Catholic health systems, healthcare, Women — September 15, 2015 at 9:46 am

Catholic hospital refuses to provide care, despite risk to young mother’s life


This isn’t the first time Michigan’s Genesys Regional Medical Center has let religious doctrine override medical standards.

Jessica Mann couldn’t be happier about the impending arrival of her third child in October. But having any more children could put her health at risk — in fact, carrying this child to term is downright dangerous, because the 33-year-old Mann has brain tumors and another pregnancy could end her life. It’s a risk she’s willing to take this time, but doesn’t want to take again.

So Mann and her doctors want her to have a tubal ligation performed after her scheduled C-section in October, a procedure that will prevent her from getting pregnant again. Doing it at the time of her C-section means one surgery instead of two, and medical experts consider it the safest time to perform the procedure.

But Mann’s hospital, Genesys Regional Medical Center in Grand Blanc Township, Mich., has a ban on all sterilization procedures, because the decisions at the hospital are ultimately made not by doctors, but by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which is true at every Catholic-run hospital in the country.

Mann would rather focus on her family and her health right now, but she’s decided to fight the ban so she can get the care she needs. Last week, the ACLU got involved to help Mann receive the appropriate medical care.

According to MLive, the ACLU sent a letter to Genesys stating, in part:

Ms. Mann has brain tumors that place her health at great risk during her current pregnancy and make a subsequent pregnancy potentially fatal. Due to these health risks, Ms. Mann, after consulting with both her primary OB/GYN and a maternal fetal medicine specialist, decided to obtain a tubal ligation (also known as tube-tying) at the time of her C-section to prevent future pregnancy.

Having a tubal ligation immediately after a C-section delivery is the safest time to undergo the procedure and is the standard of care for women who seek surgical sterilization.

Genesys, like all Catholic-affiliated health systems, is governed by the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, which means sterilization procedures like tubal ligation are only permitted if the “direct effect and immediate purpose” is to treat a serious medical problem.

But despite the fact that Mann’s life would be put at risk by another pregnancy, Genesys denied the request submitted by Mann’s OB/GYN to let the tubal ligation be performed after her C-section.

Brooke Tucker, staff attorney for the ACLU of Michigan, got to the heart of the issue in a statement quoted in MLive:

‘[Genesys is] certainly violating medical ethics and possibly malpractice laws,’ Tucker said, adding that the larger issue is waiting until a woman is in her third trimester before telling her they are not going to perform the procedure because of religious reasons. ‘That’s a big problem when dealing with a hospital, not a church. (The hospital is) expected to be guiding with medical standards, not religious ones.’

Mann doesn’t have the option of going to another hospital, because her doctor only has admitting privileges at Genesys. With a high-risk pregnancy like Mann’s, continuity of care with the same doctor is vitally important.

If the hospital doesn’t respond or change their decision by September 18, the ACLU of Michigan will look into other options. That could include going to the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) to investigate the ban or to take the issue to court.

The ACLU of Michigan has been here before with Genesys. As I wrote here in February, the ACLU of Michigan had contacted LARA, urging them to “require Genesys to stop further implementation of the tubal sterilization ban.”

According to a previously submitted ACLU of Michigan letter to LARA, tubal sterilization is the most common form of permanent birth control in the world per the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. It’s an overwhelmingly safe, effective form of contraception that’s often performed immediately following a Cesarean section to spare the woman a second surgery and additional anesthesia.

Women who have Cesarean sections at a Genesys hospital must wait six weeks to heal before having the tubal sterilization performed elsewhere, which then requires additional healing time. Otherwise, they must choose another birth control option. For women like Mann who are told by their doctors not to get pregnant again, having to choose a less effective form of birth control could put their health and even their lives at risk.

In a case cited in the ACLU of Michigan’s letter to LARA, one woman and her OB/GYN were not aware of the Genesys ban on tubal sterilization until two weeks before her delivery date. It was too late to choose another OB/GYN with admitting privileges at another hospital — nor should the woman have been forced to make that decision. She had her C-section without the tubal sterilization.

As more and more secular hospitals are bought out by Catholic-affiliated health systems, women’s access to medically accepted standards of care is increasingly restricted, even in matters of life or death. That’s why the ACLU continues to fight to ensure that women and men can access appropriate standards of care at every hospital — including those affiliated with the Catholic Church.

“Religious beliefs should not impede Ms. Mann from obtaining safe medical care at your hospital,” said the ACLU’s letter to Genesys. “Moreover, at 33 weeks pregnant, Ms. Mann should not have to endure the stress of pleading with Genesys administrators to obtain routine medical procedure that she needs to protect her life.”

To learn more about the alarming expansion of Catholic health systems and how it restricts access to a wide range of healthcare services, catch up with my series here at Eclectablog.

[Image credit: Laikipia via Pixabay.]