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Catholic Health System Loses Bid to Take Over Oregon Hospital District

Compassion Testifies Catholic Doctrine Would Have Interfered With Patients' Rights

Spring 2001

Individual rights and the separation of church and state recently won a victory in Newport, Oregon. A few courageous and determined citizens, helped by powerful testimony from Compassion in Dying, successfully defeated an attempt by Providence Health Systems to take over the Pacific Communities Health District.

Arthur LaFrance, an attorney who sued the District and Providence on behalf of a nine-member group opposing the affiliation, called the arrangement a "wholesale giveaway" that subordinated governmental authority to religious decisions and established a religion.

Many people are alarmed at the wave of mergers and takeovers among hospitals and health systems throughout the nation. When a Catholic entity is involved, the resulting hospital -- Catholic or not -- is bound to uphold Catholic doctrine in its delivery of health care services. The reproductive rights movement warns that doctors are forbidden to prescribe birth control pills, perform tubal ligations and vasectomies or counsel patients about abortion.

But the Directives could have a far more pervasive impact at the end of life. Every doctor in a Catholic health system is bound by contract to follow the "Ethical and Religious Directives" written by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. The Directives stress that patients using Catholic health care accept a "professional-patient relationship [that] is never separated from the Catholic identity of the health care institution."

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Oregon, like many other states, specifies in law that competent patients make their own health care decisions. But Catholic institutions allow patients to make a health care decision only "so long as it does not contradict Catholic principles." For example, institutions are directed to "not honor an advance directive that is contrary to the Catholic teaching."

If a hospital is privately owned nothing can prevent it from imposing religious standards on its patients. But in this case Providence Health Systems proposed to take over a hospital district, which is actually a government entity. Constitutional arguments and trial testimony were so strong that Providence withdrew its proposal and asked the judge to dismiss the case rather than issue a ruling. ACLU lawyers are still pressing for a ruling to establish a precedent in law and receive compensation for the costs they incurred in litigation.

Professor LaFrance, who took time from his teaching schedule at Lewis and Clark School of Law to litigate the case, stressed that the trial testimony of Compassion in Dying of Oregon Executive Director George Eighmey was "absolutely crucial" to his success. Eighmey provided evidence that Catholic doctrine had already obstructed the decisions of individual patients, both at an AIDS home located on Catholic property and with Compassion in Dying clients insured and cared for in Catholic health systems.




  
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This article was provided by Compassion in Dying. It is a part of the publication Compassion in Dying.
 
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