The ACLU has filed a lawsuit against Catholic bishops regarding the care (or lack of care) that women receive at Catholic hospitals. The Michigan lawsuit alleges that a pregnant woman who miscarried at 18 weeks was denied appropriate medical treatment by the only hospital in her county because the hospital was required to abide by religious directives from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops that prohibited the hospital from complying with the applicable medical standard of care.
The Underlying Factual Allegations
The woman arrived at the Catholic hospital in Muskegon, Michigan after her water broke and she was in extreme pain. Her condition was such that her pregnancy was no longer viable and the failure to treat her condition would pose significant risks to her own health. Nonetheless, the hospital sent the woman home on two separate occasions without advising her about her medical condition or about medical treatment alternatives because of the religious directives that the Catholic hospital was required to follow.
The hospital failed to advise the woman that her pregnancy was nonviable or that her safest medical option was inducing labor and terminating the pregnancy (an abortion). When the woman returned to the hospital on a third occasion, this time with an infection, the hospital prepared to send her home once again. However, before she left the hospital, she began delivering the fetus, at which time the hospital finally started to provide her medical care for her miscarriage. The baby died two and a half hours after the woman experienced a very painful breech birth.
The Lawsuit’s Allegations
The religious directives, known as the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, prohibit a pre-viability pregnancy termination even if the health or life of a pregnant woman is at risk and even if there is little or no chance that the fetus will survive. The directives further prevent direct medical providers from informing patients regarding alternatives available to them that are inconsistent with the religious directives. As a result, the lawsuit alleges, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is responsible for unnecessary harms suffered by the plaintiff and similarly situated pregnant women treated at Catholic hospitals (the hospital where the plaintiff was treated was not named as a defendant in the lawsuit).
Because the medical standard of care requires that patients be provided with appropriate and timely information regarding their medical condition, that available treatment options be explained and offered, and that patients have the right to make their own informed decisions regarding their medical care, the religious directives that the health care providers at Catholic hospitals are required to follow may be in conflict with the requirements of the medical standard of care, which may lead to breaches in the standard of care (often referred to as medical malpractice) that harm uninformed patients.
The Fifth Edition of the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, Directive 45, states: “Abortion (that is, the directly intended termination of pregnancy before viability or the directly intended destruction of a viable fetus) is never permitted. Every procedure whose sole immediate effect is the termination of pregnancy before viability is an abortion, which, in its moral context, includes the interval between conception and implantation of the embryo. Catholic health care institutions are not to provide abortion services, even based upon the principle of material cooperation. In this context, Catholic health care institutions need to be concerned about the danger of scandal in any association with abortion providers.”
The plaintiff’s lawsuit alleges that the standard of medical care required the hospital to:
a. inform Plaintiff about her treatment options prior to discharge on December 1 and December 2, 2010, including termination of her pregnancy;
b. inform Plaintiff about the health risks associated with continuing her pregnancy after her water broke;
c. inform Plaintiff that even if she continued her pregnancy despite the associated health risks, there was virtually no chance that the fetus she was carrying would survive; and
d. provide appropriate medical care to Plaintiff.
As a result of the hospital’s failure to conform to the standard of medical care, the plaintiff alleges that she:
a. Was forced to endure severe pain;
b. Suffered a great deal of mental pain and anguish and was extremely upset, and will continue to suffer from the emotional injuries sustained for an undetermined length of time;
c. Was forced to undergo a riskier and more painful breech delivery;
d. Suffered shock and emotional trauma associated with making funeral arrangements for her dead child;
e. Has been required to endure many other discomforts and pain associated with the foregoing.
The Complaint filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan Southern Division can be viewed by clicking here.
If you have been injured as a result of medical malpractice in Michigan or by medical care provided (or not provided) by a religious medical facility, you should promptly contact a local Michigan medical malpractice attorney or a medical malpractice attorney in your U.S. state who may investigate your malpractice claim for you and represent you in a medical malpractice case, if appropriate.
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