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Does the Vatican Have a Say in Your Health Decisions?

As more health facilities merge with Catholic hospitals in response to economic hardship, patients' rights are increasingly restricted by Catholic doctrine.

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Some communities and activists have found “creative solutions" in order to meet the Catholic directives -- such as the hospital-within-a-hospital created in 2001 at Austin’s Brackenridge Hospital when Seton Health System took over management. Despite these creative solutions, mergers still often result in a loss of patients’ access to care.

“Hospital mergers are a microcosm of what is happening at the national level with health care,” says Lois Uttley, director of the MergerWatch Project, an advocacy organization that raises awareness and works to maintain patients’ rights when religiously affiliated hospitals merge with secular ones. According to Uttley, MergerWatch is involved in 11 ongoing mergers around the country.

A seminal report produced by the organization, titled “No Strings Attached: Public Funding of Religiously Sponsored Hospitals in the United States,” states: “While it is permissible to accommodate religious beliefs, government cannot abandon secular goals to give preferential treatment to religion. There is a point at which a policy meant to protect the free exercise of religion can become an impermissible accommodation that favors or 'establishes' religion over secular concerns. The First Amendment, while protecting the free exercise of religion, also has a clause prohibiting government establishment of religion.”

Ann Neumann is currently writing a book about death, grief and travel. She lives in Red Hook, Brooklyn. She authors the blog,

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