In Washington State, Catholic Hospital Mergers Conflict with Patients’ Legal Rights

Changes in the economics of providing health care have led to a wave of hospital mergers, many of which include wealthy Catholic organizations buying up struggling secular hospitals. We’ve already covered how these mergers can affect patient care by pushing religion-based standards of care onto non-Catholic patients.

Now Washington, among the bluest of blue states when it comes to medical ethics, has become a flashpoint in this particular conflict, and the rights of patients rest in the balance.

Washington State boasts some of the country’s most liberal laws on controversial medical issues like abortion and physician-assisted suicide. The Death With Dignity Act makes Washington one of only two states that permit doctors to hasten death at the request of a terminally-ill patient wishing to avoid suffering. The state legalized abortion by popular vote three years before Roe v. Wade, and the current crop of lawmakers are working to ensure that every woman has health care coverage to fund her abortions, whether elective or medically-advised.

Polls indicate that Washington is one of the least religious states in the union (which may have something to do with its liberalism), but if all the proposed mergers go through, fully half of the state’s hospital beds will be controlled by Catholic organizations requiring medical professionals to adhere to Catholic moral strictures as outlined in the United States’ Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Ethical and Religious Directives (PDF). A quarter of the state’s counties would have no non-Catholic hospital care available at all.

That’s a prospect that concerns many Washingtonians, who fear that their access to legal procedures will be compromised by Catholic hospital rules. Some LGBTQ groups and individuals have also expressed the fear that their hospitals will fail to recognize the legal rights of same-sex partners.

The executive director of the USCCB’s Secretariat for Doctrine shrugged off these concerns, and questions about whether medical professionals at Catholic-directed institutions would even be allowed to refer or advise patients on how to access their legal rights:

If you go to a Catholic medical institution, you’re going to get medical advice that is in keeping with the moral norms of that institution. We think Catholic medical advice is the best medical advice to give.

A majority of Washington’s citizens would disagree. But thanks to the shaky economics of today’s hospitals, the wealthiest health care providers have the clout to grant or withhold access, legal rights be damned. Whoever has the gold makes the rules.

Unfortunately for Washingtonians, Catholic medical powerhouses have the gold. And their rules won’t take into account what’s really best for women in the state.

About Sara Lin Wilde

Sara Lin Wilde is a recovering Catholic (and cat-holic, for that matter - all typographical errors are the responsibility of her feline friends). She lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, where she is working on writing a novel that she really, really hopes can actually get published.

  • jdm8

    “If you go to a Catholic medical institution, you’re going to get medical
    advice that is in keeping with the moral norms of that institution. We
    think Catholic medical advice is the best medical advice to give.”

    The problem is, in times of emergency, you don’t often get much choice in where you’re taken. With a Catholic-based hospital, you might get care that relies more on religious dogma than something resembling medical science.

  • Sven2547

    Letting a Catholic hospital manage your pregnancy is like having Jehovah’s Witnesses manage your blood transfusion. Your interests come last.

  • TheG

    More like having a hungry coyote manage your daycare.

  • Carmelita Spats

    I don’t want to see another “medical misadventure” like the one in Ireland…

    Your health in the hands of twisted fanatics who open wide for a mouthful of Savior and believe that the pill and the IUD kill “children”…It’s VERY creepy…

  • C Peterson

    Lawsuits. Lawsuits that ask for huge punitive damages, paid into something like the state medical insurance system. Can’t get birth control? A billion dollar award. Doctor can’t get a job because he prescribes birth control? A billion dollar award. Woman carries an unwanted baby to term because she doesn’t get accurate information about birth control or abortion? A billion dollar award.

    If the rules are made by who has the gold, I say redistribute the gold.

  • busterggi

    Tax the fucking churches already. They want to act like businesses, treat them like businesses. Except actually collect those taxes instead of building in sweetheart loopholes.

  • Baby_Raptor

    Oh but they *have rights* dontcha know? And we already know that their right to believe whatever they “feel is true” outweighs our right to get the medicine we need. Why would healthcare be any different?

  • chicago dyke

    what the hell is ‘catholic medicine?’ i want science based medicine, not voodoo from men in dresses.

