The Catholic War on Women – How it Affects Autistic Women

There’s been a subtle battle in the USA over the role of religion in health care.  The question at the heart of the battle can be paraphrased as, “Does a religious institution running a hospital need to provide women’s services that it finds religiously offensive?”

It’s been a battle in part because people are surprised to find out that their hospital is managed by a Christian (typically Catholic) group.  For instance, I was surprised to find out that my nearby hospital, which used to be Lutheran, is actually now owned by an organization that requires the hospital to adhere to Catholic principles.  My next closest hospital, likewise, is owned by a different organization that requires the hospital to adhere to Catholic principles.

That probably wouldn’t bother me if the hospital’s door’s said “Catholic” on them somewhere.  I’d know what I could and couldn’t expect in that hospital, and others would equally have warning.  I’m not Catholic – so I don’t want treatment that is a subset of the treatment I’d get at other hospitals, just as I wouldn’t go to a Christian Science care facility (I drive past one to get to the closest hospital).  But, no, they don’t say Catholic. They give a Saint’s name or a historical name.  For instance, I live near “Exempla Lutheran Hospital.”  One would think that hospital follows Lutheran principles, or perhaps some corporate for-profit principles of some company called Exempla.  However, you would be wrong on both counts.  Exempla is a non-profit organization owned by two groups – a Catholic charity and a non-profit community group.  However, the Catholic charity has exerted enough control to require the hospitals in the Exempla system to follow Catholic principles.

I know, this sounds like conspiracy-theory – the Pope secretly controlling the UN as part of Agenda 21 and injecting Floride into our drinking water so that he can round up all the gun owners and put them in concentration camps under Denver’s airport.  Or something.  But I’m not the only person concerned about this application of Catholic principles in a relatively hidden way.  See also their own words – Exempla’s ethical and religious directives, which they explicitly state that the non-Catholic Lutheran Medical Center will follow.  These directives include following Catholic teachings in the master Ethical and Religious Directives put out by the US Conference of Bishops.

Before I delve into this, again, this is a hospital that never says they are Catholic.  In fact, it’s a “Community Hospital” according to Exempla’s own words.  Yet it must abide by Catholic directives.  This is my biggest area of concern (my second area of concern is that some areas only have one hospital nearby, limiting the choice where someone may go to only hospitals that practice Catholic beliefs) – it’s simply false advertising.  The other nearby hospital is part of “Centura Health” – again, it looks like a pretty secular name.  Yet it, too, is Catholic and abides by Catholic principles.

What does this have to do with autistic people, other than incidentally?

Here’s a handful of group homes that are managed by Catholic charities:

So my question is: first, why the apparent desire to disassociate the organizations from the Catholic Church, just as with hospitals, by avoiding the word “Catholic” in the groups’ names and websites (with the exception of the last one listed above)?  Who would know HeartShare, for instance, is Catholic, particularly when it’s website just references them being a non-profit?  Why the need to hide?

My second question is, “What Catholic teachings are followed when operating these homes?”  I don’t have any problem with someone showing the compassion of Christ.  But I probably do have problems if sexual education is taught only in a way that fits Catholic doctrine, particularly if the resident is non-Catholic.  Do residents have the option to seek birth control?  Seek sterilization (I’m not talking forced sterilization, which I oppose strongly)?  Chose whether or not they are taken to a Catholic hospital in case of a medical need?  Are the rules around same-sex romantic relationships between residents the same as those around opposite-sex romantic relationships (in general, the answer here across all group homes, is no – there’s distinct homophobia in many group homes studied in past studies)?

Once again, I’m fine with people choosing to abide by Catholic teaching.  I’m just not fine with the ideas of deception in naming organizations (Exempla Catholic would be fine – Exempla alone is not) that are going to apply religious doctrine to my treatment, nor am I fine with people not having a choice to seek treatment that fits their own religious beliefs if those differ from those of a particular organization.  I fear most group home residents have relatively little say in this process.

For what it’s worth, here’s some things to know about Catholic hospitals, from the Bishop’s ethical and religious directives for Catholic and Catholic-affiliated hospitals:

On Directing Your Care

28. Each person or the person’s surrogate should have access to medical and moral information and counseling so as to be able to form his or her conscience. The free and informed health care decision of the person or the person’s surrogate is to be followed so long as it does not contradict Catholic principles.

On Rape

36. Compassionate and understanding care should be given to a person who is the victim of sexual assault. Health care providers should cooperate with law enforcement officials and offer the person psychological and spiritual support as well as accurate medical information. A female who has been raped should be able to defend herself against a potential conception from the sexual assault. If, after appropriate testing, there is no evidence that conception has occurred already, she may be treated with medications that would prevent ovulation, sperm capacitation, or fertilization. It is not permissible, however, to initiate or to recommend treatments that have as their purpose or direct effect the removal, destruction, or interference with the implantation of a fertilized ovum.

On Fertility Treatments

38. When the marital act of sexual intercourse is not able to attain its procreative purpose, assistance that does not separate the unitive and procreative ends of the act, and does not substitute for the marital act itself, may be used to help married couples conceive.

40. Heterologous fertilization (that is, any technique used to achieve conception by the use of gametes coming from at least one donor other than the spouses) is prohibited because it is contrary to the covenant of marriage, the unity of the spouses, and the dignity proper to parents and the child.

41. Homologous artificial fertilization (that is, any technique used to achieve conception using the gametes of the two spouses joined in marriage) is prohibited when it separates procreation from the marital act in its unitive significance (e.g., any technique used to achieve extracorporeal conception).

On Tubal Pregnancy

48. In case of extrauterine pregnancy, no intervention is morally licit which constitutes a direct abortion.

On Surgical Birth Control

53. Direct sterilization of either men or women, whether permanent or temporary, is not permitted in a Catholic health care institution. Procedures that induce sterility are permitted when their direct effect is the cure or alleviation of a present and serious pathology and a simpler treatment is not available.

On Beliefs…

I’m not saying that any of the above beliefs are wrong to hold. In some cases, I might even agree with them. But there’s a difference between having a belief forced upon me and allowing me to hold a belief. When I’m getting medical care, it’s my beliefs that matter to me, not my hospital’s.

There’s a lot of stuff in the Catholic teachings that most people would disagree with (even many Catholics), such as requiring the removal of a Fallopian Tube to preserve a mothers’ life in the case of a tubal pregnancy, rather than a simpler, less risky, and less-likely to sterilize abortive procedure.

I am not against Catholics following their religion.  I just don’t want to have to follow it too.  Nor do I want others in vulnerable situations, such as non-Catholic rape victims or autistics living in group homes to be prevented from following their own beliefs and views.

I want to see legislation that requires state and federally funded medical institutions, care homes, and disability services to disclose any religious affiliations they follow.  I also want to see state or federally funded non-religious alternatives within any geographic service area served by a state or federally funded religious institution.  People deserve the choice to follow their own religious beliefs when it comes to their medical treatment or their home living environment.  Even if they are a vulnerable rape victim or a developmentally disabled adult.