Thinking about my third

Nearly four years ago I got the stomach flu. I got it from my husband, who got it from our 19 month old kid, who likely picked it up in the nursery. I wouldn’t be writing about it, except for the fact that I was 8 months pregnant at the time. While sick I became dehydrated, couldn’t keep down food, and late one night I started having contractions. I called my OB who advised us to go to an emergency room.
I called my visiting teacher to watch our kid until my mother in law could come get him, and my husband drove me to the hospital. I was admitted sent up to the maternity ward where they hooked me up to an IV and a machine to monitor my contractions. Hours passed and nothing changed. After I was sufficiently rehydrated they sent me home.
Although nothing really happened, the night was stressful because of what might have happened. There are so many ways that night could have ended, each possibility worse than the one before.
What makes me think about all this now is that the ER we went to was St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Phoenix. Last November a pregnant woman was admitted to that same hospital with a deadly heart condition. She was in no state to be transferred to another hospital, and the treatment for her condition was terminating the pregnancy. In other words, the only way to save this woman’s life was for an abortion to be performed in a Catholic hospital. The Nun on the ethics committee who agreed to allow the procedure has been publicly rebuked and notified of her automatic excommunication.
On what the hospital should have done:
James J. Walter, professor of bioethics at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, a Catholic university, said that is a tough argument to make. He said a pregnancy may be terminated only in limited, indirect circumstances, such as uterine cancer, in which the cancer treatment takes the life of the fetus.
Catholic teaching, he said, is that a pregnancy cannot be terminated as a means to an end of saving the life of a mother who is suffering from a different condition.
Asked if the church position prefers the mother and child to die, rather than sparing the life of one of them, Walters said the hope is that both would survive.
So here I am, retroactively terrified. Among all the horrors my night at the hospital could have produced I never once thought that one of them would have been death by willful neglect. I was sick, and pregnant in that same hospital. Even though this woman’s life was saved, the people who saved her life are being punished rather than honored- what will they and their peers do the next time they have to make a choice like this?
I know that many LDS people are happy to align themselves with the larger predominately Catholic Pro-life movement, even while those same people would balk at the idea that saving the life of the mother isn’t a good enough reason to perform an abortion. Cases like this serve as a stark reminder that all too often our political bedfellows frequently  have wildly divergent end goals from our own.
I know that I will never again willingly set foot in a Catholic hospital while pregnant.

Starfoxy

Starfoxy is a fulltime caretaker for her two children.

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16 Responses

  1. kmillecam says:

    It really is terrifying to think of how many rights I have been stripped of as a woman when pregnant. Thank you for speaking out on this.

  2. ZD Eve says:

    Chilling.

    And a good, if painful, reminder of the unfortunate necessity of thinking these issues through carefully before we find ourselves in dire situations, where we may no longer be calling the shots.

  3. mraynes says:

    I went to that same hospital while pregnant with my first and I shudder to think what could have happened had there been something seriously wrong with me. Women have the right to expect that when they walk into a hospital every measure will be taken to keep them alive. Anything less is a violation of the sacred trust we put in medical professionals.

    I’m with you, Starfoxy, I will never willingly go to a Catholic hospital while pregnant again, it’s too dangerous. Thanks for this post!

  4. mb says:

    I think that we must be careful about smearing all Catholic hospitals as dangerous. Yes, the bishop of the diocese condemned the action after it was taken, but the people who made that difficult (for them) decision to save the mother and terminate the life of the child in the first trimester were also Catholic in high ranking positions at that hospital. They were not fired. They were not excommunicated, even though the bishop said he thought they should be.

    Sister Margaret McBride. the nun who made the decision, was moved to another position within the hospital while the matter is addressed and investigated, a common procedure in all controversial ethical decisions made by ethics committees in any hospital. The bishop has no administrative jurisdiction over the hospital’s personnel decisions.

    It is good to know, ahead of time, the ethics policies of any hospital you plan to be admitted to. And you may choose to avoid one particular one if you have issues with it. However, to blanketly condemn all Catholic hospitals as something to be feared is a gross disservice to the many compassionate, intelligent, thoughtful and dedicated Catholic sisters who work at and oversee the operations of Catholic hospitals all over the country who would make exactly the same decision that Sister Margaret McBride did. And it is also a disservice to the dedicated Catholic bishops of other dioceses who would stand behind her decision if it had occurred in their jurisdiction.

    Finally, it should be noted that Sister Margaret McBride made the decision based upon a hospital policy about saving the life of a mother that was consistent with Catholic teachings. Now the CEO and the chairman of the board will have to duke it out with the bishop as to whether or not she did the right thing, but that’s not uncommon in hospital experience either. There are always people outside the medical field who are quick to condemn the actions of physicians simply because they have no first hand knowledge of the reality of the medical crises involved. It will be interesting to watch how this unfolds. In these post-decision wranglings the hospital usually wins, even in the most religiously conservative circumstances.

