December 28, 2010

Bishop Can Make Better Life and Death Decisions than Doctors

By Francis Nye

The head of the Catholic Church in Phoenix has stripped Arizona's largest hospital of its Catholic affiliation after he ruled that a decision to save the life of a mother by terminating her 11 week pregnancy was morally wrong.

Bishop Thomas Olmsted announced that St Joseph's hospital can no longer be considered to be Catholic. The ruling breaks a relationship that stretches back to the hospital's founding by Catholic nuns 115 years ago. He has also excommunicated the member of the hospital's ethics committee that permitted the abortion to go ahead.

The case concerned an unidentified woman in her 20s, who had a history of abnormally high blood pressure that was under control before she became pregnant. But doctors were concerned on learning of the pregnancy about the extra burden that would be placed on her heart, and they monitored her closely.

Tests showed that in the early stages of pregnancy her condition deteriorated rapidly and that before long her pulmonary hypertension – which can impair the working of the heart and lungs – had begun to seriously threaten her life. Doctors informed her that the risk of death was close to 100% if she continued with the pregnancy.

Consultations were then held with the patient, her family, her doctors and the hospital's ethics team, and the decision to go ahead with an abortion was taken in order to save the mother's life.

The hospital's president, Linda Hunt, said following the bishop's severing of relations that the operation had been "consistent with our values of dignity and justice. If we are presented with a situation in which a pregnancy threatens a woman's life, our first priority is to save both patients. If that is not possible we will always save the life we can save, and that is what we did in this case."

But Olmsted did not see it that way. He drew on the advice of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops' doctrinal committee, which distinguishes between direct abortions that are never justifiable and indirect terminations that happen incidentally as a result of life-saving medical procedures that can be allowed on narrowly-defined grounds.

In this case, the operation was deemed to be a direct abortion because the pregnancy was ended to ease the mother's separate health problem.

I wonder how this would have turned out for the doctor and the hospital if they would have allowed this young woman and her baby to die because of religious doctrine. I am certain that the hospital would have been sued and the doctor incarcerated.

It is easy for Bishop Olmsted to make these outrageous statements and take these actions because his profession and freedom is not on the line.

Don’t misunderstand me. I am not for just any willy-nilly abortion. I have always taken a pro-life position. However, I think in a life threatening situation such as this I would defer to the doctor’s judgment and not that of my spiritual advisor.

Moreover, what has happened to all the moral outrage? After all isn’t what the bishop preaching a form of “death-panel” that incensed so many recently in the health-care debate? He is basically deciding who should live and who shall die and not letting the doctors and their patients decide the matter. I thought for sure all those tea-party supporters would rally around the hospital with their righteous anger much like they did when President Obama and both houses of the legislature tried to pass an all encompassing health-care directive for the United States last year. However I have not heard any of the same cries of indignation as I did before. It makes me ponder the motivations of some organizations. It also further begs the question, why does our society give religion so much power and influence over our health.

We live in a free society that was founded by great men that were truly enlightened for their time. These men knew the danger of divine right and royal decree. They understood what the elements of tyranny were. We, the American people put off the shackles of kings and queens more than 234 years ago. We fought a terrible civil war for the freedom of black Americas because we knew this not to be right. Yet here we are in the 21st century, willingly giving a man like Olmsted and his cohort in Rome the unquestionable power of a king. Anyone that dares questions his authority is handed a spiritual death sentence of excommunication.

One has to ask himself, is this really what God intended, an organization that has time and time again caused so much pain and suffering through out its history? Is this the love and compassion that is taught by Jesus?

I think the bishop needs to read his bible again. I think he may have missed a key concept or two in Jesus’ teaching when he used his power to excommunicate the faithful around him in such a lackadaisical manner. These are more the tactics of a tyrant than those of a compassionate man of Christ.

The bishop is so out of step with Jesus’ wisdom it is shocking. Jesus railed against the Jewish religious leadership because they always came down on individuals for not following Jewish law to the letter. Jesus on the other hand taught it is better to follow the spirit of Jewish law rather than the letter of the law. All things being looked at on as a case per case basis rather than a one size fits all approach. The bishop is more of a 1st century rabbi than a 21st century priest.

This entire affair further demonstrates how religion has become such a dangerous concept with terrible consequence if the wrong people are put in places of power like Olmsted. I wonder if he would be willing to die for his beliefs in the same senseless way he demands that young woman to die for hers. His flock looks to him for guidance and if this is an indication of how he leads then woe to his followers.

Video of St. Joseph’s Hospital Controversy

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