“Should I, a gay man, choose an excellent Catholic hospital?”

This just in:

Dear John,

I have a question on which I’d like your thoughts. The best hospital and physician group in my area is a Catholic health system. Under a new health plan I’m considering selecting them as my provider of choice. However, as a gay man in California who lived through the Prop 8 disgrace, I am loathe to increase the wealth of, or in any way support, the Catholic Church. The recent flap over contraception has made me even more wary of the Catholic Church’s role in the public/secular sphere.

This hospital does not allow abortions to be performed on premises, which is a position I don’t support.

My dilemma is there are no other hospitals nearby that come close to the quality of care provided by this high-ranking Catholic hospital/health system. What’s your view of the ethics of a gay, pro-choice, pro-contraception person choosing to receive treatment from a Catholic health system?

Dear person who wrote me this:

Hi! Thanks for writing!

Okay, so your caring so much for the bigger picture means that, as far as I’m concerned, you personally deserve the greatest health care in the history of gauze.

That said, my view of the ethics of a pro-choice, pro-contraception person choosing to receive treatment from a Catholic health system is that it depends. After all, it’s only in the strictest philosophical sense that ethics have any appreciable currency at all beyond the realm of everyday life.

The pertinent question here, in other words, isn’t what all people should do under any circumstances. It’s what you should do given your circumstances.

And given only what you’ve here told me, my vote is that you should definitely opt for the healthcare plan that includes the excellent Catholic hospital.

And I think you can do that and sleep perfectly well at night, too. Because Catholics are just like everyone else. Some of them are good, kind, thoughtful, sensitive, aware, and gracious. And some of them are conservatives.

Har! Conservative jokes!!

Always funny.

Well, here on this blog, anyway.

But seriously: Catholics are no more uniform in their actual, personal beliefs than are all the individuals within any other unimaginably gargantuan category of people. Most Catholics I know are so liberal they’d give Benedict a heart attack. They believe in God—not (necessarily) the Pope.

But relative to your insurance plan, so what? When any given health care professional in a Catholic hospital is tending to your needs, you have no idea what their spiritual or political beliefs are. And generally speaking, you don’t care. You just want them to help heal you.

If in their heart of hearts your doctor, nurse, or therapist believes in gay rights, is pro-contraception and sex education, and thinks Pope Benedict’s first name should be Arnold? Cool. And if he or she is secretly anti-gay, pro-ignorance, and thinks all women should remain barefoot and pregnant?

Also cool.

Let them treat you, too.

Let them send you back out into the world, feeling better and ready to carry on fighting the good fight.

You know what they say: He who helps his enemy hurts himself.

Okay, fine, I just made that up. But they should say it, because it’s true.

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About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. John is a pastor ordained by The Progressive Christian Alliance. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. And don't forget to sign up for his mucho awesome monthly newsletter.

  • Jeanne Morrison via Facebook

    of course you should. any hospital. make them behave.

  • Rebecca Akens via Facebook

    Oh…. So if insurance doesn’t have to pay for contraceptives… Right! Catholic hospitals don’t even have to treat gays, do they! *lightbulb*

  • Jeff Scott via Facebook

    My Catholic friends are wonderful, it’s not about them. The local Catholice hospital completely disrespected my (then) 35 year relationship.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Baya-Clare/100000362629638 Baya Clare via Facebook

    Catholic hospitals don’t financially support or enrich the Vatican, FYI.

  • Melissa Chamberlin

    I agree with John. Let them send you out to fight the good fight. With that being said, in my own personal healthcare choices, I have to have a female doctor, especially an OB. I choose my particular PCP with specific criteria, as I know that I can go through her to get my needs met. Is there a particular doctor in that hospital that has a good reputation for treating the LBGT community with dignity and respect? (It is my hope, and I would speculate that most do.) Choosing your gatekeeper carefully will most likely protect you from any issues you might find as a patient there.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      excellent advice, Melissa

  • mike west

    i would not have them treat him or me. My using their services implies that i agree with their theology. I agree that individual Catholics might be good people but the church they support with their finances has and continues to harm too many people. If Catholics who do not follow the doctrine of the church withdrew financial support: it is my belief that their God would have a change of heart.

    • Andie

      All that it implies is that you need medical care.

