NEW YORK—The CBS show “60 Minutes” is billed as a newsmagazine, but observers of a recent segment on Catholic hospital mergers say the show smuggled in a heavy dose of opinionated criticism of Catholic medical ethics.
The feature, “God, Women and Medicine,” aired Dec. 10, bearing the subtitle, “Mergers between Catholic and non-Catholic hospitals prevent patients from certain kinds of care deemed inappropriate by the Church.”
After anchor Morley Safer summarized the upcoming segment—noting that four of the 10 largest health-care systems in America are Catholic, and asking whether “religious doctrine may supercede medical advice”—the first guest was Frances Kissling, president of Catholics for a Free Choice.
Kissling, whose group has been condemned by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops because of its advocacy of abortion and contraception, told Safer, “It's not like the old days. Doctors are no longer gods. Now we have bishops who are gods.”
Safer told viewers, “Over the past 10 years there have been more than 120 mergers and alliances between Catholic and non-Catholic hospitals; in nearly half of them, certain services were reduced or eliminated.”
Later, Safer described the Catholic guidelines for medical care as “a set of canons that absolutely dictate, that override in effect, best medical advice by a person's doctor.”
James LeGrys, theological adviser at the bishops’ confer-ence's secretariat for doctrine and pastoral practice, told the Register that the show skewed the issue. LeGrys challenged the show's opposition between religious doctrine and good medical practice, pointing out that to Catholic doctors, sterilization and contraception are not “care” or sound medicine.
By casting the issue as one of “forcing women to ignore the best medical advice,” LeGrys said, the show shut out the viewpoint that sterilization, contraception and abortion “are not services. They are simply immoral.”
The show profiled several women who faced medical emergencies, in which Catholic medical ethics allegedly threatened their health. CBS claimed. One woman, Kathleen Hutchins, was told that her fetus had a 2% chance of survival and that bringing the child to term could lead to her infection or even death. The only nearby hospital, Elliot Hospital in Manchester, N.H., had recently merged with the Catholic Medical Center.
Officials at Elliot allegedly told Hutchins's doctor that they could not perform an abortion unless she had already become infected. Her doctor also charged that the hospital asked him to lie about his diagnosis.
The hospital's lawyers wrote to “60 Minutes,” and Safer quoted their statement that Hutchins's doctor “did not follow policy in confirming his diagnosis,” a claim the doctor disputes. After community protests, the merger between Elliot Hospital and Catholic Medical Center was dissolved.
“60 Minutes” presented only one voice in favor of the Catholic position, Father Michael Place, head of the Catholic Health Association. He told Safer, “We cannot attack human life. Either the life of the unborn or the life of someone at the end of life. And we honor our understanding of human sexuality.”
However, the program did not show any doctors or patients who agreed with the Church's position, nor did it address the issue of whether sterilization, abortion, and contraception should be considered “the best medical advice.”
— Eve Tushnet