    Don’t panic.

  5. Starfoxy says:

    However, to blanketly condemn all Catholic hospitals as something to be feared is a gross disservice to the many compassionate, intelligent, thoughtful and dedicated Catholic sisters who work at and oversee the operations of Catholic hospitals all over the country who would make exactly the same decision that Sister Margaret McBride did.

    I disagree- Catholic hospitals follow Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, and from what I’ve read the question in this woman’s case wasn’t so much whether or not they should perform the abortion (they all agreed that they should), but whether they were allowed. They decided that they could interpret one directive as permitting the procedure, and even I think that their interpretation of it was a stretch.

    Certainly plenty of people would have made the same decision Sister McBride and her coworkers did, but they and others would have to make that decision *despite* hospital policies. I don’t want to have to hope that someone will be willing to stretch or break the rules to save my life.

    Catholic hospitals do great good, but the fact of the matter is that the Catholic doctrine on abortion is dangerous for pregnant women. And it isn’t unreasonable to expect Catholic hospitals to follow Catholic doctrine. I don’t like it, so I’m taking my business elsewhere.

  6. Ziff says:

    Asked if the church position prefers the mother and child to die, rather than sparing the life of one of them, Walters said the hope is that both would survive.

    The hope? The hope??!? What’s the point of a hospital if all you can do is hope? I thought the point of medicine was to intervene so we didn’t have only hope to resort to.

  7. Angie says:

    This may sound strange, but giving birth made me even more pro-choice.

  8. Angie says:

    Sort of.

  9. Corktree says:

    Aack! The only 3 major hospitals around me are Catholic!

    I never really considered this a possibility. The only thing I thought of in response to abortion issues and Catholic hospitals was the possibility of them being legally required to perform abortions against their choice if the laws were changed to enforce such things. But while that would have seemed equally damaging to ethics, I never really knew if it was actually an eventual possibility.

    But this? Scary indeed.

  10. honey says:

    I chose a Catholic hospital for the birth of four of my children, BECAUSE elective abortions were not performed there. I wasn’t quizzed there like I was immediately after the birth of my second child at the other local hospital, if I wanted my tubes tied and then when I answered no, lectured on why it was the morally responsible thing to do, to limit overpopulation. AT the Catholic hospital all new babies were celebrated, even the handicapped ones no matter how many brothers and sisters they had. I am pro-choice in a very narrow way.

  11. Breena says:

    Scary. I’ve also been a patient at St. Joe’s in Phoenix and this situation would have never crossed my mind.

    I do have a legal question, though. If the board had decided against termination in this case and the woman died what repercussions would there be for the hospital and medical personnel (assuming the facts that this was the only and best treatment and the woman was too ill to be transferred to another hospital)? Any lawyers want to break it down? I don’t see any way this is not medical malpractice. Can a hospital really institutionalize medical malpractice in its policies?

  12. miles says:

    #7 I don’t think it is weird. After my first child was still born six weeks premature I became very Pro-Choice. I want every child desired and loved and every parent as ready as they can be.

    Scary story and one to truly think over if pregnant or discuss with others, say a daughter, who is pregnant.

  13. annegb says:

    This is very good information.

  14. Melonie says:

    “Women have the right to expect that when they walk into a hospital every measure will be taken to keep them alive. Anything less is a violation of the sacred trust we put in medical professionals. ”

    Women have to responsibility to understand how the Hospitals around them feel about certain things.

    Not checking up on that kind of thing is just irresponsible

  15. Starfoxy says:

    Not checking up on that kind of thing is just irresponsible
    I think irresponsible is a strong word for this. I would replace it with naive because assuming that hospital staff will try preserve your health doesn’t seem unreasonable at all. Lots of people are simply unaware that there even are things like this to check up on.

  16. EmilyCC says:

    This story is horrifying on so many levels, but I wanted to jump in. Legally, I can’t give specifics, but as a former hospital chaplain who worked in a predominantly Catholic area and worked daily with Catholic chaplains and chaplains who worked in Catholic hospitals, it is my understanding that the Catholic hospitals work closely with their diocese to decide on ethical directives like the one discussed above.

    So, while I think you make a good point about our Phoenix Catholic hospitals, I’m not sure that can be universally applied to hospitals under different dioceses.

    And, I sense I’m preaching to the choir, but since so many of my Catholic friends and co-workers have given me the benefit of the doubt when it comes to my Church’s policies and politics, I think it’s also important to point out that there are many Catholics, religious and lay, who don’t agree with Phoenix archdiocese or Walters’ superficial and insufficient response to this tragedy.

    Still, Starfoxy, this is an excellent example of why maternal feminism is such an important component of Mormon (and I’d argue, though some might not agree and Catholic) feminism. Thanks for sharing!

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