July/August 2019 Church & State Magazine - July/August 2019

California Officials Drop Proposed Hospital Affiliation Plan

  Rob Boston

Officials with the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) have decided to drop a proposed plan to affiliate their public hospitals with a Catholic health care system after concerns were raised that such a relationship might cause patients to lose services.

Americans United in late April advised UCSF’s Board of Regents to pull out of the proposed agreement, asserting that it would subject several of its hospitals to religious dictates.

Under the proposed affiliation plan, UCSF Health and the Dignity Health network, which is run by the Catholic Church, would have joined forces. The plan called for the university’s publicly funded medical center, employees and students to comply with the church’s religious tenets.

Americans United objected to the plan. In a letter sent on April 22 to the board and UCSF Health President and CEO Mark Laret, AU explained that any agreements that restrict how UCSF employees or students provide medical care based on religious rules – including those known as the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Service – violate both the U.S. and Cal­ifornia Constitutions.

“UCSF Health is a public institution that cannot enter into an agreement that requires its employees or students to abide by any particular religious beliefs. That is a fundamental violation of religious freedom,” said Richard B. Katskee, AU’s legal director. “Furthermore, it’s unacceptable that UCSF Health would consider an affiliation agreement that would endorse the use of religion as the basis for discrimination, particularly against women and the LGBTQ community.”

Americans United was not the only group to express concerns. In April, more than 1,500 doctors and staff members signed a petition opposing the affiliation. They argued that women and LGBTQ patients could lose services.

In late May, UCSF officials announced that the deal was off.

“Given the concerns, we will not continue to pursue the affiliation as it had been envisioned, which would have created a stronger link between UCSF Health and Dignity Health’s four Bay Area hospitals,” UCSF Chancellor Sam Hawgood and Laret wrote in a letter to employees.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported that UCSF faculty were overwhelmingly opposed to the relationship. Sixty-three percent expressed opposition, while only 27 percent were supportive. (Ten percent expressed no opinion.)

The Chronicle reported that Dr. Vanessa Jacoby, an early opponent of the affiliation, credited a “growing chorus of opposition” for blocking it.

Another doctor, Lori Freedman, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at UCSF, said, “I’m really pleased that the administration and the leadership have taken seriously the conflict in values that this presented.” Freedman had pointed out in an op-ed column that Dignity Health “follows religious doctrine prohibiting comprehensive reproductive health care, limiting care for transgender individuals and opposing assisted suicide, which is now legal in California.”

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The Do No Harm Act will help ensure that our laws are a shield to protect religious freedom and not used as a sword to harm others by undermining civil rights laws and denying access to health care.

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