  • McAtheist

    We think that if you go to a faith healer you are going to get medical advice that is in keeping with the moral norms of faith healers. We think faith healing medical advice is the best medical advice to give.

    Just wanted to see how that looked in Print.

  • Miss_Beara

    Yeesh. That is scary.

  • Miss_Beara

    “We think Catholic medical advice is the best medical advice to give.”

    Translation= no abortion even to save your life, no birth control even if deals with debilitating periods, no plan B if you are raped because that kills babies.

    We want MEDICAL advice. Many of us are not Catholic so leave your beliefs in your church where they belong.

  • Sven2547

    I wouldn’t take the comparison that far.
    The goal of the hungry coyote is to gobble up tasty morsels. It’s not like the goal of Catholic hospitals is to kill you. The problem is that the goal of Catholic hospitals isn’t necessarily to keep you alive either. You are not their prey, but you are of secondary importance.

  • good_creon

    Why does the Church even want hospitals? Shouldn’t you just be praying? We always hear about God having a plan for everyone, which has been a particular sticking point in the contraception debate. But if you’re going to go that route, wouldn’t ANY form of health care interfere with God’s plan?

    It’s all very upsetting, really

  • wmdkitty

    That’s a good idea.

  • Rain

    “If you go to a Catholic medical institution, you’re going to get medical
    advice that is in keeping with the moral norms of that institution. We
    think Catholic medical advice is the best medical advice to give.”

    Did he say that with a straight face? Any time someone in the Bible was sick, they were “unclean” or they had demons in them.

    Basically his logic amounts to the worst Catholic doctor being better than the best non Catholic doctor, which is a stupid and dangerous attitude. Heck, doctors defer to other doctors all the time. They don’t go around saying “Hey I’m the bestest doctor ever! Whooptie doo-doo! Other doctors have the cooties!” *sticks tongue out at other doctors* Yeah maybe some real adults should run the place.

  • closetatheist

    So, clicking on a bunch of links led me to where Catholics lie about how birth control is the reason for everything bad that ever happens… among the gems was this one:

    “Sterile intercourse created by the pill leads to women becoming mere objects of sexual gratification for men.”
    That’s right ladies! The Catholic church forcing you be capable of baby-making with EVERY sexual encounter isn’t objectifying! What’s objectifying is allowing yourself to have filthy, filthy no consequence sex where YOU are in charge of the potential outcome! Also, they claimed WHO classified birth control as a class 1 carcinogen…I followed those links too and, surprise, surprise, not true.

  • Stev84

    Catholic hospitals made sense in the middle ages when there was little to nothing else. Today they are an obscenity.

  • L.Long

    I sure hope someone over there has some real brains.

    Just a few weeks ago two guys who were essentially bored and fed up used 2 bombs to hurt a lot of people they did not know or care about.

    Soon some ones wife, daughter, or son will need treatment and when some idiot cat-licker says ‘no way- its agin gawds law’ there will be a lot of people who will be very sad, and it wont be the patients. This will be inevitable if the state authorities done keep the xtian bigots in line.

  • Rob U

    Why does the Church even want hospitals?

    Because that pesky Establishment Clause in the US Constitution makes direct proselytizing by the government difficult and costly. No sooner do they get the politicians coerced into pushing their faith through the power of the State when some uppity patriot comes out of the woodwork to sue and demand that they stop breaking the law.

    But owning a private hospital? Jackpot. As a private institution they get to set the rules for what services they will and will not allow, if they want to run it as a religious institution then as a private institution they’re good to go.

    Its a big win for them as they get to force their beliefs on the public, remember that 25% of the people in Washington would live in a district where the “Catholic Hospital” is the only option, denying them their “religious freedom”. Of course, to them, the only “religious freedom” that counts is the one where they have the freedom to force their religion on others.

  • Artor

    Dammit! I can only give you one upvote. :(

  • Tanner B James

    another nice law we have here in Washington is the “no right to refuse” law, which basically means that no hospital can refuse to take a patient. That law and the “hardship care contracts” make the catholic hospitals a pretty good choice, it’s pretty much free medical care.

  • smrnda

    “We think.”

