Medical Malpractice

Catholic hospitals have been criticized for failing to provide necessary medical care, particularly to women, because it would go against their religious directives. That includes termination of a pregnancy, regardless of the circumstances. Since approximately one out of every six women is treated at a Catholic hospital, it's essential to know what these facilities will and won't do.

Woman Went to Hospital 3 Times During Miscarriage

One Michigan woman sued a Muskegon hospital for refusing to assist as she was suffering a miscarriage. On Sept. 8, an appeals court in that state rejected the woman's malpractice case, upholding the Catholic directives that the hospital said it was following.

The plaintiff said that she went to a facility operated by a network of Catholic hospitals called Trinity Health in 2010 because her water broke at just 18 weeks into her pregnancy. This was the only hospital in the county where the woman lived.

The staff at the hospital reportedly said that they couldn't help her. She went home, but returned the following day, bleeding and in pain. The physicians at the facility reportedly said that "the only thing they could do was to wait and see how the miscarriage progressed."

She returned to the hospital yet again, this time with a serious infection. The staff was in the process of sending her home again, after giving her aspirin, when she began to deliver her baby.

Court Relied on "Ecclesiastical Abstention" Doctrine

In the malpractice case brought by the woman, the hospital and its attorneys relied on a legal doctrine known as "ecclesiastical abstention." Medical malpractice cases arising from religious directives are outside the jurisdiction of the court.

In its decision, the judges said that the court "would not attempt to interpret the Directives" and determined that a miscarriage wasn't a significant enough event to claim negligence by a hospital or medical staff.

As Catholic hospitals become an ever-increasing part of the U.S. health care system, it's important to know how their faith-based directives impact their treatment. Not everyone has the option to choose a hospital that isn't affiliated with the Catholic Church. Further, in an emergency, patients may have no control over the hospital to which they're transported. If you believe that you or a loved one has been the victim of medical malpractice due to the religious directives followed by a hospital, you can and should determine what your legal options are.