Catholic Hospital Denial of Treatment Leads to Lawsuit


A Catholic hospital in Michigan that denies staff the ability to offer abortion as a treatment option, even in extreme cases where the mother’s life is at stake, has led to a lawsuit filed against Catholic bishops in the United States.  According to the lawsuit, filed Friday in Detroit federal court, not offering abortion as an option amounted to the hospital denying the expectant mother adequate medical treatment.

The hospital in question, Mercy Health Partners in Muskegon, Michigan, is a Catholic hospital and was the only facility within 30 minutes of the home of the 27-year-old  plaintiff, Tamesha Means.  In December 2010, Means’ water broke when she was only 18 weeks into her pregnancy, giving the fetus inside of her virtually no means of survival.  As the mother of two children, Means knew that something was wrong and asked a friend to take her to the closest hospital, which was Mercy Health Partners.

Means made two more trips to the hospital, one later on in the night and one the next morning.  Each time, she was sent home from the hospital with Tylenol and the instruction to wait until her pain went away.  Despite the fact that termination of the pregnancy or inducing labor were both options, and that the fetus was unlikely to survive after her water broke, which Means claims that she was never told, Mercy Health Partners told Means that nothing could be done for her.

Her experience of being denied treatment at the Catholic hospital has led to her case becoming the centerpiece of a lawsuit against the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which accuses them of issuing health care directives to deny pregnant women suffering from miscarriages appropriate options of treatment as well as information about their condition.

The directives are spelled out in a document titled Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Healthcare Services, which defines certain procedures, including assisted suicide, sterilization and abortion as evil.

According to the Catholic Health Association, of the 800,000 hospital beds in the United States, 15 percent are within a Catholic hospital.  In rural areas, Catholic hospitals make up 1/3 of the hospitals.  The Catholic Hospital Association states that for every six patients, one is treated at a Catholic facility.  Medical personnel in these hospitals are mandated to follow the directives of the bishops, which includes the ban on performing or suggesting abortions.

Means’ lawsuit states that while operating under these directives, the medical personnel at Mercy Health Partners did not conform to the standards of medicine, which require that medical staff treat patients and inform them of their options and the risks entailed with their condition.

Speaking for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the organization which represents the United States Catholic hierarchy, Don Clemmer stated that there was no comment regarding the lawsuit at this time.

Regarding her experience, which led up to the ACLU’s case, the lawsuit claims that while on her third visit to the Catholic hospital, this time with an infection that could have been prevented by not denying treatment, but inducing labor and terminating the pregnancy, Means went into labor just as the hospital was preparing to discharge her.  The baby, who was breech, died 2 1/2 hours after delivery.

By Jennifer Pfalz

Chicago Tribune

Seattle Times

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