Congressional Reps Oppose Plan for UC Merger with Catholic Hospitals

39 members of Congress from California have objected to a controversial proposal regarding potential mergers between the University of California and Catholic healthcare systems.

The Los Angeles Blade reported that Representatives Barbara Lee, Julia Brownley, and Mark Takano, all Democrats, organized the letter from themselves and 36 other California representatives to the University of California’s Board of Regents. The signers express concerns that merging the University’s healthcare system with Catholic facilities would impede patient care because the bishops’ directives for Catholic hospitals deny, per the letter, “LGBTQ-inclusive care, abortion care, miscarriage management, tubal ligation, and contraception.” The signers continue:

“The consequences of denying this care are serious and can even be life-threatening. . .it is deeply alarming that the University of California, which has long been a national leader in comprehensive reproductive and LGBTQ-inclusive care, would be willing to involve its providers and patients in arrangements that subject them to religious rules that hold that basic reproductive health care is impermissible, and that directly exclude LGBTQ patients. Reproductive and LGBTQ-inclusive care is fundamental, basic health care, and we in California should stand strong in protecting it. We understand that the UC Regents will soon be adopting guidelines for UC health system contracts. We think it is of paramount importance that these guidelines draw a clear line on religious restrictions.”

The letter also notes that racism is part ethical directives forced on Catholic hospitals that “often prohibit many types of medical services that communities of color critically rely upon, particularly in the areas of reproductive and LGBTQ-inclusive health, where some of the deepest racial health inequities exist.”

The debate over guidelines for the university system’s affiliations had part of its origin from a proposed merger with Dignity Health, a Catholic system where 17 of its 31 hospitals abide by the bishops’ restrictions. Last year, a petition by 1,500 healthcare workers who were part of the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) helped stop an affiliation with Dignity Health. Previously, Evan Minton filed a lawsuit Dignity Health for denying him a hysterectomy at a Catholic hospital because he was transgender. The UCSF merger with Dignity was eventually pulled, and a Working Group for Comprehensive Access was formed for the University of California system.

At issue now are two options the Working Group laid out last August. The legislators strongly object to Option 1 which would allow discrimination in religious hospitals against LGBTQ people, women asserting their reproductive rights, among other actions. In their opposition, the lawmakers point to the Trump administration’s effort to allow healthcare providers to deny care based on their religious objections. The legislators did not express an opinion about Option 2 which favors strong non-discrimination protections and recommends not partnering with healthcare systems which violate such protections.

Claire Holmes, a spokesperson for the University of California’s president, responded to the legislators’ letter by saying the education system is committed to non-discrimination and that its healthcare system works to accommodate all patient needs. Holmes defended affiliations with outside systems as necessary, too. The Daily Californian reported on the Catholic response:

“Lori Cappello Dangberg, vice president of the Alliance of Catholic Health Care, said in an email that her organization understands the concerns raised about these affiliations, but thinks some are based on inaccurate claims.

“‘We recognize, respect, and support the unique and specialized health needs of LGBTQ patients and we are disappointed by claims that suggest otherwise,’ Dangberg said in the email. ‘Our Catholic hospitals expect all clinicians practicing at our facilities to provide services in accordance with their professional judgment and the needs and wishes of their patients.'”

Discrimination against LGBTQ people or any patient is an unacceptable violation of Catholic teaching. If Catholic healthcare systems refuse to abide by the church’s own teachings on human dignity, non-discrimination, and inclusion, then secular healthcare systems should rightfully choose against any mergers or collaboration. It is what patients deserve.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, August 29, 2020

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