Why Catholic Hospitals Are Bad for America

Catholic hospitals are harmful to the USA, here's why

For several years now, there's been a battle going on between the University of California, which is huge, and in certain Catholic hospitals in the state.

And the university appears to be on the verge of winning that fight... which would be a big deal. But to understand why you need to know a little bit about the problems with Catholic hospitals and why universities play such an important role here. 

So first, let's talk about the problems with Catholic hospitals. You ready for a 100-minute long read? 

Okay, I'll stick to the highlights.



Let's talk about what these hospitals do and don't do, and why the University of California shouldn't partner with them without serious changes to their agreement.

Catholic hospitals are kind of infamous for two reasons: first, they're slowly taking over healthcare in the United States, and second, they have restrictions on what type of care they will provide.

And that is a dangerous combination that so many people don't realize is happening right in their own communities. It's especially dangerous because, in the U.S., if you have to go to the hospital, you're not picking and choosing where you go. 

Not always. You're going to the closest one. If it happens to be Catholic, and it very well maybe, you might be screwed depending on what's going on with you. 

And here's why: Catholic hospitals are essentially bound by the rules -- the directives -- given to them by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops -- the USCCB. 

This is the same group that recently made headlines for suggesting pro-choice politicians, like President Joe Biden, should not be eligible to receive communion... which matters if you're a practicing Catholic like Joe Biden. 

The point is that the USCCB is a conservative Catholic group with a lot of power, which is bad news since they're the ones in charge of these hospitals. 

By and large, and with very few exceptions, they do not allow Catholic hospitals to perform any procedures that violate Catholic doctrine. 

If the hospitals violate the rules, they could lose their affiliation with the Church which could theoretically be the beginning of the end for many of these places. 

And by the way, they employ doctors and nurses who very much want to help patients, but in certain situations, their hands are tied. 

They can't break the hospital's rules. And the one area where this really comes into play involves abortion. I'm not just talking about a woman who decides to have one but the Catholic hospital won't do it. 

I mean, that's a problem, but it's so much worse than that because if an otherwise normal procedure could result in an abortion, it's also not allowed. 

In fact, Directive number 45 says 

Abortion (that is, the directly intended termination of pregnancy before viability or the directly intended destruction of a viable fetus) is never permitted.

Maybe you would argue, "So what? Get an abortion somewhere else. We know the Church opposes it." But there are cases when it's not that clear-cut. 

Here's how it could get really messed up. 

Without getting into a biology lecture, what if a woman has an ectopic pregnancy, where the fertilized egg isn't implanted in her uterus but gets stuck in the fallopian tube? 

That's dangerous. Her life is at risk. A normal hospital could give that woman a drug to induce an abortion... or just remove that fertilized egg through surgery. 

Catholic hospitals won't allow either one of those things because that would violate Directive 45. Directive 48 even talks about that. 

It says: 

In the case of extrauterine pregnancy, no intervention is morally licit which constitutes a direct abortion.


In other words, if the fertilized egg is in the fallopian tube, we still won't allow you to fix the problem the easy way. 

By the way, maybe you see that footnote, number 31. Do you know what Footnote 31 says? 

Footnote 31
Footnote 31


It says see Directive 45: The No Abortion rule. What that means in practice is that a Catholic hospital could make doctors remove a woman's entire fallopian tube to prevent something fatal, reducing her ability to get pregnant in the future, even though it's totally medically unnecessary all because that's what their faith tells them to do. 

I know that's super-specific and only affects a small percentage of pregnant people, so let's broaden things out a bit. What about if a woman has a miscarriage? 

That's already emotionally draining... but -- and this is a theme we will keep returning to -- Catholic hospitals make things worse. 

Normal hospitals might induce an abortion to make sure the embryonic tissue is removed from a woman's body to prevent infection. 

Not Catholic hospitals, though. Even if that baby won't survive, they're not going to speed up the process to protect the health of the mother. 

They require doctors to wait until a woman is infected before providing treatment. What about contraception? If Catholics are against abortion, then they should be in favor of birth control, right? 

No. No. Read anything about Mother Teresa and you will learn how her opposition to birth control put a lot of women from Calcutta in danger. 

Catholic hospitals will not dispense it. By and large. They will not dispense it. 

If a woman who was sexually assaulted says she needs birth control immediately, and a Catholic hospital happens to be the one nearby, it may not help her. 

Some might, but it's not guaranteed, and if there's any chance the victim is already pregnant when the hospital sees her, that help is even less likely. 

The only form of contraception they will offer, even for married couples who don't want kids, is pretty much asking them, "Well, have you tried pulling out?" I'm not even kidding. Here's Directive 52: "

Catholic health institutions may not promote or condone contraceptive practices but should provide, for married couples and the medical staff who counsel them, instruction both about the Church's teaching on responsible parenthood and in methods of natural family planning.

