As of the end of next month, the Catholic hospital group Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth Health System will be taking over two Denver, Colorado-area Exempla hospitals. Lutheran Medical Center in Wheat Ridge and Good Samaritan Medical Center in Lafayette will join Denver’s St. Joseph’s as hospitals controlled by the Catholic organization. The group reportedly paid $311 million to buy out their partner’s stake in the hospitals, and the buyout was not challenged by the Colorado attorney general.
Once the change is complete, Good Samaritan and Lutheran will no longer be able to offer a range of reproductive services. Abortion will obviously be nixed, but so will tubal ligations, a simple procedure often done during a cesarean section – while the abdomen is already open – for women who have determined that they do not want any more children. Gone too will be any form of contraceptives, including emergency contraception. This will apply to everyone, even rape victims brought to the hospital by ambulance who are relying on the emergency room doctors to cover all bases and act in the patients’ best interests. In addition to the wide range of reproductive services affected, end of life care will also be impacted by Catholic ethics.
Kaiser Permanente, one of the largest health insurance carriers in Colorado, insures about 480,000 Coloradans, and refers patients to Exempla hospitals. Kaiser issued this news release last week, declaring their intent to work with their physicians to make sure that their insureds retain access to a full range of reproductive services by allowing patients to use HealthONE hospitals around the metro area, including Swedish, Presbyterian/St. Luke’s, and Sky Ridge Medical Centers.
Religion has no place in medicine, just as it has no place in politics. But unfortunately, we have muddled the waters by allowing hospitals to be owned by whatever private entity can offer the highest bid. If various religious groups wanted to set up private clinics to cater to members of their religion who knowingly seek out their services, that would be fine. But when major hospitals that accept trauma patients and ambulances – situations where the patient has little say or knowledge about where he or she is being taken – are run by religious groups, a serious conflict of interests arises. And unfortunately for the patient, in a Catholic-owned hospital, Catholic ethics will trump a patient’s needs and wishes if the two are not in agreement.