A Catholic Health Care Problem

Recent headlines underscore the very reasons why it would have served the most vulnerable in our midst to have champions instead of politicians among the USCCB. It won’t take a rocket scientist to get my point. Just stick with me for a minute or two.

A gentleman died recently at St. Mary’s Medical Center in San Francisco because, according to his family, the staff of the Catholic hospital violated their own code of ethics. 90-year-old Don Holley suffered a stroke. When a physician explained to a neighbor who had power-of-attorney privileges that Don’s condition was not good, the neighbor agreed. The next thing you know, the doctors had Don on a morphine drip, removed nutrition and hydration, assured the neighbor that Don would be dead in two days and, of course, he died.

A medical futility blog has addressed this case, but cannot answer questions on behalf of a dead man. The only question we have is why starvation was the recommended treatment. There is no logical answer, but what we do know is that, during the health care reform debate, the USCCB never mentioned the possibility that the new law would enable rationing, which might just include the sort of decision making that rendered Mr. Holley dead.

In the aftermath of the passage of this draconian law, one Catholic bishop who is on the board of the Catholic Health Association is arguing that the USCCB had no authority to take any position on the health care legislative proposals. That bishop is Florida’s own Bishop Robert Lynch who, five years ago, ignored the pleas of Terri Schiavo’s family and did nothing as she lay dying in a Pinellas Park hospice. 

It appears that Bishop Lynch is at odds with the president of the USCCB, Francis Cardinal George, who, according to reports, took a position against the final version of the health care reform bill. Apparently, Cardinal George is suggesting that it was Sister Carol Keehan of the Catholic Health Association who actually did the dirty deed that facilitated passage of the final version of health care reform:


Speaking at a meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in St. Petersburg, Florida, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago revealed that he and other USCCB representatives had tried to persuade the CHA not to endorse the health care bill, after a pro-life amendment was defeated. Their efforts were in vain.

Regardless of which bishop is correct, there is something fundamentally wrong with the argument. While a convenient scapegoat has been identified in Sister Keehan, who made no bones about her support for Obama’s proposal, she is not a Catholic bishop. The point is that the USCCB itself, from the very beginning, played politics rather than set forth the principles that had to be contained in the proposal in order to gain the support of America’s Catholic bishops. To review, we encouraged the bishops to establish principles upon which they would support health care reform. We recommended that they begin with the principle of subsidiarity and that they require any health care reform bill to include a ban on funding for abortion, contraception, in vitro fertilization, sterilization, human embryonic stem cell research, euthanasia and sex education.

We all know that the bishops asked only for a flawed ban on funding for abortion and that they even lost that battle. Was that Sister Keehan’s fault or was it a lack of united, principled Catholic leadership?