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Humanize Catholic Hospitals Under Attack

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Catholic hospitals are under unremitting attack — from prestigious medical journals, media, and lawyers in courtrooms. The goal is to coerce these venerable institutions into replacing their faith-based methods of medical practice with secular moral standards that deny the sanctity of human life.  

A recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine — perhaps the world’s most influential medical publication — illustrates the threat to medical conscience rights. Ian D. Wolfe and Thaddeus M. Pope, two prominent bioethicists, fret that one in six U.S. hospitals is “affiliated with a Catholic health system.” This is a problem, in their view, because religiously-affiliated hospitals often “refuse to provide legally permitted health services on the basis of institutional belief structures.” The authors are referring to services like abortion, sterilization (absent a pathology), assisted suicide (where legal), and transgender sex reassignment surgeries that alter a body’s normal biological functions. Refusing such procedures, the authors claim, leads to “substantial risks for patient choice, patient safety, and the fundamental principle of autonomy.” 

Patient choice? Yes, sometimes. If a woman requests an abortion and the hospital says no, she is not getting what she wants. But safety? The Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services allow Catholic hospitals to refuse interventions that violate Church belief, but nonetheless require that all patients receive proper care. That includes providing “all reasonable information about the essential nature of the proposed treatment and its benefits; its risks, side-effects, consequences, and cost; and any reasonable and morally legitimate alternative.” In practice, this may also include referring patients to non-Catholic institutions. 

Worries over “safety” are more likely a deflection to mask anti-religious bigotry. Charles C. Camosy, associate professor of theological and social ethics at Fordham University, believes that in many circumstances, the motive for attacking Catholic medicine “is about raw power. Certain influential people don't want certain [medical] choices denied, so they try to use their power make things the way they want them to be.”

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Wesley J. Smith

Chair and Senior Fellow, Center on Human Exceptionalism
Wesley J. Smith is Chair and Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism. Wesley is a contributor to National Review and is the author of 14 books, in recent years focusing on human dignity, liberty, and equality. Wesley has been recognized as one of America’s premier public intellectuals on bioethics by National Journal and has been honored by the Human Life Foundation as a “Great Defender of Life” for his work against suicide and euthanasia. Wesley’s most recent book is Culture of Death: The Age of “Do Harm” Medicine, a warning about the dangers to patients of the modern bioethics movement.