November 30, 2022

Patient sues US Catholic Bishop’s Conference

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is suing the US Catholic Bishops Conference (USCBC) for hampering the care of a pregnant woman in one of its hospitals. The ACLU claim that the USCBC code of conduct for hospitals – known as the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Services – led to unnecessary “trauma and harm” for their client.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is suing the US Catholic Bishops Conference (USCBC) for hampering the care of a pregnant woman in one of its hospitals. The ACLU claim that the USCBC code of conduct for hospitals – known as the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Services – led to unnecessary “trauma and harm” for their client.

The woman at the center of the case is Tamesha Means, who attended Mercy Health in Muskegon, Michigan when she was 18 weeks pregnant. Her water had broken and she was in great pain. Her fetus had virtually no chance of surviving, according to medical experts who reviewed the case. Normally doctors would induce labor or surgically remove the fetus to reduce the mother’s chances of infection. But Means was not told of these options. After two days of strong pain, she miscarried the baby and it died shortly afterwards.

The ACLU claim that if Means had known of the alternative treatments she could have avoided the days of serious pain. They dismiss the argument that religious liberty overrides the need to inform patients of alternative treatments: “This isn’t about religious freedom, it’s about medical care,” said Louise Melling, deputy legal director of the ACLU.

President of the National Catholic Bioethics Centre John M. Haas has dismissed the claims as misguided. He said that in the medical case as described in the lawsuit, would appear to be a case where abortion would be allowed under the directives. “If that hospital had called us and said may we proceed in terms of starting labor…it’s perfectly legitimate,” to save the mother, said Haas.

He also pointed out to journalists that directive 27 of the code says the patient should be given “all reasonable information about the essential nature of the proposed treatment and its benefits; its risks, side-effects, consequences, and cost; and any reasonable and morally legitimate alternatives, including no treatment at all,” in order to make informed decisions.

Xavier Symons
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