  • http://www.sparrowmilk.blogspot.com Shadsie

    My local hospital’s a Catholic one. When I fell down a stairwell at my place of work and broke my arm, I had that hospital and a non-religious one equidistant from where I was, I could chose where to go. I chose the Catholic one based purely on location. (I wanted my arm fixed up at a place close to home so if I had to go in for subsquent treatment, the records would be at a place that was easy to get to for me). Turns out, I did have to go in three days later because of mysterious abdominal pain that turned out to be a rather serious internal injury. I had a three-day stay and they treated me well. The only point of annoyance I had with them was when some candy-striper asked me about Communion and I wound up saying “No, I’m not Catholic – I am Christian, though” and she smiled sweetly saying “You’re Christian, that’s what counts” and left on her rounds. I was left wondering “What if I was a Wiccan or an Athiest, what would her reaction be?” The priest there was actually very nice and gave me a pamphlet about all their religious services for all kinds of people (including Buddhist/Muslim/Pagan chaplains) – so maybe my hospital is progressive as Catholic hospitals go? (All I know is that they supposedly have a very good joint/skeletal/muscle surgery program).

    One thing I was very glad of is that… while I’m technically not married… they allowed my fiancee’ to visit me. He’s basically all I’ve got here on the East Coast – all I’ve got for family. I was actually a bit surprised by this because I’d always heard about how strict religious hospitals were about letting in visitors. Then again, mine is a woman/man relationship… So, I would do some reasearch or ask about your hospital’s policy on allowing your partner to visit you (if you have one, and if you don’t any potential partner) because, trust me, if you get laid up, you’ll go stir-crazy in a hospital without someone to visit you. Even if your loved one is just watching television with you, having them there means everything in the world.

    I don’t know if I can advise other than that, because, frankly, I tend to see life as “utilitarian” – I don’t care about the politics or beliefs of people who are serving me/helping me as long as they are serving me/helping me and I know that broad groups have diverse individuals. If someone is willing to save my life, I don’t care if they love or hate my God, or my choice for President, or my taste in snacks (though I’ve met some people on the Internet that make me afraid to reveal any of my affiliations to anyone in real-life land for fear that they’ll refuse to save my life on account that they hate my God, my Present, or my taste in snacks).

  • Lymis

    From a practical standpoint, I would call or, better yet, visit, the hospital and ask to see, in writing, their policy for visitation and healthcare decisions.

    I’d be stunned if YOUR care was dramatically affected by the fact that the hospital is affiliated with the Catholic Church, but it could very easily affect how they treat your spouse or partner and any children you have.

  • Lee

    I had an ear surgery and ob/gyn treatment during my pregnancy at a Catholic hospital (I didn’t have a choice, long story) and I was treated well, most of the time. My doctors were great, but I did occasionally experience homophobia in places like the intake department (insisting repeatedly that I have a HUSBAND’s name on the form) and with the billing dept. I’d suggest that you might need to just be prepared to deal with potentially homophobic treatment, which of course you can experience anywhere. Could it be that it’s slightly more likely in a religious institution? I think so–so I suppose if you can handle that, then you should go for it.

  • Andie

    I work at a Catholic hospital, and the only things that are different from the nearest secular hospital are that a short, generic prayer is played over the intercom each morning at 7:30 and the chapel has a crucifixes. I’d estimate that at least half of the employees are not Catholic. However, 100% of them care about patients and helping people heal.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Baya-Clare/100000362629638 Baya Clare via Facebook

    John, I just sent you an email with some info about this.

  • Kimberly Moser Musci Phillips via Facebook

    If he ends up in the ICU, or the ER, or in surgery, will this hospital’s policies recognize his partner as his next of kin? Will the hospital recognize whomever he decides has medical power of attorney? And/or, will they honor all of his advance directives, including “do not resuscitate”?

    • Diana A.

      Good questions!

  • Baya

    I am not an expert on finance, & certainly not on the finances of the Catholic Church. I am, however, a vowed sister in a religious order, so I know some of the misconceptions people have about how the church operates. 

    “While the Vatican sets doctrine and exercises strong authority over the Church’s two main branches, the far-flung religious orders and dioceses, both are self- supporting from grass-roots sources. Each administrative unit of a religious order and each diocese is an independent corporation with assets that the papacy cannot touch…”

    For way more about this,  read the rest of this somewhat old, but still pretty accurate article about Vatican finances:

    http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/fortune_archive/1987/12/21/70001/index.htm

    Catholic hospitals  in th US were mostly founded by communities of religious sisters or brothers & were financed by those communities through contributions they raised & also often through the sale of something akin to health insurance – 25 cents per month entitled you to care in the hospital if you needed it. Nowadays many of those hospitals are merging into hospital associations & are only loosely connected to their original founding communities. Such hospitals (& many colleges founded by vowed religious congregations as well) choose to operate under Catholic principles, & that’s up to them, not the bishop of the diocese or the pope. They do not receive financial support from nor provide financial support to Rome.

