Saving Lives the Hard Way

Today I’m thinking about Catholic hospitals.

Eve was born in one such hospital. For the most part, it was a very positive experience. All of the staff were friendly and the granola from the cafeteria was amazing (except for the raisins, which I picked out). My birth plan was respected without question and the only time that anyone mentioned pain meds during my labor was when I first arrived and they verified with me that they would not offer me any meds. (After she was born was a different story, but it was no big deal at that point.)

In fact, my worst complaint had nothing to do with the birthing ward but with pediatrics, where Eve was transferred at 3 days old for her jaundice; they had a policy of only allowing one parent to stay overnight with their children – even newborns – which meant that Marcus had to go home and I was left to care for the baby by myself at 3 days postpartum and with no energy, food, or rest. It was hell, especially since I still was learning how to deal with latching correctly and soothing my newly engorged breasts. But I couldn’t blame the staff for that.

After Eve was born, I decided that my new form of birth control would be Paragard, a hormone-free IUD. I knew that I could get one placed by my midwives at 3 months postpartum. Unfortunately, by the time I made the call for my appointment, I was told that the hospital that Eve was born in had decided that my midwives’ office – which operates outside of the hospital but is partnered with them – could no longer purchase and offer IUDs per Catholic doctrine. So they were no longer buying the devices. Fortunately for me, they had one more in stock that they had already paid for, which they were willing to give to me.

That worked out for me now, but what about after the next child? I’m going to have to go to Planned Parenthood to get any future IUDs placed. It’s not that I dislike PP – to the contrary, they’ve always been very good to me and I am more than happy to give them the support – but one of the reasons I continue to see my midwife practice after the birth rather than seeing a gynecologist is because I like to receive all of my reproductive health care in one place, by the same people. I want the women who know what my body does while it’s gestating to be the same women who give me my yearly PAP, who help me manage my birth control, who examine my breasts, who advise me on managing my chronic anemia. I hate that I’m going to have to partition my care between two practices and two groups of people.

It was at that point that I realized – or remembered – that even though I am not a Catholic or a Christian or even a theist, I am subject to the whim of Catholic doctrine whenever I seek care from a Catholic establishment. My care can and will be determined partially by the Catholic belief system. I attended Catholic school from kindergarten through the end of high school, so I am pretty familiar with the sect, and I am definitely not one of its biggest fans.

Eve’s birth went wonderfully – but what if what happened to this patient had happened to me? And what if I had no compassionate and realistic woman like Margaret McBride in a place of power to save my life? Would the hospital that I chose for Eve’s birth intervene as I lay dying if it meant violating church doctrine? As this article asks, are Catholic hospitals safe for pregnant women?

I just can’t imagine being 11 weeks pregnant and dying, and being told that I cannot be moved to another hospital or I will die, and that I cannot carry this pregnancy or I will die. And then being told that they will force me to carry this pregnancy and let me die.

Abortion saves lives. Not all of the time, not most of the time, but sometimes. A hospital with a policy that does not recognize that women’s lives are worth saving is not one that I can risk giving birth in. I’ll be calling the hospital soon to talk to them about their policies and what they would do if I needed an abortion to live while in their care, after which I’ll have to do some thinking on whether or not I want to continue birthing my babies there.

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7 Responses to “Saving Lives the Hard Way”

  1. choleandjo Says:

    In general, I believe that if you choose a Catholic hospital, you are making a choice to have health care providers that are going to abide by Catholic doctrine… and if that’s not what you want, then you should not choose a Catholic hospital. It the same with my job – if I want birth control (or insemination or IVF or anything having to do with birth outside of married heterosexual sex or abstinence, I should not work for a Catholic organization. I think it kind of sucks, but I respect the agency’s right to make policy based on its larger belief system.

    The Catholic Church does allow abortion to save the life of the mother if abortion is not the means by which the mother is saved. That is, in an ectopic pregnancy, the fallopian tube can be removed to save the life of the mother even though it will result in the loss of the fetus. It is a subtle (and arguably ridiculous!) difference between that and a situation in which abortion is the direct means to saving the mother’s life (as in the case in Phoenix – the mother suffering form hypertension and needing the abortion to save her life.

    The situation makes me nervous. Not only in terms of giving birth to a child in a Catholic hospital but in terms of going to a Catholic ER. I would think there could be some loophole (there are enough in the Church!) that would at least allow for an outside doctor to come in… or something (!) … not to mention the idea of hmmm, having an ETHICS COMMITTEE that can look at these things and make a decision.

    One question I have and it may have been answered and I missed it (I read the article last week) — was it likely that the mother could have lived to the point that the baby would be viable outside the womb? All the rest aside, I think it’s an interesting question to ponder… if there is no chance the fetus would survive if mom dies and mom is VERY likely to die… I don’t see what a few weeks difference makes, really.

    • August Says:

      You’re right, I do have the choice to give birth in a Catholic hospital (within limits, depending upon my insurance carrier), but there are many others who don’t. Not just those in emergency situations, but also women who have limited transportation or financial resources who may not have the means to get to another hospital if there aren’t any others around for a hundred miles. My ability to choose hospitals is a privilege that not everyone has, and I’m lucky to live in area that has a pretty wide selection of places to go. I don’t think that poor women in remote locations should be forced to subscribe to Catholic doctrine, especially if it means risking their own health or life.

