Thursday, January 10, 2008

Consider The Implications

It is situations like this that make me a fervent believer in keeping religion and state separated ... quite firmly.

Superficially, one may well look at things and say "so what?" - after all, a Catholic Hospital (and therefore a religious institution) refused to facilitate treatment for someone they would consider "immoral". After all, isn't it really just a matter of freedom of religion, right?

Well, not so much when we tread into the land of medical services, or for that matter government. The situation itself represents a slice of a much larger problem that affects minority populations. (* Yes, I realize that in the United States that medical services are not a government function *)

Consider, for a moment, the standard that the hospital is applying here. On one hand, the hospital provides supporting facilities for breast augmentation surgery - a procedure that one could argue plays to the "sin" of vanity in many situations. But, apparently, as long they don't know that the patient is a transsexual, that's okay.

On the other hand, if the patient is a transsexual, suddenly a second standard is brought out and used:

"God made you a man."

That's what Charlene Hastings said she was told when she called to inquire about breast enlargement surgery at Seton Medical Center, a Catholic hospital in Daly City.


So, suddenly, someone's access to services is now dependent upon the criteria that some arbitrary party (the hospital) approving of the prospective patient's past and present moral status.

The implications here are enormous. A huge percentage of surgeries in North America are classified as "elective" (which, contrary to common misconception does not mean "optional", but merely means that the patient will not die immediately without the surgery).

While I do not have a huge amount of difficulty with the concept that a hospital may well not offer services on a variety of ethical or moral grounds, I take considerable exception to offering treatment to one population and denying it to another on moral grounds.

The message is clear to transsexuals - don't come to a "Catholic Hospital" if you need treatment for something, because your past will be held against you in the decisions made about your treatment. (and it's not like it isn't hard enough for transsexuals to access treatment to begin with)

Does this mean that someone who is excommunicate from the Catholic Church is suddenly going to find themselves refused access because of that status? Or is the level of service that a patient can expect suddenly proportional to whether the local bishop decides their "status" within the church?

Churches running hospitals is a fine and noble tradition in the spirit of charity. However, there are a myriad of places where medicine can and does run afoul of church doctrine. (One might, for example, consider what could happen if certain aspects of Jehovah's Witnesses' doctrine were to be enforced by a hospital's administration) At some level a hospital that provides services to the general public (and last I checked, there's no requirement at the Seton hospital that patients must be practicing Catholics) is providing a public service that is well outside religious dogma.

It's one thing to say "we don't provide this service because we object to it" (e.g. Abortion) and simply not provide the services at all, it is quite a different thing to say "We provide this service unless you are ...".

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