    Hope this helps.

  • Susan in NY

    When I was a child, I had my tonsils removed at a Catholic hospital. Even then, the overt Catholicism freaked me out. There were nuns all over the place, and someone asked me if I wanted to receive communion. I was nine years old. I thought I was going to die soon with all those nuns and priests there. Of course, this was around 30 years ago. Nevertheless, unless I had a special health problem that necessitated a Catholic hospital, I avoid them. I’d much rather go to Mount Sinai or Beth Israel Medical Centers. : )

  • otter

    woulddnt it be practical to consult Angies list….?

  • Peter

    It’s funny that a gay man asked you about that. As an adult he seems to be incapable of making his own decisions.

    Baya explained explicitly how the Catholics institutions operate and I hope it clarified a bit this part of the story. As Andie wrote they operate to help people heal. It’s true they do it according to the Catholic principles, but still, it’s about health. Then, why is he worried? He won’t end up being pregnant with other men, so what’s the big deal? If he wants freedom to choose, then he’s free to choose another hospital and let them operate according to their own rules. The question is: does he care about quality of service, or about politics?

    • Gordon

      Asking for advice from a source you trust is not immature, Peter. It’s sensible. This guy seems to be wrestling with his conscience and bouncing something like that off John Shore is a great idea. And, in spite of being gay and male and not needing health care specific to females, I applaud his solidarity with women and their right to make their own reproductive choices. Think of where we would be in the gay civil rights struggle without straight people like John Shore and millions of others standing in solidarity with us?

      Something you should try and understand is that when it comes to religious institutions, many gay people (including me) are extremely mistrustful. That lack of trust is well placed and well deserved. So, we sometimes struggle over decisions that a lot people would have no internal debate about. I’ll give you an example. I lived in San Francisco for almost 20 years. In 1999, my company was sold and I was suddenly out of job. I was contacted by an executive search firm about a CFO job in Atlanta. It was a great little company, fantastic compensation package, etc. A lot of middle-aged upwardly mobile people would have looked at the opportunity strictly from a professional standpoint, which I most certainly did. BUT, I also looked at from a gay standpoint. Atlanta is in Georgia. To say that Georgia is hostile to gay rights generally and gay people specifically is an understatement. So, at the tender age of 43, I asked for a lot of advice. Does that mean I’m a grown man who can’t make decisions for himself or does it make me a grown man who is willing to seek the counsel of people he trusts? Remember the proverb, “In the counsel of many there is safety.”

      - G

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

        Thanks for this, Gordon.

      • Drew

        Spot on, Gordon.

    • Lymis

      Oh, how delightfully condescending of you.

      Recently a lesbian who was hospitalized in Florida on vacation died alone while her wife and child were denied visitation (and frantically trying to get legal access to her) even though they had all the necessary legal documentation, including a medical power of attorney. And one hospital employee told her to her face, while her wife was dying, that it was because she was gay and Florida didn’t recognize her marriage. She later got an apology. Gee, thanks.

      Same-sex couples all over the country are denied the same treatment that opposite sex couples are given. My husband’s insurance company will not speak to me about his coverage or let me deal with giving them necessary information, even though I hold medical power of attorney and we’ve sent them documentation about both our marriage and our local civil union because “we are not married” – even though they acknowledge they would freely discuss all of it with me if I was his wife.

      I was fired, legally, from a well-paying job I did well, because my boss didn’t want a gay man working for him.

      Having to be aware of homophobia isn’t just “politics.’

      The Roman Catholic hierarchy is one of the largest financial contributors to anti-gay legislation in both federal and state campaigns. The Catholic hierarchy has been constantly in the news lately saying that it is being forced to shut down services because they refuse to recognize the rights of gay people. They have shut down adoption agencies and other social services, and threatened to shut down more. The archbishop of Chicago just announced that the Church would shut down all Catholic hospitals rather than allow their insurance companies to fund contraceptive care. Now, he may just be posturing, and he may be talking out the wrong end of his cassock, but he’s on record as saying it in the public press.

      It’s wonderful for you if your life is such that you don’t have to face the unreasoning hatred and discrimination from some of your fellow citizens. It is a blessing to you if you never have to even consider whether a medical provider’s religious views might affect your care.

      But the same is not true for all of us. Don’t you dare smugly question someone else’s adulthood or ability to make their own decisions just because they are reasonably asking questions that apply to their own life and the lives of their family.

