Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Rat in the Kitchen

Sister McBride and Bishop Olmstead.

Quoted in the local rag:"

Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, said a hospital's first responsibility must be to its patients, not to a religious leader.

"Religiously affiliated hospitals are not exempt from federal laws that protect a patient's right to receive emergency care and cannot invoke their religious status to jeopardize the health and lives of pregnant women," she said. "Women should never have to be afraid that they will be denied life-saving medical care when they enter a hospital."

It's a surprisingly good article. And the reader comments that follow seem to generally and widely support the hospital in question. Another snip:

Lois Uttley of MergerWatch, a New York organization that reviews issues that arise when secular and religious hospitals merge, said that in her opinion, St. Joseph has "tried mightily to balance its religious heritage with its provision of medical care." She said Catholic Healthcare West generally handles such issues well.

"They know better than the bishop how to do this," Uttley said.

I have been working as a nurse here in The Valley for about ten years and I have at least a passing familiarity with the hospitals here. Nurses travel. Nurses switch jobs frequently. We discuss the reputations, specialties, and working conditions at various institutions here. I have developed this unverified understanding of the story:

St. Joe's has a doctor that specializes in pulmonary hypertension, a condition had by the pregnant young woman in question. This doctor has license to use certain still-experimental drugs and treatments for this disease, unlike doctors at other area hospitals. So St. Joe's could not simply transfer the patient to a non-Catholic hospital; she would not have obtained the necessary treatments there.

Ethically confronted, the hospital decided to "save the only life they could" and they aborted the fetus that surely would have killed both the unfortunate woman and itself died in so doing. I don't think they had much of a choice. Perhaps Bishop Olmstead would rather that they both died, just to satisfy the primitive demands of his own religious delusions.

I have never been much satisfied with the Kohlbergian "Obedience and Punishment Orientation" of moral development, the lowest of stages according to that theory. This is the level from which Bishop Olmstead seems to operate. Fear of punishment is the only motivation for acting morally for such people. It's low. It's less than juvenile.

I think I might be justified in questioning the presence of a "moral center" in people like the bishop. Lacking that, one need only to follow "the rules" as enforced by some indemonstrable supernatural pretender. I have difficulty placing full trust in people like that. Their ideas concerning ethical performance all-too-often just happen to coincide with their own interests.

Of course it is never so simple.

There are however laws. One of those laws protects confidentiality between hospital patients and their caregivers, whether they be doctors, nurses, therapists, chaplains, whoever. And somebody, perhaps a nurse like myself, broke that law, probably deliberately, or this story would never have gone beyond the bounds of St. Joseph's Hospital in the first place.

We should never have heard about this. It's none of the bishop's business. It is by law a private matter between the patient and her treatment team.

I imagine that the person who originally leaked the story is one of those "obedience and punishment" types. Catholic herself, I would guess. That person has broken a trust, ironically because they likely believe that women as a whole cannot be trusted to make their own reproductive choices.


Almost as an afterthought: I've been keeping up on the story both in traditional media like the internet and the gossip stream, and Sister McBride is the only member of the hospital ethics committee ever named. Who are these other people? Are they all non-Catholics? Why has the bishop singled her out with the threat of excommunication?

1 comment:

wunelle said...

What is it that Christopher Hitchens says? (I must paraphrase): there are many good people who will say and do good things, and evil people who will say and do evil things; but to get good people to do and say bad things requires religion.

There's a lot I don't grasp, but it strikes me as misogynistic at the very least for some folks to value a fetus above the grown woman carrying it.