Bishop admits Catholic hospital sterilisations

03 Dec 2008

By The Record

Abortions may also have been performed according to statistics; hospital officials misled Texas bishop over practices.           

Out of bounds: Trinity Mother Frances Health System, which operates Mother Frances Hospital in Tyler, Texas, is one of the health systems that was named in the whistle-blower report that didcovered ethical lapses at Texas Catholic hospitals. Photo: CNS/Catholic East Texas


By Chaz Muth

WASHINGTON (CNS) – The bishop of Tyler, Texas, in the US has concluded that Catholic hospitals in his diocese have violated ethical directives by performing sterilisations.
“As a bishop, I am deeply saddened and upset by this news,” said Bishop Alvaro Corrada, in a November 21 statement published in the Catholic East Texas, newspaper of the Diocese of Tyler.
“As bishop of the Diocese of Tyler, I have to admit my failure to provide adequate oversight of the Catholic hospitals as regards their protection of the sacred dignity of each human person.”
Bishop Corrada’s statement follows an investigation by his diocese after a national newspaper reported claims last July that thousands of sterilisations, and possibly some abortions, took place in 23 Texas Catholic hospitals from 2000 to 2003.
Initially, officials from Trinity Mother Frances Hospital in Tyler and Christus St Michael’s Health System in Texarkana told the diocese they were in compliance with the US Catholic Church’s “Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Services,” he said in the statement.
“Sadly, subsequent investigation reveals that there had been a serious misinterpretation of the ERDs and that in fact many direct sterilisations had been done and continued to be done at the time of the article,” Bishop Corrada said.
“In response to their own investigation of the matter, Christus St Michael’s in Texarkana has discontinued all tubal ligations. Prior to the release of the report, Trinity Mother Frances had experienced a 50 percent reduction in the number of tubal ligations,” he said.
Last July the US national Catholic newspaper, Our Sunday Visitor, published an investigative story about the report released in June.
The report was made by a group of anonymous whistle-blowers who compiled hospital diagnostic and procedure codes and concluded there had been 9,684 instances of purported unequivocal “sterilization for contraceptive purposes” from 2000 to 2003.
The group, which Our Sunday Visitor said it contacted through an intermediary, also cited data indicating 39 abortions were performed at Catholic hospitals.
Group members noted, however, the data could be subject to interpretation because it could include morally acceptable procedures such as surgery to remove a baby that had died in the mother’s uterus or emergency services for an abortion performed at another location.
Bishop Corrada’s statement did not mention if his investigation found evidence of abortions being performed at the hospitals and telephone messages left with officials at Trinity Mother Frances Hospital and Christus St Michael’s Health System by Catholic News Service on November 26 were not immediately answered.
John Haas, a moral theologian and president of the National Catholic Bioethics Centre in Philadelphia, told Our Sunday Visitor in July that while US bishops are “exercising far more ethical oversight of facilities than they have in the past,” there are widespread misunderstandings about the US bishops’ ethical directives for health care facilities.
Haas said the misunderstanding was not “ill will, but just a shocking lack of understanding of the ethical principles and their application.”
“The Church has approved the ‘Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Services’ as binding upon our Catholic hospitals to ensure the sacred dignity of each patient is protected and defended,” Bishop Corrada said.
“Many causes and complications have resulted in this unacceptable situation,” he said. “I continue to work directly with the Catholic hospitals in the Diocese of Tyler, and with my brother bishops in the state of Texas, to bring an end to immoral procedures and to put in place some method of ongoing accountability and transparency of monitoring both protocols and actual practices.”