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Monday, 31 October 2011

Rolling Back The Clock On Women's Health Care

Impact of the Vatican's Universal Translation of Faith, Catholic Owned Health Care Facilities and State Legislation on Health Care for Women
The triad of the new stricter Vatican rules for interpretation of Catholic protocols, the trend toward Catholic organizations purchasing non-Catholic hospitals, and the furor over the proposed women's health standards for the 2014 health insurance exchanges have made this a topic which must be revisited. In order of appearance here are the players:the Vatican, Swedish Health Services, and the State of Mississippi.

Vatican Rules on a Universal Translation for Catholics
Beginning November 27, 2011, the Vatican has issued another edict which attempts to tighten the interpretation of the Catholic faith, by mandating a single universal translation of the faith. The church hopes to reign in the more liberal interpretation which is prevalent in the United States and other western countries. Though one might think this only affects Catholics, not-so-fast, it affects all Catholic Church owned enterprises, including hospitals and schools, which serve an interfaith community and that brings us to our next player.

Swedish Health Services Acquiescence to the Catholic Entity Providence Health
Counter-intuitive to the trend of Catholic hospitals purchasing non-Catholic facilities throughout the United States, the secular hospital group, Swedish Health Services has acquired Providence Health Services hospital and clinics. However, what is most interesting about this transaction is the Pope still got his way, as the deal is subject to his approval, and he has mandated a line-item-veto on the secular facility’s ability to provide abortions. One could understand a Catholic hospital which did not wish to provide abortions, but Swedish is a secular institution and it is acquiring Providence. Though Swedish has indicated this wouldn’t have a huge impact on the service for women in the Puget Sound area of Washington State, they did not have any public hearings about this reduction in service. Clinically, there are cases where women may require a hospital facility for an abortion, but that doesn’t seem to matter here. At least in the Seattle area there are other secular facilities which will provide the service. It is important to note that the Vatican has specifically addressed the elective abortions, which can include victims of rape or incest. I am sure these women consider their legal health concerns to be paramount and hardly “elective.” Apparently there is no due process required if it concerns female reproductive rights, even in the highly secular community of Seattle, where Swedish is based. The fact that we have allowed our health care practice to be determined by a celibate male from another country offends not only me, but also the majority of residents.

According to a 2005 report by Catholics for a Free Choice , there are 60 Catholic health care systems located in all 50 states in the United States. One of the concerns about Catholic hospitals is do they restrict health services? This question applies not only for reproductive rights, but also for advanced medical directives for patients who wish to die without certain medical interventions. According to a 2006 survey by Pew Research Council, 70% of Americans felt that patients should sometimes be allowed to die, 70% also indicated they would rather die at home, than in a prolonged artificially extended manner in the hospital. Only 22% of those polled said that life should be prolonged using extraordinary measures. The majority of Americans shun the loss of dignity while being kept alive mechanically, but would a Catholic hospital respect their wishes? The nonprofit group Catholics for a Free Choice, states that Catholic hospitals do restrict health care services based on the edicts of the Vatican via the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care. It should be obvious that non Catholic patients as well as Catholics may disagree with these practices, so it behooves the patient to verify any service restrictions in policy and in practice in advance of treatment in a Catholic facility. Unfortunately, for many people in America this is not an option, as the only hospital in their area may be a Catholic institution, which has an impact on end-stage-of-life-care and other health services decisions.

Mississippi is Close to Defining Life as at the Point of Conception

Previously I have written about my 50-state analysis of the 2010 health care mandates for the regional insurance purchasing cooperatives, including the incendiary furor over women’s reproductive autonomy. Not to be outdone in its leap to the dark ages, the State of Mississippi is close to passing a law which defines human life as beginning at the moment of conception. Needless to say, this will be a sticky wicket when it comes to actually, catching-someone-in-the-act. The personhood law, if it passes will make it a crime for a woman to obtain an abortion at all, as the life of the fetus will supersede that of the woman who is already alive and kicking. Additionally, this “chastity belt” would also outlaw the use of certain birth control devices, including IUD’s which are intrauterine devices that allow fertilization but prevent embryo attachment to the uterine wall. Of course, the morning after pill would not be allowed either. Going a step further than just the birth canal, the destruction of any in vitro fertilized eggs would also be a crime.
The proposed law certainly cuts a wide swath across those who are fertile and those who may have fertility challenges. This state could potentially institutionalize pregnant women to enforce delivery and likewise for rape victims or incest victims. More to the point, for those fertile lasses who have already had several children while using various birth control measures, and decide they cannot afford more children, they would become criminals. It will be interesting to see how this one winds its way through the courts, if it passes the legislature.
Lest you want to write off Mississippi as an rogue state, Colorado attempted to pass similar legislation in 2008, which thankfully failed. In fact, Personhood USA is based in Colorado and is the backer for the Mississippi bill. Additional states who are considering personhood laws to circumvent the 1973 Roe versus Wade ruling that confirmed constitutionality for a woman to have an abortion prior to the fetus’s ability to live outside the womb include; Arkansas, Montana, Nevada, and Oklahoma.
From this vantage point there is no end-in-sight for the pitch back to the dark ages for women in the United States. I can almost see the black hole from here.
On a more personal note, I expect my book, Unraveling U.S. Health Care to be available within the first quarter of 2012 and yes, it is OK to say FINALLY. Anyway, thanks for reading and I hope you continue to review and comment on my musings.


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