Attack on conscience

Nothing in American Catholic history stands more brilliantly as an example of witness to Christ than the generous and compassionate care provided to millions by Catholic hospitals across the country.

From the time long ago that Daughters of Charity opened the first Catholic hospital in New Orleans, Catholic health care has brightened the lives of untold millions.

Frankly, the network of Catholic hospitals is going down due to many reasons. However, many Catholic health care services still exist, and thousands of physicians and health care providers serve people everywhere in the country.

Not long ago, a dispute about ethics arose in Phoenix between the local bishop and an official of the local Catholic hospital. The bishop acted as he had to act, and this should have been the end of it.

However, now it seems as if efforts will be made to deprive Catholic health care facilities of certain considerations given to all nonprofit activities. Among these will be exemption from paying taxes. Possibly, another quite disturbing aspect will be to force health care providers, doctors and others to involve themselves in procedures that they in their consciences believe are immoral.

It actually is nothing new. Frustrated by the fact that Catholic hospitals will not provide abortions or other immoral medical procedures on their premises, others have made similar demands from time to time in the past.

Arguing whether or not Americans have a legal right to an abortion is not the final point here. The final point is that these institutions and health care professionals believe that abortion and certain other procedures are immoral.

These providers do not leave their personal rights as American citizens behind them when they begin to practice medicine. Under our constitution — and under our system of government — they have the absolute right to form their own opinions, based on values that they find convincing, and they have the right to behave on the basis of what they believe, and finally no government can force them to do otherwise.

It always astounds me that the abortion lobby rests its case on the “right to choose,” but when it comes to health care providers and procedures that these providers find offensive, somehow the provider’s “right to choose” means nothing.

Exemption from taxes is not to help providers make money. It is to enable them to use more money to help people.

This is the philosophical response to these demands that health care professionals act contrary to their own consciences in these instances.

There is the pragmatic consideration as well. Catholic health care facilities and professionals provide care in many more medical situations than pregnancy or reproduction. If pressed, as so many administrators of these Catholic institutions have said, if an attempt is made legally to force them to provide procedures that they consider immoral, then quite simply they will close their doors.

Who then would suffer? The Catholic Church or its hierarchy? Not at all. Hundreds of thousands who have heart attacks, or broken limbs, or diabetes, or cancer, or emphysema, or whatever ailment afflicts them, would lose. The loss to the quality, and breadth, of health care would be vast.

If these outrageous, completely un-American demands endure, and if Catholic hospitals then have to go, the abortion lobby will add a new kind of victim to its list, people needing care.

With any hope, wiser minds will prevail. Personally, I think that they will. In any case, it is time to look at this situation and to think.

Msgr. Owen F. Campion is OSV’s associate publisher.