Imagine going to a hospital, and being told that although they could fix the problem that brought you there quite easily, they won’t do anything for you until you’re dying. Imagine lying in a bed, in pain, terrified, begging to be treated, and being told no. Not until your condition has progressed to the point where you’re gravely ill and at risk of losing your life. Then you can have the simple procedure that could have prevented all your suffering and ensured your survival. Maybe. If the doctor isn’t so terrified of losing their job that they wait until it’s too late, and you die before they get round to treating you. In which case, if you haven’t had the proper magic water sprinkled over you, you’re assumed to be burning in hell for eternity for the crime of having a medical emergency.
This is basically the situation when someone having a miscarriage goes to a Catholic hospital for treatment. Let me tell you what one of my abiding fears is: it’s that I’ll have a crisis in my ladyparts, and the only hospital within a hundred miles is Catholic. Allow me to show you why.
Content Note: description of medical crises and interventions, pointless suffering, medical torture, treating a doomed fetus as more important than a born human being.
Whilst performing a study, researchers stumbled across horror stories they felt compelled to share. The result was “When There’s a Heartbeat: Miscarriage Management in Catholic-Owned Hospitals.” Within it, you will hear stories like this:
Dr P, from a midwestern, mid-sized city, said that at her Catholic-owned hospital, approval for termination of pregnancy was rare if a fetal heartbeat was present (even in “people who are bleeding, they’re all the way dilated, and they’re only 17 weeks”) unless “it looks like she’s going to die if we don’t do it.”
Let’s be clear. We’re talking basically 0 (zero, nada) chance of fetal survival. There is no viable fetus, just a mass of tissue with heart cells that haven’t yet completely died. The pregnant person carrying that doomed fetus could be fixed up in a jiffy with quick evacuation of that dying tissue, then sent on their way to recuperate with the minimum of physical trauma and, perhaps, have a successful pregnancy resulting in a beautiful bouncy baby later on. But a Catholic hospital’s religious rules state that the pregnant person must be allowed to reach death’s door before they’ll consider doing something to save them.
Some doctors end up having to ship their desperately ill patients elsewhere, rather than quickly resolving the problem causing them such misery and potential death.
In another case, Dr H, from the same Catholic-owned hospital in the Midwest, sent her patient by ambulance 90 miles to the nearest institution where the patient could have an abortion because the ethics committee refused to approve her case.
She was very early, 14 weeks. She came in … and there was a hand sticking out of the cervix. Clearly the membranes had ruptured and she was trying to deliver… . There was a heart rate, and [we called] the ethics committee, and they [said], “Nope, can’t do anything.” So we had to send her to [the university hospital]… . You know, these things don’t happen that often, but from what I understand it, it’s pretty clear. Even if mom is very sick, you know, potentially life threatening, can’t do anything.
Sorry, ma’am. Despite the fact your body is trying to expel a doomed fetus and needs help, we won’t do a thing for you because God has forgotten to make its heart tissue stop beating. Never mind that those ruptured membranes and that little hand sticking out are clear paths to deadly infections. Until Mommy is dying, the Catholic hospital won’t let Doctor life a finger – and if that zombie fetal heart beats on, they’ll quite possibly decide Mommy must risk dying of raging sepsis anyway. See: Savita Halappanavar.
The pregnant person, we must remember, has a heartbeat, too. But to Catholic hospitals, the only heartbeat that matters is the fetus’s.
If the pregnant person is very, very lucky, they might have a compassionate doctor who will find a secular hospital to perform the necessary treatment before it’s too late.
Dr B, an obstetrician–gynecologist working in an academic medical center, described how a Catholic-owned hospital in her western urban area asked her to accept a patient who was already septic. When she received the request, she recommended that the physician from the Catholic-owned hospital perform a uterine aspiration there and not further risk the health of the woman by delaying her care with the transport.
Because the fetus was still alive, they wouldn’t intervene. And she was hemorrhaging, and they called me and wanted to transport her, and I said, “It sounds like she’s unstable, and it sounds like you need to take care of her there.” And I was on a recorded line, I reported them as an EMTALA [Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act] violation. And the physician [said], “This isn’t something that we can take care of.” And I [said], “Well, if I don’t accept her, what are you going to do with her?” [He answered], “We’ll put her on a floor [i.e., admit her to a bed in the hospital instead of keeping her in the emergency room]; we’ll transfuse her as much as we can, and we’ll just wait till the fetus dies.”
Because, you see, God wouldn’t keep that fetal heartbeat going if he didn’t want that pregnant woman to suffer. And this woman wasn’t lucky enough to have a doctor who’d say, “Fuck Catholic doctrine” and take drastic action to fix the situation. How drastic? This:
Some doctors have decided to take matters into their own hands. In the following case, the refusal of the hospital ethics committee to approve uterine evacuation not only caused significant harm to the patient but compelled a perinatologist, Dr S, now practicing in a nonsectarian academic medical center, to violate protocol and resign from his position in an urban northeastern Catholic-owned hospital.
I’ll never forget this; it was awful—I had one of my partners accept this patient at 19 weeks. The pregnancy was in the vagina. It was over… . And so he takes this patient and transferred her to [our] tertiary medical center, which I was just livid about, and, you know, “we’re going to save the pregnancy.” So of course, I’m on call when she gets septic, and she’s septic to the point that I’m pushing pressors on labor and delivery trying to keep her blood pressure up, and I have her on a cooling blanket because she’s 106 degrees. And I needed to get everything out. And so I put the ultrasound machine on and there was still a heartbeat, and [the ethics committee] wouldn’t let me because there was still a heartbeat. This woman is dying before our eyes. I went in to examine her, and I was able to find the umbilical cord through the membranes and just snapped the umbilical cord and so that I could put the ultrasound—“Oh look. No heartbeat. Let’s go.” She was so sick she was in the [intensive care unit] for about 10 days and very nearly died… . She was in DIC [disseminated intravascular coagulopathy]… . Her bleeding was so bad that the sclera, the white of her eyes, were red, filled with blood… . And I said, “I just can’t do this. I can’t put myself behind this. This is not worth it to me.” That’s why I left.
Can you imagine having internal bleeding so severe that you’re actually bleeding into your eyes, an infection so fierce it’s raised your temperature perilously close to damaging your brain, and a doomed fetus being cooked in bacteria, and the Catholic assholes still won’t act to save you until a doctor has the presence of mind to pull the plug on that failing fetal heart? Can you imagine having to spend ten days on the verge of death because someone’s religious beliefs wouldn’t let them help you at the beginning of this fiasco? How can anyone believe this is right?
Catholic hospitals aren’t there to help pregnant people. Too many of them won’t help you survive a miscarriage without putting your life at grave risk. They won’t help you avoid future pregnancies that could kill you. In their opinion, God put you on this earth to breed. It’s your only purpose. And that mass of tissue in your abdomen that doesn’t yet and will never have a brain capable of hoping, dreaming, and loving matters more than your life.
You should be concerned. Catholic hospitals serve at least 1 in 6 people in the United States. They control almost half of the largest health care systems. They are sometimes the only option in rural and underserved areas.
No hospital should be placing religion above people’s health and well-being. No doctor should be prevented from providing their patients the best possible care due to religious rules.
No more pregnant people should be allowed to die.