Catholic Officials Support Conscience Exemptions in Health Care, Causing Potential Harm to LGBT People

Catholic officials are supporting last week’s announcement that the Department Health and Human Services’s new division on religious liberty will allow health professionals to deny some medical services to LGBT patients,

Last week, in the latest move by the Trump administration undermining LGBT rights, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced the formation of the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division. As part of the Department’s civil rights office, the division is designed to protect healthcare providers who say their consciences or religious beliefs do not permit them to perform certain medical services

Sr. Carol Keehan, D.C., president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association, said the new division is a positive step in protecting consciences. According to an article in America magazine, she said:

“‘Everyone’s conscience is important; there are services that [C.H.A. members] will not offer because of our conscience, but any services that we do offer are available to everybody.’ . . .”

The article continued with Keehan’s affirmation that LGBT people will continue to receive routine medical care at Catholic hospitals:

“Sister Keehan said that the new office would have no impact on the way transgender and same-sex couples and their children would be treated by Catholic health care providers. ‘Transgender patients have heart attacks,’ she said, ‘transgender patients have gallbladder surgery, and transgender patients can have bad infections that need our attention just like the rest of us. And they need to know they are welcome and they will not be looked down upon’ if they come to Catholic institutions seeking help.”

Sr. Carol Keehan

Keehan said there would be no doors closed to patients at Catholic hospitals as a result of the new HHS division. However, she also affirmed the current policy at many Catholic institutions which refuse to provide gender-confirming procedures to transgender patients.

Finally, Keehan hoped the announcement of this new division would be “an opportunity for us to have an adult conversation in this pluralistic country” on the role of conscience and the need to protect it.

The new HHS division was welcomed in a joint statement by Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, who are, respectively, the chairs of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities and Committee for Religious Liberty. Focusing their statement on abortion without mention of LGBT healthcare, they appealed for a “permanent legislative relief” that would allow people claiming they have been discriminated against because of conscience refusals the ability to sue.

Meanwhile, DignityUSA said in a statement that the division “puts the lives and health of LGBTQI people at risk” and was “a perversion of the true meaning of religious freedom.”

Church officials’ endorsement of the Trump administration’s effort to discriminate is dangerous. Despite Sr. Keehan’s claims that LGBT people will not face discrimination at Catholic hospitals,  several cases where transgender patients have been denied medically necessary healthcare at Catholic hospitals have already occurred. Failure to take the unique needs of LGBT patients into account will prevent healthcare providers from offering competent and high-quality healthcare. Right-wing groups, including Catholic ones, will now be further emboldened to cause harm based on claims of religious liberty. In short, people will be hurt.

But there is time for Catholic healthcare to choose an alternative path in fidelity to the Gospel and respecting the pluralism in society. Turning to the Church’s rich traditions on non-discrimination, human dignity, a proper understanding of conscience and religious liberty, and the common good, Catholic officials can find a way to not only include but defend LGBT patients. Or, turning to medical ethics, simply “do no harm.”

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, January 21, 2018

11 replies
  1. Friends
    Friends says:

    I see this as the proverbial “sticky wicket” situation. My own principles would affirm that: a.) physicians who, for personal reasons, object to performing legal abortions or transgender surgery, do have a primary right of conscience, and they should refer their would-be patients to another provider. And: b.) Catholic medical institutions — i.e., Catholic owned or affiliated hospitals — which have ethical conflicts regarding the performance of patient-demanded elective abortions or voluntary gender-identity-changing surgery — should have the same right of referral to a secular hospital which has no such objections. I’d be very curious to know how our readers feel about such a “via media” compromise.

    Reply
    • Jesus, way, truth, life
      Jesus, way, truth, life says:

      I agree with you, @Friends. I also believe this should apply to bakeries so that they are not forced to write something that goes against their conscience on a wedding cake.

      Reply
      • Friends
        Friends says:

        @JWTL: You know, somewhat to my amazement, I tend to agree with you — up to a certain point. If someone (say, a Satanist) came to a baker, and requested a cake which depicted the scene of a ritualized Satanic murder, I’d say any Catholic (or Protestant) baker has an ethical right to refuse the gig! Bob, Francis, Lizzie — what do YOU folks say about such a situation?

        Reply
      • Kris
        Kris says:

        How far should your exception be taken?

        Imagine you’re a medical doctor deeply opposed to procured abortions. You’re attending a protest outside a major abortion clinic when a fanatical anti-abortionist breaks into the building and shoots the surgeons there, leaving just one alive, but bleeding heavily. You are now the only doctor present. What should you do? Let the surgeon bleed to death? Because by saving his or her life, you know that they will continue to abort babies. And you are profoundly opposed to this What do you do? What would Jesus do?

        You need to understand that baking a gay couple a cake for their wedding (I assume you were thinking of such) does not necessarily mean that you morally approve the forthcoming event, anymore than it would mean your approving abortion by saving that surgeon’s life.

        When people begin to make exceptions to the divine law to love all regardless, they are on a morally very slippery slope of progressively greater dilution of this law; they are, in fact, attemting to re-write a fundamental commandment: love of neighbour.

        Reply
      • Friends
        Friends says:

        @ J,w,t,l: Yes, to a certain extent, what you say is true. It’s a matter of the extremity of the demand. If the members of a Satanist Temple came to the baker, and asked him or her to decorate a cake with the graphic representation of a Satanic ritual murder, I don’t believe ANY respectable business person would (or should) be compelled to do it. Again, it’s a question of the outrageous extremity of the demand. Perhaps “extremity is in the eyes of the beholder” — but I’d certainly give the baker a free pass to turn away the prospective customers, if they were demanding a service like that.

        Reply
    • Kris
      Kris says:

      If these hospitals are funded by the State (even if only in part), then they must have no legal right whatever to decide what medical procedures they may, or may not, perform.

      If they wish to exercise such moral totalitarianism, then they must fund themselves.

      How dare they take public money while assuming the moral right to discriminate against certain groups!

      Reply
  2. Annette Magjuka
    Annette Magjuka says:

    I am so disappointed that the church has gone down this road. It is wrong. “Religious liberty” should not be used to deny people medical care, or basic human dignity. The church wants power. This legislation does not follow the medical dictum, “first do no harm.”

    Reply
  3. Tom Gaudet
    Tom Gaudet says:

    As a retired Catholic RN, I cannot imagine any scenario where I would have denied care to a patient based on my own religious beliefs. Care is not all about the one providing it, it is about the person in need receiving it. Personally, I would have no problem assisting in an elective abortion. In fact, I would be grateful that the woman came to seek a safe procedure, and I would do my best to ensure she is well cared for after the fact. I have often been in situations where terminally ill patients were suffering and required constant narcotic pain medication to keep them pain free and comfortable, even when it meant that medication would hasten their death. I have also seen nurses refuse to medicate their patients, allowing them to suffer, because they did not want to be the ones who “killed” their patients (even though the patient was in the active process of dying). Yes, other nurses stepped in and did it for them, but not without vilifying the nurse who refused.

    All the arguments used to justify the activation of one’s Catholic conscience in healthcare are based on a hell, fire, and damnation view of God, that we would all be better off without. It is a concern only to those who already have an abundance of hate in their hearts, because it provides a seemingly plausible excuse for the inexcusable. It seems to me God will judge us by our mercy, compassion, and non-judgmental attitudes. And it is high time the Catholic hierarchy stop infantilizing Catholics, and recognize that caregivers who act in opposition to church teaching are also, often, exercising their own well formed consciences.

    Reply

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