The Washington state branch of the American Civil Liberties Union has stepped up to the plate to defend citizens against Catholic health care organizations that would impose their religious dogma on non-Catholic patients.
Joining ten other groups concerned with health care advocacy or civil liberties, the ACLU sent a letter to Governor Jay Inslee (PDF), requesting a moratorium on hospital mergers until a “community health needs assessment” can investigate the impact of an institution’s religious affiliation on the availability of legal and medically appropriate care. The letter notes that all Catholic-run medical institutions are required to comply with the USCCB’s Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, which prohibit contraceptive use, sterilization, and abortion, as well as most types of assisted reproduction.
Inslee’s office says that staffers are currently reviewing the letter before bringing it to his desk, but notes that Inslee is “concerned for what these mergers could mean for women’s health care coverage.”
But it’s not just women who stand to be affected by church-based mergers. In a local radio interview, Doug Honig, a spokesperson for the Washington ACLU, spoke clearly about what’s at stake for all patients in the state as well as their families:
Our concern is that when secular hospitals merge with religious corporations, the result is that the health care facility will have to follow the religious dogma. That can limit the access of patients to medically appropriate and lawful procedures, specifically end-of-life care, reproductive health care, and it can affect care for lesbian, gay, and transsexual people.
According to national advocacy organization MergerWatch, which is dedicated to keeping medical care free of religious coercion directed at patients, notes that 40% of hospital beds in Washington are currently managed by church-affiliated groups. If all pending hospital mergers go through, that number will be up to 45% by year’s end.
This represents a dramatic trend towards increasing Church involvement in health care; just three years ago in 2010, only 26% of the state’s hospital beds were in Catholic-affiliated hospitals. Economic pressures are forcing hospital mergers across the country, and many of these mergers bring Catholic religious dogma into formerly secular hospital environments. Consolidation saves money, Honig notes, and that’s a good thing… but not if it happens at the expense of patients’ rights:
We’re not opposed to hospital consolidations and mergers at all. What we do want is for state leadership to get involved to make sure that as we have consolidations, people’s access to lawful procedures and medically appropriate care is not compromised.
Unfortunately, these mergers have limited the options for patients in other states and there’s no reason to believe patients will get the best possible care in Washington if they go through here.