PHOENIX — The Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix stripped a major hospital of its affiliation with the church Tuesday because of a surgery that ended a woman's pregnancy to save her life.
Bishop Thomas Olmsted called the 2009 procedure an abortion and said St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center violated ethical and religious directives of the national Conference of Catholic Bishops.
"In the decision to abort, the equal dignity of mother and her baby were not both upheld," Olmsted said at a news conference announcing the decision. "The mother had a disease that needed to be treated. But instead of treating the disease, St. Joseph's medical staff and ethics committee decided that the healthy, 11-week-old baby should be directly killed."
Linda Hunt, president of St. Joseph's, said doctors performed a necessary procedure on a patient who was getting worse by the minute and was in imminent danger of death.
"If we are presented with a situation in which a pregnancy threatens a woman's life, our first priority is to save both patients. If that is not possible, we will always save the life we can save, and that is what we did in this case," Hunt said. "Morally, ethically and legally, we simply cannot stand by and let someone die whose life we might be able to save."
St. Joseph's doesn't receive direct funding from the church, but in addition to losing its Catholic endorsement, the 697-bed hospital will no longer be able to celebrate Mass and must remove the Blessed Sacrament from its chapel.
Hunt said the hospital will comply with Olmsted's decision but will still operate under Catholic guidelines.
"We will continue in the Catholic heritage through words and deeds," she said. "Priests will see patients."
Olmsted said talks with the hospital eroded his confidence about the commitment of St. Joseph's and its parent company, Catholic Healthcare West, to the church's ethical and religious directives. "They have not addressed in an adequate manner," he said.
The woman who underwent the procedure is in her 20s and had a history of abnormally high blood pressure when she learned of her pregnancy. After she was admitted to the hospital with worsening symptoms, doctors determined that her risk of death was nearly 100 percent.
The hospital's ethics team concluded that the pregnancy could be ended under the church's ethical directives because "the goal was not to end the pregnancy but save the mother's life," the hospital said.
"We acted appropriately," said Dr. Charles Alfano, chief medical officer at the hospital and an obstetrician there.
A follow-up to this post. They already excommunicated the nun who was involved. (thanks judith_s for that link in her post from the other day.)