Sterilizing Catholic Hospitals

by Ryan Fitzgerald  •  •  August 25, 2015   

Mercy Medical Center in northern California has agreed to sterilize one of its patients

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REDDING, Calif., August 25, 2015 ( - A Catholic hospital in northern California has folded to pressure and decided to allow a gravely immoral sterilization procedure on its grounds.

The hospital, Mercy Medical Center in Redding, was asked to perform a tubal ligation — a form of sterilization — on patient Rachel Miller. Miller, a California lawyer, is currently pregnant and wants no more children after she gives birth.

Catholic moral teaching prohibits direct sterilizations as inherently evil, meaning no circumstances can justify them. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic hospitals agrees, stating:

Direct sterilization of either men or women, whether permanent or temporary, is not permitted in a Catholic health care institution. Procedures that induce sterility are permitted when their direct effect is the cure or alleviation of a present and serious pathology and a simpler treatment is not available.

No evidence has yet emerged suggesting that the sterilization will be indirect and thus permissible. The initial rejection of the procedure suggests otherwise.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) soon became involved in the situation, however, threatening legal action based on a California law against sex discrimination.

"Hospitals that are open to the general public and that receive state money shouldn't be able to use religion to discriminate or to deny important health care," said Elizabeth Gill, senior attorney at the ACLU of Northern California, who's representing Miller.

Yesterday, the ACLU reported that the hospital caved and agreed to the operation after further consultation with Miller's physician.

Miller's attorney says she's happy the hospital will comply — this time. She still warns of legal action in the future if the hospital doesn't change its general policy.

"While we're grateful Mercy Medical has agreed to provide medical care in this instance for Ms. Miller," Gill states, "the reality remains that there is a clear conflict between the best interests of patients and the directives of the Catholic hospital system."

"Religious institutions that provide services to the general public should not be allowed to hold religion as an excuse to discriminate or deny important health care," she says. "With Catholic hospitals increasingly prevalent, including as the only option for some women, Rachel is just one of many women who risk being denied care, because Catholic bishops are telling medical professionals how to operate."

Miller has similar thoughts on the matter.

"This is a decision that I made with my family and my doctor and no one else should be involved in that process," she insists, before hinting at her hope for future policy changes at the hospital. "I hope my case will shine a light on this issue so that others aren't turned away. No one should be denied medical care their doctor recommends."

Mercy Medical Center of Redding is owned by Dignity Health, a not-for-profit public benefit corporation that was founded as a Catholic hospital system. When it changed leadership in 2012, it gave up its Catholic identity. Dignity Health owns St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix, which Bp. Thomas Olmsted had to strip of its Catholic status in 2010 after it murdered a preborn child in a direct abortion. The woman behind the decision, Sr. Margaret McBride, was excommunicated for the act. reached out for statements from Mercy Medical Center as well as the archdiocese of Sacramento, where the hospital is located, but as of press time we've received no response.


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