      You want “it’s funny?” Maybe it’s funny that a grown man can be so clueless about the realities of life for some of his fellow human beings and still feel qualified to make uninformed comments on other people’s motivations and lives.

      • Lymis

        Let me say that while I absolutely stand by what I posted – it is all real and documented – I’m not claiming that it follows that Catholic hospitals are in the least bit guilty of discrimination. Only that the questions are reasonable and important, and that Peter was utterly out of line in dismissing them as childish and purely political.

        It’s actually my experience that, when the hierarchy gets out of their way, Catholics are, on the whole, hugely supportive and professional, especially in the fields of things like medical care. You want to piss off a nun? Discriminate against someone and blame her. Then duck.

        Not to be dismissive of any other people of faith or of any other hospitals, but it wouldn’t surprise me to find that Catholic hospitals are actually better on gay issues than secular hospitals, precisely because they’d see the need to address the question in ways that others might not have to. Anywhere the Catholic laity can pat the bishop on the head and politely tell him to get out of the way, and are not required to base their operating policies on input from the bishops or the Vatican, I’d be more shocked to find institutional homophobia than not to.

        I don’t believe that the Florida hospital in question was a Catholic one.

        None of that makes the concerns that the letter writer raised invalid.

      • vj

        Wow, Lymis – thanks for sharing this. South Africa doesn’t allow the kind of discrimination you have described here, and I guess I just take so many freedoms for granted. It would have been simply awful if my mother’s partner had not been permitted to be by her side while she was dying of cancer.

        Thanks for reminding me that not everyone has the freedom to just ‘be’.

      • Drew

        Magnificent, Lymis.

  • RoeDylanda

    I used to work in maternity in a Catholic hospital. Many of the staff were just as open-minded and generous of spirit as one could want, but there were definitely exceptions, and I felt that personal bigotry against gays, lesbians, and women who had had abortions was tolerated there much more than at any of the other four hospitals in which I have worked. Snide comments at the nurses’ station, referring to “those people,” and a certain coolness in the room were common, even after staffers spoke up for equality and decency. If you were my son, I’d want you to go elsewhere. Best of luck to you.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      Roe: when was that? How long ago did you work in maternity at that Catholic hospital?

      • RoeDylanda

        It was within the last five years. I hope that hospital was an anomaly, but I’d left a place where people knew enough to be embarrassed if they said such things out loud and felt like I’d landed in 1975. I had to speak up much more often than at any other job before or since.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

          That’s what I was wondering/hoping: that it was in 1975. That’s so … creepy that it wasn’t. Sorry you had that bad experience.

  • textjunkie

    I’d say if there is *any* chance you might end up in ICU or whatever and their policies would dictate who could visit, whose power of attorney they recognized, etc.–it’s not worth the gamble.

  • mike moore

    The strongest advice is has been given already, but underscoring it doesn’t hurt: establish a file with the hospital and/or your Dr. with powers of attorney, DNR order (if that’s important to you,) etc. Get a response, in writing (e-mail works,) confirming both their receipt of the documents and an acknowledgment they will abide by and respect these documents and your wishes. Print it and keep your own file, readily available.

    After friends had a bad experience while traveling, my husband and I keep a manila file folder with certified copies of these documents, plus our MA marriage license, with us whenever we travel.

  • Ellen

    Let’s take a ride on the way-back machine. 30 years ago I learned of a friend who had had 3 C-sections in 3 years and her ob/gyn (who was Catholic) strongly suggested that she (also Catholic) get a tubaligation when he had her open for the 3rd birth. Easy peasy, huh? Instant birth control with 5 days in the hospital before going home with a newborn to a 2-yr-old and 1-yr-old little boys! The plan was all set EXCEPT she had her babies at St. John’s in St. Louis and they don’t allow tubals. Being Protestant, I was incredulous. I thought surely if all the players were Catholic and agreed to said operation, the hospital would have to go with it. I had never heard of something so insane in my life. Now that I have grown older and wiser, I get it. I don’t agree with it, but NOTHING shocks me when it comes to Catholicism, health care, and politics. My friend had to stay in the hospital for 5 days (after her C-section), heal, go home with her newborn, and schedule her tubal at the hospital across the street a few weeks later while getting care for a newborn and 2 toddlers. I was furious then and vowed never to darken the steps of a Catholic hospital ever since. Just call me a woman ahead of her time. (Now I have many more reasons!) Luckily, I lived in a town with incredible health care and options (Barnes, Mo Baptist, St. Luke’s) elsewhere and could make such a bold statement. I feel sorry for those people who live in towns where a Catholic hospital may be all they have and are not free to make the same bold statement for themselves.


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