Category Archives: Catholic Church

Religious directives dictating healthcare

Occasionally I have discussions with people about whether it is a such a big deal that Catholic hospitals follow their own set of religiously-inspired directives when treating patients. Shouldn’t a private institution be able to do whatever they want? Isn’t a breach of religious freedom to tell religious organizations how to operate? This is how I respond.

On December 9th, the New York Times Editorial Board summarized the issue regarding Catholic hospitals and standard of care:

Beyond new state efforts to restrict women’s access to proper reproductive health care, another, if quieter, threat is posed by mergers between secular hospitals and Catholic hospitals operating under religious directives from the nation’s Roman Catholic bishops. These directives, which oppose abortions, inevitably collide with a hospital’s duty to provide care to pregnant women in medical distress.

They go on to describe a case from 2010 in which a pregnant woman from Michigan had her water break at 18 weeks. The doctors at the only hospital in her county – a Catholic hospital – did not inform her that her fetus had almost no chance of survival, and that terminating the pregnancy was the safest option. Despite the danger to her life, the woman was sent home twice. The doctors had been following the religious directives of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which apply to all Catholic hospitals in the nation.

Catholic hospitals account for about 15 percent of the nation’s hospital beds and, in many communities, are the only hospital facilities available.

This isn’t the first time that religious directives have conflicted with proper medical treatment in the US or abroad. In 2010, a nun at a Catholic hospital in Phoenix was excommunicated for approving a life-saving abortion for a pregnant mother-of-four. Last year, in Ireland, Savita Halappanavar died of blood poisoning because doctors weren’t permitted to perform the abortion that would save her. In short, Catholic directives require that doctors withhold information or withhold treatment from patients, and the consequences can be tragic.

No hospital should be allowed to operate this way. There are standards of care that healthcare institutions must adhere to, and the ACLU is currently suing the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops for enforcing directives which contravene those standards. No one knows if they’ll win the suit, but I applaud them for trying. The bishops are right to call this is a matter of religious freedom; specifically, it’s a matter of whether our healthcare system will be free from the bishops’ religion.

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Book recommendation: His Dark Materials

I have just finished reading His Dark Materials, a fantasy trilogy written by Philip Pullman. It’s a delightful series which presents a humanistic worldview, so I thought I’d write a quick recommendation for it here. (Readers unfamiliar with the trilogy may know the title of its first book, The Golden Compass, which was also made into a movie in 2007. The movie didn’t impress me, but the books did!)

The Golden CompassThe story is set in a parallel universe similar to our Victorian England. In this world, humans have animal companions called daemons – sentient creatures that go wherever their humans go, and are inextricably linked to them. There are differences between children’s and adult’s daemons; the daemon of a child can change shape at will, but then settles into one particular form as the child reaches adolescence. The main character of the story is Lyra, a parentless child who has been raised and educated by Scholars at Jordan College in Oxford. When she finds out that all over the country children of low-status families are being abducted, including one of Lyra’s friends from Oxford, she becomes involved in a quest to save them. Along the way, Lyra learns about a mysterious particle that permeates the universe, called Dust, which may have something to do with the difference between children’s and adults’ daemons. Lyra and her allies also come into conflict with a powerful church called The Magisterium, that wants to destroy Dust and obscure the truth about it.

Though His Dark Materials contains adventures and battles and interesting worlds galore, ultimately the story sends a message about the pursuit of knowledge and the spirit of inquiry. There is a scene near the end where the heroes are told by one wise character to never stop learning, and to keep their minds “open and free and curious.” What’s not to love about that?

Something, apparently – as there has been a good deal of controversy about the books and the movie. A number of Christian groups and representatives for the Catholic Church have called the story “dangerous” and “anti-Christian.” An archbishop in New Orleans wrote that the trilogy poses a “special threat to Christianity”! That’s quite the review, if three books can undo what two thousand years of history hasn’t.