      Would a hospital run by Jehovah’s Witnesses be protected if they refused to give patients (especially those in a medical emergency) blood transfusions? I don’t honestly know the answer to that. I do know that hospitals, while also being private entities, are pivotal structures in the public health sphere and – like pharmaceutical companies – must meet certain standards and submit to certain regulations. I don’t believe that letting a woman in her first trimester of pregnancy (and any doctor who has ever scraped out an early miscarriage has the technical skills to perform a first trimester abortion) die against her will (it’s one thing if she refuses the abortion because of her beliefs, it’s another to force it on her) because of ideology should be an act that is protected. I consider it a threat to public health and especially to those who are already most vulnerable because of their lack of privileges.

      I’m aware of the practices in Catholic hospitals regarding ectopic pregnancy, and I think it’s frankly ridiculous. “We’re gonna kill the embryo, but not KILL kill the embryo, and in the meantime we’re going to mutilate a woman and hope that she doesn’t die while under the knife.” I get the impression that they must believe that their God is stupid. It makes me think of a seven-year-old who wants to eat a cookie but is told to eat a sandwich instead, so she puts the cookie in between two slices of bread and eats that. That child is not fooling the parent, and if there is a God, then those people are not fooling God either. The willfull separation of intent from effect is something that I could (and probably will, eventually) go on at length about; it’s the same thought process that allows people to say, “I didn’t MEAN to be racist, so I wasn’t!” and continue their hateful fuckery with impunity.

      The woman had a heart condition. At 11 weeks pregnant, her heart was under a lot of stress from the extra blood it had to pump and she was already at death’s door. Waiting three more months until viability would not have been an option since the extra weight and extra blood would have pushed her over the edge. In any case, at just 11 weeks she was too ill to even be moved to a different hospital and would have died had they not acted quickly.

      I’m having trouble parsing your last sentence. Could you explain what you mean?

  2. choleandjo Says:

    I hope you know in my original comment I wasn’t arguing with you… at all… hopefully that came across more in the third paragraph, talking about being nervous about the ER, for example. My point was more that in most normal cases, signing up for the Catholic way gives you just that and, in most normal cases, people shouldn’t expect differently and should make themselves aware, as you plan to do, of what that means. Does not mean I agree with the people in this situation at all.

    I will say if women don’t have other options available, I think it is the country’s responsibility or the responsibility of other concerned people to make those options available, NOT the responsibility of the Catholic hospital or organization. It sucks that a woman might only have a Catholic organization available to her and that the organization may not be run with her beliefs, but why does that become the organization’s fault?

    I also feel strongly that there CAN be standards by which hospitals are to be run and that they CAN contradict the way the Catholic church or any organization runs their hospital. I also think hospitals have an obligation to be upfront about services that will not be provided and that they all too often fail to do this.

    Last sentence meant if fetus will die anyway, why does it matter if it is aborted and mother’s life is saved or dies naturally along with the mother? Outside of intent, of course, which I agree is an odd argument. It’s the same as the argument for NFP versus a condom; NFP is pretty much the same thing as using a condom, except theoretically you are “still open” to God’s will. Bullshit.

    • choleandjo Says:

      This is a battle that needs to be fought before someone is hurt by it. What I mean is, when DC said “hey, Catholic Charities, you must provide spousal benefits for ALL spouses, even the ones in marriages you don’t agree with,” Catholic Charities made a choice to end their adoption program… and the district could then give that money to organizations willing to allow for same-sex marriages.

      Similar choices could be forced upon Catholic hospitals. I think a nice middle-of-the-road approach that no one will take is this:

      You can have your way of doing things for all non-emergent situations, to include contraception, abortion, etc. In the case that an emergency situation arises in which life is threatened directly (ie death is imminent) or indirectly (ie a mother with complications that will have a direct and severe medical effect on her life for the rest of her life if the pregnancy moves forward), the case will AUTOMATICALLY go to an ethics committee made up of _______ (whoever, not related to the church or hospital but aware of church teaching).

      Perhaps there would be doctors outside of the hospital who would come in to perform the procedures if that made everyone’s head feel better.

      I don’t know. I think there should be a way to protect (all) lives, as you said, but also to uphold Catholic teaching to the greatest extent possible.

      I’m also sure there’s some way to find some loopholes. The indirect abortion is one such loophole that already exists, though often with far more complications than just aborting. Another loophole is that people with limited mental capacities who would really be unable to make a sound decision to have or abstain from sex can be given birth control. I guess because then it’s not God’s will that they have a baby. Or something.

      • August Says:

        Good points, all of them. I was also thinking about maybe having Catholic hospitals (or any religious hospital) have a partnership with a secular organization nearby (or even on-site) that would provide the services that the Catholic hospital is unwilling to do. It would never happen, but a woman can dream I guess.

    • August Says:

      Oh no dude, I didn’t think you were arguing with me at all! If I sounded heated, it’s because I’m kind of angry (and dismayed) over the fact that I might have to find a new hospital for my next pregnancy. I really REALLY liked Eve’s hospital, honestly and truly, and I LOVE my midwives, and the thought of leaving it all behind because they might actually let me DIE if things go wrong is just really upsetting. I had such a wonderful birthing experience and I would be sad to have to go someplace else, but I would be sadder if I, y’know, died.

      I agree with you about our society’s responsibility towards providing comprehensive care towards its citizens as opposed to private entities, that’s a really good point. I also agree about NFP and how it’s “not really” contraception or whatever. Bullshit indeed!

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