Lawsuit tests religious hospitals' right to deny procedures

10/06/2015 12:05 | 22

Lawsuit tests religious hospitals' right to deny procedures

A Catholic hospital decided to ignore its theological tenets on Monday and agreed to sterilize a woman after she will give birth next month. Miller's insurance company had offered to cover her delivery at the UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, which would allow her to obtain the tubal ligation, but that hospital is more than 160 miles away.

Attorney Elizabeth Gillfrom the ACLU in response stated the hospital's reversal decision solved Miller's problem. Catholic health institutions have been previously threatened by the ACLU for not properly informing their patients in this situation that abortion is an option for their dire medical condition.

No court ruling or other legal authority would require Mercy Medical Center to "violate the (Ethical and Religious Directives) and repudiate (the hospital's) Catholic identity", Grossman wrote. She enlisted the help of attorneys with the American Civil Liberties Union, who said they would file a discrimination suit if the woman was denied pregnancy-related care on religious grounds.

"What we can share is that in general, it is our practice not to provide sterilization services at Dignity Health's Catholic facilities in accordance with the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services and the medical staff bylaws", Mercy officials said in a statement. The public corporation argued on the fact that Miller's request did not conform to the Catholic Church's sterilization policy which only gives such consent on procedures to cure or alleviate serious pathological cases when a relatively simpler treatment unavailable.

Post-partum tubal ligation following a C-section is one of the most commonly used surgical sterilization procedures for women, according to the Mayo Clinic.

"This is a decision that I made with my family and my doctor and no one else should be involved in that process", Miller said in a statement released by her lawyers. Her doctor fully supports this plan, as performing the procedure at the time of a C-section is the standard of care.

While this is certainly a win for Rachel, there remains a clear conflict between the best interests of patients and the directives of the Catholic hospital system.

A growing number of Catholic hospitals are banning sterilization procedures, according to ProPublica in a piece published earlier this year. "I hope my case will shine a light on this issue so that others aren't turned away". For instance, Rachel's hospital is part of the Dignity Health hospital system, the fifth largest healthcare system in the country and the largest hospital provider in California, with 29 hospitals across the state.

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