This recent New York Times article focuses on the impact of hospital mergers in Washington State, where increasingly, Catholic systems are taking over hospitals both small and large. The Church has a venerable history of leadership in providing health to the region since pioneer days, and what started as small missions, have evolved into very large systems.
The responsiblity to serve all people with compassionate care underscores the Catholic health mission and in so many ways inspires all, regardless of background – especially those who decry the increasingly profit-driven nature of the system.
While the vast majority of the work done in these hospitals are unaffected by the ownership structure, positions on procedures including abortion and assisted suicide between the hospitals and many patients and practitioners are at odds. Concerns exist that a physician working at such institutions on the medical staff is specifically precluded from a full discussion of legal options, when such options run counter to Catholic teachings, regardless of the personal beliefs of the physician or the patient. As a source in the article notes:
“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.”
When a Catholic institution takes over the only hospital in a rural region, physicians and patients have little choice but to adhere to the dictates and restrictions imposed by the institution, unless they choose to travel a long distance to another facility. In many cases, the institutions have been supported with public funds via bonding, tax treatment and other benefits. Expect this conflict to widen in the context of individual cases where a clash of values conflicts with care desired vs. care available.