “Unfortunately, subsequent communications with leadership at St. Joseph’s Hospital and CHW have only eroded my confidence about their commitment to the Church’s Ethical and Religious Directives for Healthcare. They have not addressed in an adequate manner the scandal caused by the abortion. Moreover, I have recently learned that many other violations of the ERDs have been taking place at CHW facilities in Arizona throughout my seven years as Bishop of Phoenix and far longer.

    Let me explain.

    CHW and St. Joseph’s Hospital, as part of what is called “Mercy Care Plan”, have been formally cooperating with a number of medical procedures that are contrary to the ERDs, for many years. I was never made aware of this fact until the last few weeks. Here are some of the things which CHW has been formally responsible for throughout these years:

    • Contraceptive counseling, medications, supplies and associated medical and laboratory examinations, including, but not limited to, oral and injectable contraceptives, intrauterine devices, diaphragms, condoms, foams and suppositories;

    • Voluntary sterilization (male and female); and

    • Abortions due to the mental or physical health of the mother or when the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest.

    This information was given to me in a meeting which included an administrator of St. Joseph’s Hospital who admitted that St. Joseph’s and CHW are aware that this plan consists in formal cooperation in evil actions which are contrary to Church teaching.”

    Doesn’t sound like he had a lot of choice here. But the press doesn’t have a lot of fun reporting things that way – outrage is a one way street apparently.

  6. Well, well, Sister Carol wins again. Talk about power! This woman has the American Bishops by the balls and she isn’t going to let go, she just keeps twising and twisting. Have to say I am quickly losing respect for these men.
    BUT, God bless and protect the Bishop Okmsted.

  7. Gerard: “It’s NOT what the administrators claim, and I say that as a medical scientist who has discussed this with several OB/GYN’s.”

    With all due respect, Gerard, there seems to be a difference of opinion between you and the moral theologian assigned to review the case.

    Now, unless you can tell me that you reviewed the case files of the patient, including all tests performed, I have to wonder how you as a medical scientist can say with any certainty exactly what the situation was facing this woman.

    Personally, I see the following as quite germane to this discussion:

    “A cardiac catheterization revealed that the woman now had “very severe pulmonary arterial hypertension with profoundly reduced cardiac output”; in another part of the record, a different physician confirmed “severe, life-threatening pulmonary hypertension,” “right heart failure,” and “cardiogenic shock.” The chart noted that she had been informed that her risk of mortality “approaches 100%,” is “near 100%,” and is “close to 100%” if she were to continue the pregnancy. The chart also noted that “surgery is absolutely contraindicated.””

    There are links to the moral theologians analysis (24 pages) that I believe disputes your assertions, Gerard, and offers evidence to counter your claims.

  8. From the moral theologian’s report:

    “Until about nine weeks into a pregnancy, the ovaries are responsible for the production of progesterone, which maintains the pregnancy in the uterus and causes the increase in blood volume cited above. At about ten weeks, the placenta is the organ that takes over this work, becoming a shared organ between the mother and the child. In this case, having reached week eleven, the placenta was producing the physiological changes that
    imperiled the mother’s and child’s lives. No organ, however, exists in a vacuum. The human body is a complex and carefully balanced network. In this case, the normal
    functioning of an organ (the placenta) within a diseased network (of pulmonary arteries) created a lethal situation. Importantly, although in one respect the placenta was
    functioning ‘normally,’ it was also functioning pathologically in two ways.

    First, once the placenta initiated its normal function at week ten, a crisis was created. Second, once the patient entered cardiogenic shock, the placenta also became hypoxic. In these two ways, then, the placenta not only initiated a threat to the mother’s life; it also became the
    immediate/presenting cause of the inevitably fatal threat to the fetus.

    These facts are important to establish because the claim has been made that the hospital sought primarily to end the life of the fetus as the means to saving the mother’s life. This, however, is physiologically inaccurate. It is likely that in this case as in many cases of natural fetal demise, the death of the fetus in se would have had no physiologic effect on the mother. In many cases of fetal demise, the pregnancy itself continues; fetal death is often not detected for weeks or months, although the pregnancy itself continues to proceed and develop because the hormones required for sustaining and advancing the
    pregnancy come not from the fetus but from the placenta.

    Based on these facts, the Ethics Committee at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center was asked for a determination of whether or not the intervention to address the placental
    issue via a D&C would be morally appropriate according to Catholic teaching. Per their reading of the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services (4th
    edition) and their understanding of the Catholic moral tradition, the Ethics Committee determined that the intervention would not be considered a direct abortion. They therefore approved the intervention, which was carried out on November 5, 2009.”

    This seems to refute your claim that the pregnancy could have continued another 13-15 weeks. Given the failure of the mother’s heart it appears that the child would have died from lack of oxygen well before viability.

