Bioethics Blogs

Elective or life-saving? Catholic hospitals and the ban on tubal ligation

Tags: Doctor-Patient Relationships, Ethics and Morality, Health Care Policy, Patient Care, Religion, Reproductive Medicine, Women’s Reproductive Rights

A Catholic hospital came under fire recently for stating that it would not permit doctors to perform a tubal ligation during a c-section scheduled for October.  According to news reports (including an article written by the patient herself), the pregnant patient has a brain tumor, and her doctor have advised her that another pregnancy could be life-threatening.  Her doctor has recommended that she have a tubal ligation at the time of her c-section.  While my knowledge about this hospital, this case, and the participants is limited to what has been reported in the media, it raises an interesting question: in our pluralistic society, where conscientious objection is respected while maintaining a patient’s right to a certain standard of care, is it ethical to allow a religiously-affiliated health care institution to refuse to provide certain treatments it finds morally objectionable?

As background, the Catholic Church has historically been outspoken on bioethical issues and has a strong and robust bioethical teaching.  Catholic hospitals are governed by the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services (ERDs), a document promulgated by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) that clearly articulates the bioethical policies that must be followed in a health care institution based on the Church’s moral teachings.  It explains the Church’s teaching against direct sterilization as a method of birth control based on the principle of double effect.  “Direct sterilization of either men or women, whether permanent or temporary, is not permitted in a Catholic health care institution.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.