Whom Should We Refuse to Treat? Pregnant Rape Victims? Surrogates?
By Lachlan de Crespigny and Julian Savulescu
An emergency centre doctor working in Germany has claimed 2 nearby catholic hospitals refused to accept a rape victim who needed treatment, in case she was pregnant . This was allegedly in line with their ethics committee’s policy to refuse to examine sexual assault victims in an effort to avoid future treatments such as the morning after pill coming into conflict with the hospital’s catholic ethos. The hospitals claim this was a misunderstanding and await an internal inquiry.
The Catholic Church does not support abortion and includes the morning after pill as an abortifacient. It is in violation of Catholic (ethical) standards. The doctor making the claims says that Cologne’s Cardinal Meisner had been consulted.
The Catholic Church insists life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his or her existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person. But in this case, they did not only deny the rape victim access to legal contraceptives, they refused to treat or examine her in any way for any of the resulting injuries of the rape. They did not treat her in her hour of need as a person who deserved the utmost care.
In Australia, a similar case relating to refusal of care for a surrogate mother in a Catholic hospital was reported by the Herald Sun, and shortly afterwards was apparently withdrawn from their website. (The article is quoted here ).
Whatever the details behind these cases, the refusal of Catholic hospitals to offer standard lawful obstetric is harming the interests of many women. In Australia, many abortions are offered in hospitals. A high proportion of obstetric hospitals are run by the Catholic Church. Women who attend these hospitals cannot access abortion (or contraception). This presents a limitation of services in the city which can compromise access for women. But this issue is even worse for rural women who may be denied local services if the only hospital is Catholic. Many Catholic hospitals are totally publicly funded – where it is even more questionable whether restricting lawful services is acceptable.
It is unclear which actions that are contrary to Catholic (ethical) standards can result in a refusal to treat women. The chief executive in the Australian case said the hospital faced no ethical dilemma when treating unmarried mothers despite the teachings of the church on extramarital sex. But what would they say to women who had a previous tubal ligation or abortion? Would they care for a woman who had a fetal reduction in pregnancy, or had conceived with IVF?
Would the catholic hospital refuse to treat a gay person? Like surrogacy they will not ‘reoffend’ in hospital. They will have homosexual sex again, but the woman will probably not have a surrogate pregnancy again.
The Catholic Church continues to care for paedophile priests; surely paedophilia is a greater sin than the compassionate act of delivering a surrogate baby for a friend?
Catholic obstetric hospitals refusing to treat women who have not lived by catholic teachings or who request treatments opposed by the church has the potential to harm many women in society. Troublesome though this is, it is a special concern that it occurs in publicly funded hospitals