A Fundamental Conflict Between EMTALA and Religion?0

The American Civil Liberties Union has requested federal intervention to ensure that Catholic hospitals follow the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA). The ACLU has alleged that by failing to provide emergency reproductive care to pregnant women, these hospitals violate federal law.

In a letter to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the ACLU referenced St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix, which lost its Catholic status Tuesday because hospital physicians performed an emergency abortion when a female patient developed life-threatening complications.

“We continue to applaud St. Joseph’s for doing what is right by standing up for women’s health and complying with federal law,” ACLU attorneys wrote in a letter to CMS. “But this confrontation never should have happened in the first place, because no hospital – religious or otherwise – should be prohibited from saving women’s lives and from following federal law.”

The ACLU has openly criticized Catholic hospitals for refusing to provide emergency contraception to rape victims or perform abortions on women having miscarriages. The ACLU’s letter added: “The Bishop’s drastic and heavy-handed actions send a chilling message to Catholic hospitals throughout the country, as well as their employees: If hospitals comply with federal law and provide emergency abortion care there will be consequences. The dioceses cannot be permitted to dictate who lives and who dies in Catholic-owned hospitals.”

A spokeswoman for Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring, Maryland said: “In a tragic case where both the life of the mother and unborn baby are at risk, we would always attempt to save both lives – and if this were not possible, we would save the life we could.”

According to Bishop Thomas Olmsted of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix: “For seven years now, I have tried to work with CHW and St. Joseph’s, and I have hoped and prayed that this day would not come, that this decree would not be needed; however, the faithful of the Diocese have a right to know whether institutions of this importance are indeed Catholic in identity and practice.”

Linda Hunt, St. Joseph’s president, defended the decision to perform the abortion. Hunt further stated: “Though we are deeply disappointed, we will be steadfast in fulfilling our mission,” Linda Hunt, St. Joseph’s president, said. “Our caregivers deliver extraordinary medical care and share an unmatched commitment to the well-being of the communities they serve. Nothing has or will change in that regard.”

“Consistent with our values of dignity and justice, if we are presented with a situation in which a pregnancy threatens a woman’s life, our first priority is to save both patients,” Hunt said. “If that is not possible, we will always save the life we can save, and that is what we did in this case. We continue to stand by that decision. . . . Morally, ethically, and legally we simply cannot stand by and let someone die whose life we might be able to save.”

According to Lois Uttley, director of the MergerWatch Project, which monitors Catholic takeovers of hospitals: “Hospitals that have been Catholic historically are finding stricter interpretation of directives by local bishops, and hospitals that have not been Catholic but are becoming Catholic under mergers are finding administrators who are fearful of permitting procedures that might not be considered appropriate under Catholic doctrine.”

[audio:http://hospitalstay.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/06-God-Is-In-The-House-1.mp3|titles=God Is In The House]

Additional source: WashingtonPost.com.

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