Natural family planning. That includes the pull-out method. Or it's telling you to track a woman's cycle so that you don't have sex when she's super-fertile. Because as we all know, everyone only enjoys sex within a window of a few days per month and everyone's really good at math and keeping track of things.

I mean, if it works for you, fine I guess, but let's not pretend that's a reasonable alternative to contraception that is more effective, more often. 

Catholic hospitals also won't perform vasectomies on men, or tubal ligations on women, because those would interfere with natural pregnancies in the future. 

Directive 53 says:

Direct sterilization of either men or women, whether permanent or temporary, is not permitted in a Catholic health care institution.

Want to know how that gets even more messed up? 

Consider this situation: Let's say you're a woman who's giving birth and you're having a C-section because a vaginal delivery might be too dangerous. That happens fairly regularly. 

And let's say that the woman decides, "You know what? I'm done having babies after this. No more kids for me. In fact, my health would be at risk if I had another baby So, you know what? Just tie me up down there." 

That also happens fairly regularly. In fact, the BEST time to get your tubes tied so you physically cannot get pregnant is when you're giving birth. 

The doctor has already made an incision in your abdomen, so tying the tubes is relatively easy. The doctor kind of has access to everything he or she needs. 

Doctors even RECOMMEND doing that procedure right then and there because it's less risky than having two separate surgeries. Almost a third of women who have C-sections get their tubes tied in the process. 

It's not weird. But doctors at a Catholic hospital won't do that. They will perform the C-section, sure, but that's it. Because they are forbidden from tying a woman's tubes thanks to Directive 53. 

It doesn't matter to them if future pregnancies would put that woman's life at risk; they won't do it. They put dogma before patient care. Do you want more? 

I. Got. More. 

They also won't help women who want to get pregnant by using a sperm donor because that violates Directive 40, which says,

Heterologous fertilization (that is, any technique used to achieve conception by the use of gametes coming from at least one donor other than the spouses) is prohibited because it is contrary to the covenant of marriage, the unity of the spouses, and the dignity proper to parents and the child. 

And no one understands the importance of dignity like the institution that protects abusive priests. Using similar religious logic, in vitro fertilization is forbidden because that might involve the destruction of embryos. 

A couple can't even use a surrogate mother to give birth to their biological child because that would also be seen as "gravely immoral." 

Basically, unless your pregnancy is planned and there are no health issues, a Catholic Hospital may be your worst enemy. They are no good at the OTHER end of life either. 

What if you're an elderly person who is dying of a terminal disease? You're in pain. You would like to end life on your own terms, peacefully, while you can make those kinds of decisions, instead of suffering for who-knows-how-long. 

That ability to end your life, known as euthanasia or death with dignity, is legal in 8 states so far, including California which I swear we will get back to, as well as in Washington D.C.... but if you're in a Catholic hospital even in those states, too bad. 

You will just have to suffer. Because they will not assist you in those cases. Directive 60 says: "Catholic health care institutions may never condone or participate in euthanasia or assisted suicide in any way." 

That entire directive is a very nice way for the Catholic Church to say, "We would rather watch you be in agony for as long as it takes for you to die than upset the Vatican.

I mean, sure we could help you go in a dignified way, giving you some proper closure, with your family around you, but we're Catholics. We like torture too much. 

I mean, our symbol is the cross where Jesus was murdered! And if you didn't know it already, we hate it when people have control of their bodies."

It won't surprise you to learn that Catholic hospitals will absolutely not help you if you're a transgender person who wants or needs hormone treatment, or a hysterectomy, or a mastectomy. 

Do you get the idea? These Catholic hospitals have an obligation to the Catholic Church, not their patients. The Hippocratic Oath may say "Do no harm," but the Catholic Church's oath has a big asterisk next to that phrase that requires checking in with the pope first. 

And ultimately, the people they hurt the most tend to be low-income people, women, and LGBTQ individuals. People may not have a choice in how or where they get health care if they can even get it at all. 

I mean, even if they have insurance, their policies may require them to go to the Catholic hospital. Meanwhile, these hospitals get roughly $48 billion a year in taxpayer money from the government -- through Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements -- to keep it all going. 

And look, if this were an isolated problem, that would be one thing. But it's not. Catholic hospitals are taking over the country. According to the health advocacy group Community Catalyst, as of 2020, the 10 largest Catholic health care systems now "own or control 394 short-term acute care hospitals." 

They also own or control 864 urgent care centers, 385 ambulatory surgery centers, 274 physician groups, and more than 1100 hospitals overall. 

