Just as I was thinking of donating a chunk of money to the Virginia Mason Foundation, VMMC announced their intention to do some sort of deal with CHI Franciscan and its parent CommonSpirit. I will not be donating any money to any Catholic organization ever, so I put my donation on hold. VM is not calling this deal a merger because the details have yet to be worked out, but “merger” would probably be generous given the size of CommonSpirit. Takeover is more like it.
I’ve been through this scenario before, when I lived in Skagit County. Skagit County was served by three public hospital districts. I lived in the smallest district (by population), and our puny little hospital was struggling to keep its doors open. Then it announced a merger with PeaceHealth in Bellingham. We didn’t learn of this until it was really too late to do anything about it, but we did raise enough ruckus that PeaceHealth had to send a variety of peacekeepers to try to calm us down.
My concerns then were the same as my concerns now: the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, a product of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. I’m not even religious, much less Catholic, so the thought that my doctors will be restricted in any way by the Bishops upsets me. If you are not upset by this thought, I encourage you to click the link and read the Directives.
One thing you’ll find is an obsession with sex and marriage. You knew this, but it’s one thing to “know” this, and another thing to read page after page of men obsessing over the importance of linking sex to procreation. No pleasure in these pages. It’s kind of funny to read all this, knowing that as many Catholic women as non-Catholic women use birth control. Yet, the Bishops continue to kid themselves that sex is all about babies.
Of course, the Bishops emphasize the sanctity of life, and especially “innocent” life, i.e. fertilized eggs, embryos, fetuses, and eventually, ready- to-be-born babies. How the miracle of birth transforms innocent life into a sinful human is not clarified, but the Bishops’ stance on life shifts at birth. Since pregnant women are sinful, regardless of their marital status, their lives cannot matter as much as that of their unborn babies. I have to say, I just don’t get this, but then, one of the reasons I’m no longer religious is this concept of original sin. In any event, the Bishops are fixated on this and it shapes their attitudes toward every aspect of reproductive health care. It’s actually creepy to read it, and I hope you read it for yourself.
Between the beginning of life and the end of life, the Directives offer compassion, but once the end of life approaches, compassion is contingent. Specifically, Directive #59 says: “The free and informed judgment made by a competent adult patient concerning the use or withdrawal of life-sustaining procedures should always be respected and normally complied with, unless it is contrary to Catholic moral teaching.” Of course, Washington’s Death with Dignity law falls outside Catholic moral teaching.
If you are not a woman of reproductive age or a person nearing death, you will likely not suffer at the hands of the Bishops. Unless, that is, you find yourself at the recently acquired Harrison Hospital in Bremerton, renamed, St. Michael Medical Center. In this case, you will learn that by fixating on sex and marriage, the Bishops neglected to pay attention to how to protect patients and staff from Covid-19. Harrison/St. Michael has a raging outbreak of Covid. Why Virginia Mason, which has a stellar reputation for patient safety would want anything to do with CHI-Franciscan given their sloppy safety record, I don’t know.
Well, I do know. Money. CommonSpirit is rolling in dough. VMMC is not. Why are Catholic Hospitals rolling in dough and independents are not? I’ve been told that VM had the option of going Catholic or giving themselves up to a for-profit entity, and they had more aversion to for-profit than Catholic. My personal conspiracy theory is that the Catholic church moved money into its hospital systems to bleed parishes dry so they wouldn’t have to make payouts to victims of sex abuse. Of course, it could be that the Vatican Bank just wanted to launder money, and the hospital systems offered a way to do that. I don’t know. But why do the Catholics has so damn much money? And why can’t they just leave women and dying people alone?
Before I conclude, I want to circle around to the willingness of women to ignore the Bishops’ guidance about birth control, and doctors’ willingness to skirt the rules as well. With this obvious evidence of lax enforcement, perhaps we should really not worry so much about the Directives. But no. I still worry, perhaps because of discussions I, and other Skagitonians, had with administrators and ethicists of Peace Health.
Virginia Mason’s CEO, Dr. Gary Kaplan, has tried to reassure patients that the confidentiality of the patient/provider relationship will continue after the deal/merger with CommonSpirit. The implication is that physicians, who might not be able to provide abortions or participate in death with dignity arrangements will be free to discuss these options with patients and guide them to local providers who can offer these services. The reality is something else. We learned during the PeaceHealth takeover that, under the Bishops’ Directives, doctors are not allowed to discuss the complete range of reproductive healthcare options with patients, or end of life options. Even discussing these options is considered unethical. If doctors are found to be violating the Directives they will be terminated.
It is so ironic that Virginia Mason has just opened a childbirth center at its main facility in Seattle. How sad that this facility, which offers a range of birthing options and a lovely new setting, should open now, just as doctors prepare to face the censorship of the Bishops. It’s hard to believe that anyone at VM believes in such a ridiculous distinction between innocent life and lives marked by sin at the moment of birth. Are they really so desperate that they have no choice but to do this deal? I just hope VM takes the blinders off about the restrictions their physicians will face once they concede their right to think for themselves.