I must say I don’t quite understand the protest. While the Magisterium in Pullman’s books bears a number of superficial similarities to the Roman Catholic Church, the reason they are portrayed as the “enemy” is because they want to keep people ignorant. The Magisterium opposes the values of thinking for oneself and making one’s own decisions, and the heroes of Pullman’s story don’t take kindly to that. Is this message inimical to the Christian religion or to the Catholic Church? I’d say it’s up to them to decide. But so far, the prognosis doesn’t look good. In 2007 when The Golden Compass movie was about to be released, a bishop in Austin had the books removed from every Catholic school in the diocese. If the Catholic response to books that encourage thinking for oneself is to ban them, then I would say they’ve conceded Pullman’s point rather nicely.

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PS: Christopher Hitchens wrote a review of His Dark Materials way back in 2002. Readers may want to check it out, as it’s always a delight to read anything by Hitchens. But beware – it does include spoilers!

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After trip to Brazil, Pope realizes that gays are people

Pope Bergoglio in RioPope Bergoglio said on Monday something that was completely revolutionary to hear in the year 2013 – that gay people should not be marginalized from society. This came as a shock to nearly everyone.

Bergoglio went on to say that he would not judge gay people, and that he respects their efforts to avoid the sinful, morally wrong way in which they express romantic love for one another.

In his interview, the Pope compared gay lobbies to the “lobbies of greedy people,” and said that such groups were problematic. “We can’t have people working together to effect legislation that would better preserve their rights as human beings,” he said. When asked if he thought it was hypocritical that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops spent $26.67 million on lobbying in 2009, the Pope replied “Uh… no.”

Bergoglio then spoke with reporters about some old issues in the church. “We cannot limit the role of women in the Church to altar girls or the president of a charity, there must be more,” he said. “But of course women can never be priests, because that would just be silly.”

One attendee at the Pope’s rally, Marianna Vericiano, asked reporters, “If the Catholic Church cares about people so much and has so much influence, shouldn’t they use their speaking time to tell people to fight poverty, or adopt clean energy, or use condoms, or fight for women’s education in third world countries? And is the bar really set so low that we cheer whenever the Pope says something marginally positive about gay people?”

No one else at the rally had any idea what she was talking about.

 

Image source: Tânia Rêgo/ABr (Agência Brasil)CC-BY-3.0-br

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Beatriz lives

I’m really happy that this woman lived.

Beatriz is a 22-year-old mother of one. She waited months for the government of El Salvador – a highly Catholic country – to approve a medically necessary abortion. They would not approve, even though Beatriz’ fetus was non-viable. Many people, including myself, signed a petition by Amnesty International to change the government’s decision.

In the end, the government didn’t approve of the abortion. However, the fetus became old enough that doctors could deliver it and it would count as a “birth.” The baby died within hours (it was missing most of its brain), and Beatriz is recovering.

I’m happy that Beatriz lived, but I’m angry that this ever became a problem. El Salvador’s laws on abortion are the kind of laws that organizations like the Catholic Church would like to have in America. Even though there’s no evidence that such laws do any good whatsoever, people still push for them to become reality. (For a look at the harm that El Salvador’s abortion laws do, see this harrowing report from the NY Times.)

As someone who used to be anti-abortion, I can say that many abortion opponents do not display half of the humanity that is displayed in that NY Times article. We are taught by our religions or our cultures to think in absolutes, to ignore grey area, and to believe something because somebody told us to. We should never make decisions for other people based on so little understanding of their experiences. Doing so leads to the death of women with hopes, plans, fears, lived experiences, and social and familial ties to others.

If anyone disagrees, I’d love to hear what you think here or in private (you can email me through my Google+ profile).

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A Catholic sister writes questionable things about contraception

The other day, a Catholic friend of mine shared a blog post written by one Sister Clare Hunter. Sister Clare is a contributing writer to the Diocese of Arlington’s Encourage & Teach blog. The blog’s mission is to “encourage all readers to find out more about their faith and to embrace the fullness of the truth that the Catholic Church offers.” But the truth Sr. Clare penned in her post wasn’t very… well, truthful, so I left a comment. As of this writing, Sister Clare hasn’t responded (I will update this post if she does). Regardless, I decided that since there’s a good amount of information in the comment, I should share it here as well.

In her post, Sister Clare argues against the benefits of contraception, asserting that contraception hasn’t helped us decrease abortion rates, or increase women’s health or happiness. She also implies – citing a rather dubious non-medical source – that birth control pills are unhealthy for women, or at least that they do more harm than good. If you’ve read any of the research on contraception, you know that these claims aren’t true.

