Religious Hospitals Limiting End of Life Options

I came across an article in the latest issue of Mother Jones that I found very interesting.  The article describes a woman in need of any emergency medical abortion, for she miscarried one of the twins that she was carrying, and was put at risk of internal bleeding.  The chances that she would lose the other twin were almost guaranteed.  Her local hospital was in the middle of a merger with a Catholic hospital company, which required doctors to abide by the church’s religious directives.  Because of this provision, she was forced to travel to a hospital hours away to complete the procedure.

Without engaging the debate about the desirability of religious healthcare services or the abortion issue, I’d like to look at the question of what happens when life-affecting medical services are not provided.  In the example given, a woman’s life was put at risk because she was unable to obtain the necessary abortion.   But another issue raised is what happens when end of life requests are ignored.  In these religiously-oriented hospitals, patient’s requests to be removed from systems of life support are ignored, even if these desires are communicated in living wills.

The article details the increasing prevalence of Catholic hospitals, which have been on a “merger streak” nationwide, acquiring increasing numbers of hospitals, insurance plans, and nursing homes.   In fact, Catholic hospitals alone care for one sixth of American patients.  However, their policies seem to contradict aspects of federal law and thus raise interesting questions about the ethics of end of life care.

The following describes some of the issues with living wills

Despite some of the issues involved, end of life wishes and living wills seem to represent the ultimate freedom in American society; what symbolizes free will more than the ability to determine your own death?  Yet, the rise of these religiously-motivated organizations puts a constraint on this freedom, or the ability of an individual to reach what they determine is a good death.

Some of the questions we could raise for discussion, without going into religion or politics, are illustrated through this article on religious hospitals.  They present the dilemma of what happens when medical and end of life wishes are not respected.

For further reading on living wills:

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