Four of the 10 largest health care systems in the country are affiliated with the Catholic Church. And if that's not frightening enough, here's something even scarier given everything I just said about the Church's stance on reproductive health: More than 30% of births in the U.S. now happen in a Catholic hospital. 

In many states, you may have no choice BUT to go to a Catholic hospital depending on where you live. One estimate says that 1 in 6 hospital beds in the country are now run by a Catholic health care system and some states are worse than others. 

In 2016, the U.S. government said that 46 Catholic hospitals were the only hospitals in their geographic region. 

This means everyone who lives in those areas has no choice but to receive non-comprehensive health care. 

And I use the word "care" loosely. Here's what's really sneaky about this, too. Much like evangelical Christian bakers who don't advertise their bigotry with a sign on the door saying who they will or won't bake a cake for, Catholic hospitals don't always advertise the services they won't do -- or even the fact that they are Catholic. 

I mean, sometimes, these hospitals are named St. Something or Mercy Hospital and there's a cross in the logo and it's easy to figure out the connection -- even if, like a lot of people, you don't necessarily know what that means. But sometimes their names are ambiguous on purpose. 

Like Dignity Health. You wouldn't necessarily know that's a religiously affiliated hospital. In fact, in 2018, the New York Times looked at the websites of 652 Catholic hospitals and found that two-thirds of them didn't even make it clear they were Catholic -- you needed at least three clicks from the home page to confirm that. 

And only 3% of those hospitals listed what procedures they do not perform. Again, what that means is that you may not know which hospitals are Catholic, and most people will have no idea what procedures are banned until it's way too late. 

And that -- finally -- brings us to public universities. It is really important for universities to partner with local hospitals and that goes both ways. 

Everybody wins with these partnerships. Students who are training to become doctors, or nurses, or therapists, etc. need access to patients and mentors, and the facilities that are owned and operated by the schools may not be large enough to provide enough support for everyone. 

Furthermore, in California alone, university-affiliated clinicians help tens of thousands of patients each year. 

Obviously, the hospitals benefit from that extra level of help. The university can also develop programs to improve health care in those hospitals. 

And maybe most importantly, Catholic hospitals, to their credit, often serve poor populations that for-profit institutions ignore, which also shows you how messed up the American healthcare system is, that we need to rely on these religious institutions to carry the load because the government and for-profit companies choose not to. 

Helping those vulnerable people goes right to the heart of both the Catholic Church's stated mission as well as the goal of these universities. 

But that means poor people are often disproportionately affected by these Catholic directives because, for example, they're the ones who can't always afford traditional check-ups, so they go to the hospital only when things are really bad and they need care immediately. 

For their sake, let's hope it's not a reproductive issue. So with all that in mind, what is going on in California? 

I swear there was a reason I was writing this article and making this video. The controversy involves whether the University of California should have partnerships with Catholic hospitals. 

Because by saying yes, the university would be obligated to go along with all that Catholic discrimination I've been talking about. 

In 2019, a proposed partnership between UC San Francisco and a hospital chain called -- wait for it -- Dignity Health, which is Catholic and the largest hospital chain in California, was canceled precisely because people affiliated with the university said they did not want to comply with the Catholic hospital's rules. 

They wanted to help everyone; the hospital did not. 

And the outcry was significant enough that it stopped that deal from going through. But that's one school and one chain. 

There was still a question of what the entire University of California would do. Remember: These partnerships are still beneficial for everyone involved... as long as they can work out some sort of compromise. 

But can there really be a compromise on all these issues we've been talking about? Well, the University of California appears to have found one. 

As it stands, the university has affiliations with 77 hospitals and other health care facilities, some of which are Catholic. 

But a new policy that they are currently considering says that all future contracts would prohibit discrimination. 

If the Catholic hospitals refuse to let their staff perform certain procedures, and if transferring that patient to a different hospital might impact their physical or psychological health, then the university's staff would get to perform those procedures in those hospitals. 

Basically, the university would say, "You might be a Catholic hospital, but if a patient needs help that you won't give them because your religion says you can't, then we get to step in." 

What about the Catholic hospitals currently under contract? The new proposal says they have until 2023 to agree to the new rules or the affiliation will end. 

It's up to the Catholic Church to decide if that compromise is one they're willing to make... or if they'd rather punish patients because God told them to. 

We'll find out in the coming months if that policy is adopted. And that compromise is not nothing. It is better than letting Catholic-run hospitals run amok and it's better than the university cutting all ties with them. 

It's an important step in the right direction, putting patient care at the center of the relationship instead of letting religious dogma override their health. Let's hope it goes through.

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Originally published by Hemant Mehta on Friendly Atheist. Published on Fadewblogs by Dave Martin.

Disclaimer: This article is published on Fadewblogs with the permission of the author.

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