Hospital Mergers and Religious Restrictions on Health Care Event

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

I walked through Town Hall Seattle’s doors last week for the forum on “Hospital Mergers and Religious Restrictions on Health Care” ready to work at the ACLU-WA booth. Handing out information and answering general questions. I watched as articles about mergers between secular and religious hospitals flew off the table into the hands of worried people. As more and more people flowed into the lobby, I was struck by the community’s concern about the situation. More than 400 people attended the event.

When the clock struck seven, I made my way upstairs into the great hall to listen to the panel. I took a seat towards the back on one of the long wooden benches, silenced my cell phone, and gave the panel my full attention. I was especially interested in the presentations of Mary Kay Barbieri of People for Healthcare Freedom and Sarah Shannon of the UW School of Nursing. Shannon spoke about the professional ethical obligations that doctors and nurses have to provide the best lawful medical care to each patient.  Barbieri addressed the concerns of rural communities and how they are unequally affected in these mergers. While a patient might be able to drive just a short distance to reach another, secular hospital in an urban area, in a rural area this is much more difficult.

Another issue that struck me was the gag orders that can be placed on doctors and nurses working at Catholic hospitals. Not only can they not provide certain services, but sometimes they may not even be able to talk about them!  If a patient isn’t going to be provided certain services, they should at the very least know they are available elsewhere. Finally, a leader of Compassion and Choices of Washington spoke during the Q & A session about Catholic hospitals not providing the information or resources necessary to allow patients to exercise their right to physician aid-in-dying. These mergers are endangering what voters said back in 2008 was their will – that patients deserve the peace of mind that they need not endure an agonizing or uncomfortable death.

In the end, this event lit a fire in me because it opened my eyes to the threats to people’s legal rights, especially women’s right to choose and care free of discrimination against LGBT patients. I was thrilled to see so many people in line to ask questions, eager for more information about this extremely important topic.