US Bishop strips hospital of Catholic status over abortion

Bishop Olmsted

Bishop Olmsted

The Bishop of Phoenix has stripped Arizona’s largest hospital of its Catholic status after ruling that a decision to perform an abortion there was morally wrong. Bishop Thomas Olmsted announced before Christmas 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 the Sisters of Mercy 115 years ago.

He has also excommunicated a member of the hospital’s ethics committee, which permitted the abortion to go ahead. The decision brings to a head a dispute that has been building for several months over the abortion, performed in November 2009, at St Joseph’s hospital and medical centre. 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.

Doctors were concerned that the pregnancy would place an extra burden on her heart, and 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. They informed her that the risk of death was close to 100 per cent 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.

Following the bishop’s announcement, the hospital’s president, Linda Hunt, said 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.”

Bishop Olmsted, however, drew on the advice of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ doctrinal committee, which distinguishes between direct abortions that are never justifiable and essential medical procedures that may unintentionally cause the death of the unborn child which are allowed to save the mother’s life. 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.

“The baby was healthy and there was no problem with the pregnancy; rather, the mother had a disease that needed to be treated. But instead of treating the disease, St Joseph’s decided that the healthy, 11-week-old baby should be directly killed. This is contrary to the teaching of the church,” the bishop said. The only visible change that will be evident immediately is that the Blessed Sacrament will be removed from the hospital’s chapel and Mass will no longer be held there.

The US-based National Catholic Bioethics Center has supported the decision in a lengthy statement on its website at:

Source: Family and Life/NCBC

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