Senate passes bill to require disclosure of services not provided by religious hospitals

A bill passed the Colorado Senate Friday that would require hospitals to notify patients at admission if the hospital’s services are limited to those that conform to the hospital’s religious views.

The Colorado Independent reported two years ago that the consolidation of Denver hospitals under the auspices of the Sisters of Charity could make it hard for people to find abortions or receive their chosen end of life services in local hospitals.

From that story:

In the next few months, as the Kansas-based Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth Health System assumes control of two hospitals in the metro area formerly run by Exempla Healthcare, nearly 40 percent of hospital beds here will be run under directives approved by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. Abortions will be limited to cases where the mother is at risk of death. Reproductive services will also likely be severely curtailed, as will end-of-life care, regardless of legal advance directives authored by patients.

Also in that story, Ed Kahn, from the Colorado Center on Law and Policy blasted the decision by Catholic hospitals to put their religious views ahead of public health.

Ed Kahn, special counsel to the Colorado Center on Law and Policy, told the Colorado Independent that the ERD (the Ethical and Religious Directives followed by the hospitals) represents an “outrageous abuse of power.”

“Medical decisions need to be made for medical reasons, based on the best current practices, not on religious or philosophical grounds,” he said.

He said the ERD forbids hospital staff from discussing contraception or abortion with patients, even in the case of rape victims, and notes that Exempla’s Lutheran Medical Center is the only hospital in Jefferson County.

“What if you are unconscious when you are taken to the hospital, or simply don’t know one hospital from another?” he asked.

“The ERD is a great infringement on the civil liberties of patients and their families. Hospitals, no matter who owns them, operate in the public interest and are supposed to serve the public health. If we allow this, what would stop another hospital from determining that all male babies should be circumcised? We would never stand for that,” Kahn said.

Spokespeople for the hospitals vigorously defended their right to not provide services that violate their religious beliefs. While this bill seems unlikely to pass the Republican controlled House, it would seem to offer a compromise position between forcing hospitals to provide services and putting patients in the position of being admitted to a hospital that might not provide a service they need or want.

Senator Linda Newell told The Colorado Independent two years ago that she didn’t expect legislation in 2010, but that she thought some sort of fix was needed.

“You have to respect that this is their hospital, and that they have certain rights on how to run the hospital. On the other hand, you could have a patient not knowing they are going to a hospital that won’t honor their advance directive, and that isn’t right. You could have a rape victim taken to the hospital who won’t be advised of the choices that should be available to her, and that is very scary.”

Newell, (then) vice-chair of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, also noted that some insurance plans limit people’s choice of hospitals and that in some cases people simply need to get to the closest hospital.

“It’s possible someone could die while trying to find another hospital,” she said.

Neither Newell nor the bill’s 2012 sponsor, Sen. Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, could not be reached for comment. Senate Bill 12-903 will now go to the House.

Here is the Colorado Pols story on the bill, which includes audio of the debate. The audio is worth a listen, as the bill was compared to Naziism and other bad things by some of the Republican speakers.

Scot Kersgaard has been managing editor of a political newspaper, editor and co-owner of a ski town newspaper, executive editor of eight high-tech magazines (where he worked with current Apple CEO Tim Cook), deputy press secretary to a U.S. Senator, and an outdoors columnist at the Rocky Mountain News. He has an English degree from the University of Washington. He was awarded a fellowship to study internet journalism at the University of Maryland's Knight Center for Specialized Journalism. He was student body president in college. He spends his free time hiking and skiing.

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