Michigan: Catholic Hospital Refuses Treatment On Religious Grounds

Michigan Catholic Refuses Treatment

Due to a critical condition, 33-year-old Jessica Mann’s doctor advised her to undergo tubal ligation, a procedure that would prevent her from conceiving again, but she was refused the necessary treatment at a Catholic hospital their because of its religious convictions. Mann is expecting her third child next month but because of a tumour in her brain, her doctor deemed it fit that she takes certain measures which would keep her from having another baby. However, Genesys Regional Medical Center in Michigan denied her special request for the procedure on religious grounds, saying Catholic teachings forbid procedures that lead to sterilization, including vasectomies and tubal ligations.

“I was surprised and upset,” said Mann, who sent a letter to the hospital through American Civil Liberties Union, threatening to take legal action. “And there was anger at the fact that they can disregard medical issues for their religious beliefs.”

Mann, who is a social worker by profession, was diagnosed with two pilocytic astrocytomas, benign brain tumours that could possibly lead to blindness, paralysis and other problems, a decade ago. While she underwent immediate surgery to eliminate one of the tumours, the other one has been monitored continually to ensure it stays harmless. When she got pregnant for the first time, she was treated as a high-risk patient as her condition required her to deliver through caesarean section and under complete anesthesia instead of partial anesthesia, which is a lot more common but numbs only the lower body. When Mann got pregnant for the third time last year, her maternal-fetal medicine specialist advised her to undergo tubal ligation to make sure that this would be her last pregnancy.

“You know, it’s never easy to hear that. But I have accepted it,” said Mann, who has two other children. “I talked it over with my husband. We want me to be around. That’s the biggest thing.”

Mann said the last she had heard was that Genesys had changed its policies and that if she wanted to undergo tubal ligation there, she would have to make a special request for the procedure. Indeed, a memorandum to staff members, dated October 1, 2014, stated that the hospital would discontinue all planned sterilizations to reinforce their alignment with the Catholic Ethical and Religious Directives. However, the hospital had implied that it could make certain exceptions to its policies if considered medically necessary, so Mann filed a request in May this year. Genesys refused her treatment on religious grounds earlier this month.

While the administrators suggested that Mann go through her delivery at Genesys and then undergo tubal ligation at a different hospital, they completely negated her concerns of undergoing two massive operations in such close succession that could cause her as much harm as a fourth pregnancy. As the family is now trying to find a new physician and hospital that would aid them move in the desired direction, ACLU has already pressed charges against Genesys. Being compelled to change physicians and hospitals at this stage in her pregnancy is not only frustrating but also stressful, she said.

“The feeling of the unknown is stressful and disheartening,” said Mann, whose mother and grandmother were staunch Catholics and who herself identifies as a Christian. “But I have the support of my husband and my doctor, so I can’t let it affect me too much.”

Mann’s story is the latest to draw attention to the brewing debate over religious liberties that attempt to conclude to what extent individuals and institutions of faith are willing to go while refusing services that conflict with their convictions. Neither Genesys Regional Medical Center nor Ascension, the largest Catholic and nonprofit health system in America, was available for comment.

Catholic hospitals have taken over a large portion of the medical market in recent years as federal law allows an “iron-clad” exemption to medical providers who do not wish to oblige patients with sterilization or abortion needs. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has in fact set religious and ethical directives for Catholic hospitals that advise the institutions to refrain from advocating abortions, contraceptives and all procedures that aim to sterilize a patient. While different Catholic hospitals decide how strictly they wish to abide by the USCCB’s guidelines, critics believe that the bigoted rules are implemented to the majority of patients because of a sudden-burst of Catholic institutions in America.

According to a 2013 study by ACLU and MergerWatch, the number of Catholic critical-care nonprofit hospitals had increased by 16 percent between 2001 and 2011 even though the total number of hospitals in America had decreased during this period. By 2011, 10 percent of all critical-care hospitals were found to be sponsored by or at least affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church and this growth was representative of one in nine hospital beds in the country.

“These ethical and religious directives single out women and care that women need,” said Brigitte Amiri, a staff attorney with ACLU

Photo Credits: Jessica Mann Photography

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