    Well, Catholic Hospital, when it comes to my health, you can take what you think and shove it up your posterior. I’m sure there are people who *think* all kinds of things about health, but why exactly their opinions, rather than the patient’s, or the medical professions should count are beyond me.

  • Keulan

    If I get sick or seriously injured in the future, I hope I don’t get taken to a Catholic hospital. Religious organizations clearly care more about their moronic dogma than about helping people, so they should not be in control of hospitals.

  • Aspieguy

    In our county the Franciscan Alliance now owns the local hospital and all the physician groups. It’s a disaster. No organization that adheres to Bronze Age beliefs should be allowed to own 21st century hospitals.

  • Tom

    To put it another way: when you can’t get away with controlling the actual state, you can get a good second-best by creating your own de-facto state-within-a-state. You do this by taking full control of at least one of the essentials of life that, in a civilised country, actually would be handled by the state specifically to prevent that from happening, in this case medical care. Once you’re the sole provider of something people can’t do without, they become more than just customers; they could be said to become something like your “citizens.”

  • Charles Honeycutt


  • Stev84

    Maybe people can start to wear wristbands that say “In case of emergency don’t take me to a Catholic hospital”

  • Ibis3

    @Sara Lin Do you have any idea what the situation is here in Ontario? Whenever I read about this problem south of the border or across the pond, I wonder whether we have the same issues with Catholic hospitals here. Are they required to provide all services covered by OHIP? Are they allowed to dictate care based on their religious dogma?

  • Sue Blue

    And if a woman dies from a nonviable pregnancy – say, an ectopic pregnancy or a molar twin pregnancy or a severe placental abruption – because the Catholic hospital won’t allow physicians to remove a fetus to save the mother’s life (even if that fetus will die anyway), then there should be not only billions of dollars for the bereaved family, but prosecution of the hospital administrators for murder.

    As an RN, I’ve written about how much this religious infiltration of health care outrages me. Patients’ rights are severely compromised – especially if a Catholic hospital is the only healthcare provider in the area and the patient can’t afford, or is unable, to travel to another hospital, or their insurance won’t cover care provided elsewhere – and also the ethics and rights of physicians and nurses. In this economy, where jobs are scarce, many new physicians and nurses have huge student loans to pay back, families to support, and bills to pay like everyone else, and speaking out against their employers’ or potential employers’ unethical or illegal practices is career death. I don’t even think whistleblower laws apply; such laws are being steadily eroded by corporate-minded conservatives.

  • Mark W.

    If you need medical advice on your demonic possession problem’s or removing curses by witches, I’m sure that Catholic medical science is probably some of the best around.

  • CultOfReason

    This might be a stupid question, but why are the secular hospitals failing and the Catholic hospitals not? Is it because they are being held afloat by massive cash infusions by the church, or are they being better managed?

    With regards to not providing services they are morally opposed to, then my position is that they shouldn’t be in the health care business if they are unwilling to provide legal services such as birth control and abortions. These hospitals are not offering the best medical advice for the patient. They are offering the best medical advice to satisfy their conscious.

  • rustygh

    Wow so good! I hope every women in the world reads this. We need to kill religions and this is why. They believe every time a women has sex it should be to make a baby, only! How dare you women enjoy sex if you don’t make a baby.

  • Feminerd

    Catholic-owned hospitals pay no taxes, for one. They do often get infusions of RCC cash, and some of them use nuns for administrative work (nuns don’t get paid).

  • A Christian

    I’m a Christian (not Catholic) and I certainly don’t feel the same way about birth control. In fact, before my husband’s vasectomy, we did our own Bible study. Guess what we found? Nothing. The Bible lauds children, but it never condemns birth control, nor does it say, “have as many babies as you can”.

  • A Christian

    It is interesting to read the comments on this article. I am not Catholic, but our local hospital (and it’s a VERY good one) is…7th Day Adventist, I think. We’ve had to go to the ER a few times recently and they gave us a little pamphlet in a packet at checkout about their church. We never read them, but there was no proselytizing other than that.

    Also, I have heard of Catholic hospitals that did perform abortions. You would have to do more research on that, though.

