Print Edition: March 8, 2015
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Pro-lifers in Massachusetts are waiting to hear from a Catholic bioethics organization on whether Catholic participation in a proposed consortium that can administer state health-care benefits violates Catholic teaching.
BY GAIL BESSEREGISTER CORRESPONDENT
BOSTON — If a joint venture between
Catholic and non-religious health-care systems goes through, doctors in Boston’s
Catholic hospitals may have to point patients toward abortion after July 1.
Indeed, state officials and abortion
advocates would check to make sure they do.
This development did not arise from
President Obama’s proposal to jettison conscience rights for medical personnel.
Rather, the six-hospital Caritas Christi Health Care system, in conjunction
with the St. Louis-based health network Centene Corp., recently sought and won
a lucrative state insurance contract that requires the joint venture, the
Commonwealth Family Health Plan, to make available all “reproductive services.”
After state regulators accepted the
Caritas-Centene bid March 12, Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley issued a statement
saying that the deal, set to begin July 1, can’t be considered final until the
National Catholic Bioethics Center can assure him it’s faithful to Catholic
principles. He had requested an opinion from the bioethics center March 5. It
had not been made public as of press time.
According to Dick Powers, spokesman
for the Massachusetts Health Connector Authority Board, which awards the
contracts for state-subsidized insurance for low-income residents, the board
unanimously accepted the Caritas-Centene bid after regulators received written
assurances that medical staff will inform people of all options, including
Powers said that if a Caritas
hospital didn’t provide a service, the patient would be referred back to
Commonwealth Family Health Plan, which would then refer the person to another
facility. Commonwealth Family Health Plan would also provide a 24-hour
toll-free phone line to inform women about where they can get contraception,
sterilization, and other family-planning services. A service representative
will arrange transportation to the nearest appropriate facility “in an emergency.”
The cardinal in a March 5 statement
said, “As archbishop I have the responsibility to insure that Caritas Christi
Health Care adheres to the ‘Ethical and Religious Directives’ established by
the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.”
At issue is whether the initiative
involves cooperation in actions that are intrinsically immoral.
“Formal cooperation in an abortion
constitutes a grave offense,” says the Catechism of the Catholic Church (No. 2272).
“The Church attaches the canonical penalty of excommunication to this crime
against human life. ‘A person who procures a completed abortion incurs
excommunication latae sententiae,’
‘by the very commission of the offense,’ and subject to the conditions provided
by Canon Law.”
The hospital chain is run by an
independent board of governors, but the archdiocese retains authority on issues
of its Catholic identity, mission and ethics. Father J. Bryan Hehir, Cardinal
O’Malley’s secretary of health and social services, is archdiocesan liaison on
Caritas spokeswoman Teresa Prego
declined comment to Register questions, as did the president, Ralph de la
Torre, and James Karam, chairman of the board of governors. According to
Federal Election Commission records, both officials have given generously to
politicians who support abortion: Last year, de la Torre gave $2,300 to Barack
Obama; from 2007-08, Karam gave $6,900 to Hillary Clinton for president and
$2,000 to Sen. John Kerry.
‘Nobody More Attentive’
At first, Cardinal O’Malley defended
the hospital chain’s proposal on his blog, CardinalSeansBlog.org, March 6: “To
be perfectly clear, Caritas Christi will never do anything to promote
abortions, to direct any patients to providers of abortion or in any way to
participate in actions that are contrary to Catholic moral teaching.”
cardinal could not be reached for comment.
for the National Catholic Bioethics Center — ethicist Father Alfred Cioffi and
education director Father Tadeusz Pacholczyk — said their consultations must be
Caritas-Centene proceeds with its plan, state regulators and abortion advocates
will be watching. “How compliance will be monitored is just being worked out
now,” Massachusetts health authority spokesman Powers said March 16.
Miller, executive director of NARAL (National Abortion Rights Action League)
Pro-Choice Massachusetts, said her abortion advocacy group “vows to monitor”
the Catholic hospitals to ensure that people have access to services to
“protect them from pregnancy and disease …” In the past, NARAL operatives have
made covert calls to hospitals, including Catholic ones, to see if personnel
complied with a law to offer the abortifacient “morning after” pill.
Carol Keehan, president of the Catholic Health Association, told The Boston Globe March 11: “Nobody is more attentive to life issues than the
cardinal-archbishop of Boston.” Sister Carol said that she had reviewed key
provisions of the Caritas-Centene deal and that “Caritas has done more than one
would usually see” to avoid being involved with abortion and other services
opposed by the Catholic Church.
I look at the way Caritas Christi has structured this arrangement,” she said,
“it allows them to be participants with the state in the care of the poor and
the most vulnerable citizens of the state of Massachusetts in a way that brings
the richness of their system and the caring nature of that system to the poor,
without in any way violating any of the religious directives or the moral
imperatives of our faith.”
But pro-lifers were worried. “We are
now facing the end, in Massachusetts at least, of Catholic medical resistance
to abortion and contraception,” said C.J. Doyle, who as director of the
Catholic Action League of Massachusetts has headed opposition to the plan.
“This will drive Catholics out of the medical profession.”
Cotter, head of Boston’s Operation Rescue, believes the archdiocese was taken
off guard by the Caritas move. “But,” he said, “there’s been a terrible loss of
credibility for the archdiocese. It must forgo the potential financial gain and
refuse this pact with the devil.”
Gail Besse writes
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