I’ll leave it up to readers to take a look at Sister Clare’s full post for context. Without further ado, here is the comment I left her (slightly edited after proofreading). Note that my comment starts with a quote by Sister Clare about how contraception hasn’t decreased abortion rates:

I am BEGGING someone to help me wrap my mind around this anomaly! …WHY, WHY, do we still have 1.2 million abortions a year? 52% of pregnancies are unintended.

I can help you with that!

It’s simple, really – there are still lots of abortions because 95% of all unintended pregnancies in the US are a result of women who do not use contraceptives, or who use them inconsistently. The women who do use contraception correctly and consistently account for only 5% of all unintended pregnancies (scroll down to the first graph here).

The reason many women don’t use contraception or don’t use it correctly is because they don’t have the money, don’t have adequate knowledge about contraceptives, and don’t have access to effective contraceptive services (See Guttmacher’s report here.)

When women are given the tools to regulate their reproduction effectively, they make the choice to use those tools. As a result, unintended pregnancy rates and abortion rates drop sharply. A study done in the St. Louis area gave 9,000 women and teens their choice of no-cost birth control. A year later, this had cut abortion rates by 62-78% of the national rate.

So it really is simple. If you want to decrease unintended pregnancy and abortion rates, contraception and comprehensive sex education are the way to do it.

As for your concerns about women’s health, it seems like you’re less well-informed than the women who are using the pill. Oral contraceptive pills (OCPs) offer a host of health benefits in addition to contraception. Fourteen percent of OCP users rely on the pill exclusively for noncontraceptive purposes, including 762,000 women who’ve never had sex.

I agree that women (nay, everyone!) should be duly informed of the risks of any drug or medical procedure they may undergo. But they should be informed by doctors and other relevant experts – not the questionable sources pushing their own health products that you linked to.

Really, this entire post is very misinformed. It seems like you’re just throwing up whatever arguments you can to support the view you already hold, rather than doing your research about contraception or anything else. And it makes me angry when I think of the college students who might be taking your advice.

Though I didn’t comment on it, Sister Clare also argued in her post that overpopulation isn’t really an issue (and therefore contraception isn’t important to control it). I’m no expert on overpopulation, but my understanding is that, globally, it is an issue. And what did Sister Clare cite as a source for her claim? A pro-life organization called the Population Research Institute. I’m sure they aren’t biased in any way!

The facts are in: contraception is important, and contraception works. The only people who claim otherwise are those with a conflict of interest, who have to ignore certain facts in order to reach conclusions they were wedded to from the get-go.

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Our government has standards that religious institutions must live up to

There have been many excellent responses to the Catholic bishops’ complaints about the new US law regarding  insurance coverage for contraception. But Marty Klein at his blog, Sexual Intelligence, has just published the most concise and powerful response I have seen.

Amidst complaints by the Catholic clergy that their religious freedoms are being infringed, Klein states the obvious – our government mandates standards for work environments.

What employers like Notre Dame should NOT be allowed to do is present their employees with a substandard work environment. Just because they have strong religious feelings (yawn), their workplaces shouldn’t be less safe, less free of harassment, or offer less healthcare protection. It’s the government’s job to make sure Notre Dame meets the current minimum standards of the American workplace, whatever they are. It’s not the government’s job to help Notre Dame shape its employees’ private behavior to suit its vision of personal morality.

Safety regulations in the workplace are not new. It doesn’t matter if your religion prohibits you from wearing a hardhat; you still have to follow the rules. The same goes for harassment, and healthcare. There are standards enacted for the good of everyone. Expecting people of all religions to abide by them is not a novel concept, nor is it unfair.

Do read the whole thing. It’s short and direct, and makes it obvious what the Catholic bishops are doing – whining that they can’t do whatever they want in a secular democracy.

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And speaking of the Catholic Church…

Here’s a writer from Australia giving the Victorian Catholic Church a good what-for regarding their stance on same-sex marriage. She calls out the hypocrisy, the malevolence, the sanctimony – it’s fantastic. Just read it.

Catholics – tell your bigoted bishops to ‘Shut the Fuck Up’

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