  • A Christian

    “This might be a stupid question, but why are the secular hospitals
    failing and the Catholic hospitals not? Is it because they are being
    held afloat by massive cash infusions by the church, or are they being
    better managed?”

    I am interested in knowing the answer to this too. I was under the impression that the Catholic church might actually be hurting for money?

  • Barefoot Bree

    Well, that may have struck Washington off the list of possible destinations for our eventual move out of this hated heartland….. Unless they manage to get their act together and straighten this out in the next couple-three years.

  • Paul Grimm

    Read Galatians 5:20. In its original Greek. Or google pharmekia

  • Paul Grimm

    Actually there is no gross exaggeration. I thought that atheists liked facts. Link to the WHO website please

  • Paul Grimm

    Then go make your own damned atheist hospital and stop bitching about people trying to save your life

  • A Christian

    Thank you for pointing that out. According to my research, pharmekia as used in the New Testament could refer to medicine, drugs, or sorcery ( The connection between drugs and sorcery was this:

    In Paul’s day there was the Oracle at Delphi (and a great
    many other Oracles) getting high on Laurel leaves and sulpher fumes. There was Bacchanalia in which participants would get drunk and have orgies and terrorize villages. There were many Mystery religions/cults in which participants would eat hallucinogenic mushrooms among other things.

    In the context of the passage (Galatians 5:19-21), “The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality,
    impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like…”, it seems a stretch to think that Paul was condemning medicine. Luke, the author of the Gospel of Luke and one of Jesus’ apostles (who was still alive during the writing of Galatians) was a doctor. And Paul recommends his young apprentice, Timothy drink wine instead of water for his stomach (1 Tim. 5:23). Most resources online relate this passage to the use of illicit drugs or the abuse of drugs.

    I know there are churches who condemn the use of medicine and even seeing a doctor (sadly, I have some personal experience in that area), but the Bible does not condemn these things.
    (I just ignored the “Application section”)

  • Paul Grimm

    That’s not what I’m referring to. I’m referring to what was actually written in the original Greek. Pharmekia was written about by st Augustine, the atheist gynocologist soranos, st clement, St john chrystodem and st Jerome in reference to abortifacients and contraception.

  • A Christian

    Ah! I see. I know they are the considered the Church Fathers in Catholicism and their words have become gospel to the Catholic church.

    I know Augustine was a mystic, and it wouldn’t surprise me if the others were too. Mystics were/are notorious in my mind for skewing the Bible and elevating themselves and their opinions (just finished some articles on medieval mystics, if you are interested:

    Anyway, I will look more into those. Thanks!

  • Paul Grimm

    A good book on this subject is Catholics and contraception: what the church really teaches. It’s available in most libraries in Catholic Churches. No cost to check out. Written in the 60s in response to the pill. Fascinating read

  • Paul Grimm

    Except that Catholic hospitals are all over the world and not limited to the US. Maybe it’s because we Catholics believe in helping others. We don’t believe in killing old people or babies

  • A Christian

    I will look into that book. In the meantime, I found a couple resources that describe exactly what you were saying. I knew Catholics were against birth control and abortion, I really had no idea the Catholic Church was so…obsessed with it.

    This one interestingly does not actually quote Scripture (they can’t because all the verses they cite are out of context), but does quote the Church Fathers. The last Scripture cited is the Gal. 5:20 one you mentioned. Here they manage to tie it in to meaning abortificients, but that is really out of context of the passage (which is probably why they don’t actually quote it).

    It also mentions Jerome and Chrysostom, et al. It’s fascinating but angering. Fortunately, “Mother Church” is merciful and will receive us wayward heretics again (sarc).

    This one has also been an interesting read:

    I love the generalizations and stereotypes.

  • Anna

    They are extremely obsessed. Of course, very few Catholics follow what the Vatican says, but I find it rather mind-boggling the extent to which Catholic dogma regulates the sex lives of adherents. It’s not enough to be in a heterosexual marriage. Even within that marriage, there are very specific rules about what you can and can’t do.

