Reflections on Religion and Health Care

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Much of the controversy over Hoag Hospital’s affiliation with St. Joseph has centered on the decision to end elective abortions, raising the decades old arguments over the practice.

 At the June 20 protest rally outside Hoag, I witnessed teenagers from “Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust,” a Christian activist ministry, who had been bused in from their camp in the San Bernardino Mountains.

 As the young can be, these kids were certain of the righteousness of their opinions: abortion can lead to breast cancer; abortion kills women. (More accurately, illegal, back-alley abortions pose the true threat to women’s lives.)

 Periodically the kids’ manly leaders led them in chants and prayer, and the group danced, jiggled, and shouted itself into what looked to be a near sexual frenzy until one exasperated pro-choice woman approached some of the teenaged boys and called them out: “I sure hope you boys are learning to keep your peckers in your pants at that camp.”

 And wouldn’t that go a long way toward lessening unwanted teen pregnancies.

 Would that these kids have read Nathanial Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter.” Set in puritanical Boston in the mid-1600s — abortion, by the way, was legal back then — the novel explores the vortex of sex, legalism, guilt, and sin.

 But Hoag’s affiliation also raises a disturbing issue that affects all men and women: In today’s complex healthcare system, why should any major hospital that receives tax dollars impose its faith values upon patients of different beliefs? Particularly hospitals overseen by the Roman Catholic hierarchy, given its libido-phobic policies, from its prohibitions on the use of condoms to prevent the spread of AIDS to the dignity of family planning, so oddly juxtaposed with its scandalous protection of its pedophile priests.

 My friend Dick Crepeau, a professor of history and a lifelong Catholic, puts it this way: “The Catholic Church, of all religious groups in the U.S., should recognize the importance of pluralism in American life. As a church that was excluded systematically from the power establishment until the late 20th century, it should understand the dangers of a religious group being allowed to practice moral exclusivity in the United States. A moral position is not a license to wield power, but rather an invitation to practice humility. I fear that there are not many bishops left in the Catholic Church that understand this aspect of morality.”

 To this point: In November 2009, a patient who was eleven weeks pregnant with her fifth child was admitted in acute distress to St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix, Arizona. If the pregnancy continued her risk of death was near one hundred percent. Sister Margaret McBride, the hospital administrator, agreed to an abortion. The patient survived; Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted quickly excommunicated McBride for her decision.

 I have been unable to find a record of any pedophile priests or the bishops who covered up their crimes that have been excommunicated. This is the moral climate into which Hoag has delivered its patients.

 The public outrage against Hoag’s affiliation suggests that we have reached a tipping point. It is about more than the end of elective abortions at Hoag, and its Board’s obfuscations, and Richard Afable’s (the Board’s former CEO) “notable linguistic pirouettes,” as the Orange County Register observed on July 1.

 The issue is about getting religion – in particular, the Roman Catholic hierarchy — out of our access to the full range of healthcare services, from birth control through end-of life decisions. It’s time for Republicans, Democrats, and those undeclared to speak up.

 We can begin by contacting the office of Attorney General Kamala Harris, who is re-examining Hoag’s affiliation agreement, and urging her to rescind her approval.

 Contact Deputy Attorney General Wendi A. Horwitz at [email protected].



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