    Further, the death of the child in utero would not have changed the mother’s situation as, according to the report, it was the placenta that was creating the life-threatening condition. The placenta, as mentioned above, would have continued functioning after the death of the child, and would have continued to endanger the life of the mother.

    The disease, Gerard, was the interaction of the placenta and the mother’s pulmonary hypertension. The resolution of the disease would be the removal of the placenta, thereby removing the cause of the deterioration of the mother’s pulmonary circulation.

    Unlike you, Gerard, I am not a doctor. However, I hope you agree that this case illustrates the difficulties in correctly diagnosing a medical condition absent observation of the patient(s) and review of the results of medical testing, neither of which you have done.

    Pope Pius XII’s words are important here:

    “It has been Our intention here to use always the expressions “direct attempt on the life of the innocent person,” “direct killing.” The reason is that if, for example,
    the safety of the future mother, independently of her state of pregnancy, might call for an urgent surgical operation, or any other therapeutic application, which would have as an accessory consequence, in no way desired or intended, but
    inevitable, the death of the fetus, such an act could not be called a direct attempt on the innocent life. In these conditions the operations can be lawful, as can other
    similar medical interventions, provided that it be a matter of great importance, such as life, and that it is not possible to postpone it till the birth of the child, or to have recourse to any other efficacious remedy.”

    Unless you can offer some significant evidence that the account of the moral theologian is in error, and that the doctors did not give due diligence in their determination of the cause of the threat and its proper treatment, then I hope you will reconsider your position regarding the unfortunate occurrences in that hospital on that day.

  9. Daniel,

    I’ll debate this more tomorrow. However, this woman was diagnosed weeks before she arrived at the hospital. She should have been told how things might play out and that St. Joseph’s would not and could not perform an abortion. She should have been advised THEN, to arrange care at one of the neighboring hospitals.

    But as Bishop Olmsted reveals, abortions, sterilizations and contraception of every type have been routine for over a quarter century at this place.

    Thus, neither the patient, nor the Church were well served by this shadow episcopacy. In light of their longstanding formal cooperation in the slaughter of babies , nothing that they say has any merit. Nothing that they feed to a moral theologian can be trusted as entirely truthful, and if you believe that clinicians and administrators don’t lie to cover their asses, routinely, then we have a bridge here in Brooklyn for you to buy.

    Nuns giving the thumbs-up to executing babies for the capital crimes of their rapist fathers! And you rise to the defense of such monsters, believe what they say for a second?

    We have ONE Bishop with guts. It would be a different Church were they all as good and decent as Olmsted.

  10. Gerard: “However, this woman was diagnosed weeks before she arrived at the hospital. She should have been told how things might play out and that St. Joseph’s would not and could not perform an abortion. She should have been advised THEN, to arrange care at one of the neighboring hospitals.”

    Indeed, the woman was counseled in October to terminate the pregnancy given her condition, but she chose instead to carry the child. In the past this has been hailed as a victory by the pro-life movement…a woman risks her own health for the sake of her unborn child. Yet here you condemn the woman for not going to another hospital since, apparently least from your vantage point, an abortion was inevitable.

    In reading the theologian’s report it does appear that the doctors were very up-front with the woman and her husband about what could happen, and continued that openness as the situation worsened. I am somewhat dismayed at your apparent condemnation of the woman for following the teachings of the Catholic Church up to that point and not simply going and getting an abortion.

    As for the word of the hospital vs. yours, at this point I am hopeful you have something more than your opinion to back your assertions. Have you attended patients in similar conditions? If so, what is your experience with outcomes given the conditions described in the report? Do you have evidence that in this case the condition of the woman and child were not as described in the report? Do you have evidence that the theologian was given incorrect/false information?

  11. Gerard: “But as Bishop Olmsted reveals, abortions, sterilizations and contraception of every type have been routine for over a quarter century at this place.”

    That may well be, and that is not the thrust of my inquiry here. Your statements regarding the truthfulness of the moral theologian’s review of the case, however, imply that you have knowledge of falsehoods contained in that report. That, to me, indicates that you have reviewed the case documents, spoken with the attending physicians, and come to a conclusion that counters what the theologian offers in the report.

    Do you have such evidence, or are you merely casting aspersions and engaging in gossip?

  12. As I understand it to counsel a women to go somewhere to procure an abortion would be participating in the guilt inherent in that abortion. The argument that the offending organ was the placenta would appear to be similar to the existance of a malignant neoplasm of the placenta or uterus, justifying its removal if practical. The unrelated complaints about the hospital should have no bearing on the ethical and moral decision in this particular case.


  1. RT @TopsyRT: Catholic Health Association defends abortion at hospital

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