    All sex must be unprotected, and the only “moral” way for a man to have an orgasm is inside his wife’s vagina. Masturbation is forbidden. No oral, anal, or manual stimulation may end in ejaculation for the man. Every sexual act between husband and wife must end in unprotected vaginal intercourse, so if the wife can’t or doesn’t want to do that, no other form of sexual release is allowed.

    Luckily, the vast majority of Catholics are far too sensible to take those rules seriously, but that’s what the church requires. Anything else is considered evil and “sinful.”

  • Miss_Beara

    There is no such thing as an “atheist hospital.” There are secular hospitals that are being bought out by Catholic hospitals. If I am pregnant and will die without an abortion, then no they would not try and save my life.

  • A Christian

    I was surprised by all the details too. I was wondering if the Church Fathers were all celibate? And if they had read Song of Solomon (a heavy, innuendo-laden book of the Bible that says absolutely nothing about procreation)?

    But the thing that boggles my mind more is if you don’t believe in or follow the values/rules/doctrines/whatever of a religion/organization you belong to, why would you continue to want to belong to it?

  • Anna

    I guess it’s due to a misplaced sense of loyalty. I have relatives who identify as Catholic despite being pro-choice, pro-gay marriage, and all the rest of it. For them, it’s more of a cultural thing. They may not believe most of the dogma, but they want to mark life’s rituals (wedding, baptism, first communion, funeral, etc.) in those churches.

    In the United States, at least, there’s also a sense of Catholics being different from Protestants, so if everyone in your family is Catholic, it’s almost a familial and cultural betrayal to jump ship to become a Protestant. Plus, the Catholic church is sort of like the mob. In their eyes, once Catholic, always Catholic. Even if you renounce the church’s teachings, they still consider you one of them.

    The main problem with the Catholic church is that there’s no mechanism for reform. It’s a top-down hierarchy. The Vatican isn’t interested in what the laity wants, and there’s no way for ordinary Catholics to force the church to change their positions on various social issues. So regular Catholics just ignore the official rules. And the clergy often do, too. I think it’s been estimated that only about 50% of priests actually adhere to their vow of celibacy.

  • A Christian

    Wow. Thank you for the insights. Very interesting.

  • Anna

    Wait, so if the Catholic church owns a company or a business, they don’t have to pay taxes? I knew the individual churches were exempt, but I always thought businesses had to pay taxes. It’s not like they’re giving away medical care for free.

  • Feminerd

    Pretty sure, yeah. I haven’t super checked into the tax code, but it’s been one of the complaints a lot of hospitals have about Catholic-owned (and other religiously owned) hospitals and how they can’t compete. I presume they know what they’re talking about.

  • Anna

    Yikes, that’s certainly troubling. I could see how they might get tax breaks if they were charities, but they’re not charities. It costs plenty of money to go to a Catholic hospital.

  • Victor

    The ignorant vitriol being spewed on this site is mind boggling. Some facts: 1. Catholic hospitals were started in Washington in the 17 century as the only ones available
    2. They are a charity, i.e., not for profit, and like any charity, do not pay taxes; admitting patients without regard to race or religion, lack of religion or ability to pay. 3. They are regarded universally as the most professional, and finest, in rendering health care and that is the reason the University of Washington hospital sought their association. 4. Confidentiality of the doctor/patient is regarded as sacred.

  • Anna

    You call it “vitriol” not to want to die because of religious dogma? If I were pregnant, I would not feel safe anywhere near a Catholic hospital.

    And since when is medical care at Catholic hospitals free? It’s not free. I can’t believe you are claiming that Catholic hospitals are charities when it costs thousands of dollars to undergo medical procedures at their facilities.

    And newsflash: the law requires every hospital emergency room to provide care to patients, regardless of race, religion, citizenship, insurance status, or ability to pay. Doctor-patient confidentiality is also required by law. Neither of those things has anything to do with the religious status of a hospital.

  • Feral Dog

    St. Joseph Medical Center in Tacoma is the filthiest medical facility I’ve ever been to. What do they do, pray the dirt away?

    In all seriousness, this is bad. I already had to change providers for my PCOS because my original provider kept trying to talk me out of my birth control/Synthroid combo, which works quite well, and onto Metformin which doesn’t work for me (but has the interesting side effect of increased fertility.)