Recently, I wrote about Hobby Lobby and their federal case regarding not offering emergency contraception to employees because of the religious beliefs of the owners.
Some people were thrilled to know this and vowed never to shop at Hobby Lobby again. Others defended the right of a business owner to restrict the benefits he or she offers to employees.
What if those benefits are more than emergency contraception? What if the health care you are able to receive at a hospital is dictated by a set of religious beliefs in which you don’t believe? What if you are actually denied services that are legal in our state due to religious mandates by one denomination?
Nearly 40 percent of hospitals in Washington state, including our local hospital, St. Francis, are run by Catholic organizations. Franciscan Health System, of which St. Francis Hospital is a part, functions under the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services. This means that as a condition of employment, employees must adhere to these policies.
I am not anti-Catholic, or even anti-religious freedom. I am questioning the balance between religious rights and rights of the general public under the law.
You see, these hospitals also use public funds — your tax dollars — to provide services. Anytime Medicare or Medicaid is billed, the hospitals receive payments, and it is likely they could not continue to function without these funds.
You may think, “Well, if you don’t believe in these religious directives, then don’t work for Franciscan (or Ascension or Peace Health or Providence). Don’t even get your medical care there.”
Perhaps this would be easy enough for those of us in Federal Way. Many of us could, with minimal hassle, go to Valley Medical Center, or MultiCare, or Tacoma General.
But what about those Washingtonians in the 25 percent of counties where no other hospital care other than a Catholic hospital is available?
For instance, a planned merger between Harrison Hospital in Bremerton and Franciscan Health System would require someone to take an hour-long ferry ride to access the next closest non-Catholic hospital, should they choose not to have their health care restricted.
The Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services conflict with several Washington laws and policies, including the Washington Constitution, Reproductive Privacy Act, the Anderson Murray Anti-Discrimination Law, the Death with Dignity Act, and Marriage Equality. To be more clear, here is a partial list of services that are affected by the directives:
• Fertility treatments
• Birth control
• Limited options for abnormal pregnancies
• Advance directives regarding end-of-life care
• Recognition of same-sex marriages
• Transgender health care
While these hospitals and medical centers provide needed care in many areas, they simply don’t offer a long list of treatment options due to the mandates in the Religious Directives.
As a result, an increasing number of patients are not allowed to make their own health care decisions, either because services are denied, or because the options are omitted from what is available to be provided.
It comes down to this: whose rights are more important? Those of the religious organization running the service, or those of the patients receiving care?
Should these hospitals at least be required to provide informed consent about this information to patients — in a format other than information buried in a link on a website? Legislators, religious institutions, the governor, the ACLU and others are battling this out right now. Until there’s a resolution, when it comes to accessing hospital care in our state, it’s buyer beware.