Americans United is working to block a plan that would subject several public hospitals in the Bay Area of California to religious control.
As we noted recently in this press release, the public hospitals, run under the auspices of the University of California at San Francisco, are considering affiliating with Dignity Health, a health care system that’s under the control of the Roman Catholic Church. Earlier this week, AU’s Legal Department sent a letter to university officials letting them know that this isn’t a good idea.
The problem with these types of arrangements is that people lose critical services. Catholic hospitals are subjected to a list of church regulations called the Ethical and Religious Directives (ERD), which reflect church dogma. This means the university doctors working in Dignity Health hospitals will not be allowed in those locations to offer therapeutic abortion, birth control, sterilizing operations, certain forms of fertility treatments and other procedures that many people rely on and need, even if the doctor thinks the treatment is medically necessary.
In addition, university doctors practicing in Dignity Health hospitals would lose their ability to offer gender-affirming treatment for members of the transgender community and would no longer be able to provide certain types of end-of-life counseling. (Catholic hospitals routinely ignore a patient’s end-of-life directives if they deem them in conflict with church teachings.)
Medical professionals, students and residents in San Francisco are speaking out. The Los Angeles Times reported that a petition drive opposing the merger has gathered 1,600 signatures from faculty, physicians, students, staff and alumni.
“We’re asking them to really rethink the affiliation,” Daniel Grossman, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at UCSF, told the Times. “A lot of us believe this should not move forward.”
They have good reason to think that way. When these types of affiliations take place, it’s inevitably bad for the community because vital services are either curtailed or terminated altogether due to religious pressure. (For more on this, see the website of the group MergerWatch, which formed to oppose these affiliations.)
It’s also worth noting that the ERDs are, in many ways, simply out of touch with the way people live today. The directives ban all forms of artificial birth control, yet the vast majority of sexually active Americans use contraceptives at some point in their lives and want it to be available – and that includes Catholics.
The directives ban certain services to members of the transgender community, a cruel policy that causes harm. They also subject end-of-life directives to church control at a time when increasing numbers of Americans are saying they want more say over what happens to them during their final days.
Additionally, it would be a fundamental violation of religious freedom to require the employees and students of a public university to comply with religious tenets. As AU noted in our letter to UCSF, government cannot cede its decision-making authority to a religious organization or show favoritism to the practices of a particular religion.
The good news is that these mergers can be defeated. We’ve done it before. In 2000, Americans United and its allies sued to put an end to the merger of Bayfront Medical Center, a non-profit hospital in St. Petersburg, Fla., that operated on city-owned property, with a Catholic institution.
When word got out that a host of medical services had been lost at Bayfront, people in the area rose up in opposition. Bayfront officials announced they were pulling out of the merger, and the lawsuit was dropped.
If they keep mobilizing and speaking out, San Francisco residents can achieve the same result.