religious hospitals

A Hospital's Religious Affiliation Affects Patient Care

If your doctor's treatment plan conflicts with the hospital's religious policies, who gets the last word?

A Hospital's Religious Affiliation Affects Patient Care

At some hospitals, doctors may feel pressured to adust their care along religious lines.

RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—This week president Barack Obama issued a memorandum requiring hospitals that receive Medicare or Medicaid funding to permit visits by partners in same-sex couples. But hospital policies can have a more subtle effect on the experience of the patients who stay there, according to new research in the latest Journal of General Internal Medicine. Turns out, the policies of religiously affiliated hospitals can be at odds with your doctor's opinion, meaning you may have to look elsewhere for a procedure your doctor thinks you need.

THE DETAILS: The study researchers mailed surveys to 446 internists, family doctors, and general practice physicians across the country. Forty percent said they had worked at a religiously affiliated hospital, the most common being Roman Catholic, followed by other Christian denominations then Jewish-affiliated hospitals. In response to the question, "Have you ever had a conflict with that hospital regarding its religiously based policies for patient care?", one in five doctors answered yes. When asked, "What should a physician do if he/she believes that a patient needs a medical intervention, and the hospital where the physician works prohibits that intervention because of religious affiliation?", 86 percent said doctors should encourage the patient to seek treatment at another hospital, while 10 percent said doctors should recommend an alternative treatment acceptable to the hospital. Just 4 percent said they would provide the prohibited treatment in violation of hospital policy, which would risk their job and hospital privileges.

WHAT IT MEANS: Your doctor may not always agree with a hospital's religious policies, but those policies can still affect your care, says lead study author Debra Stulberg, MD, instructor in the department of family medicine at the University of Chicago. "This is not a very well understood problem," she notes. "We're just beginning to get a sense of what physicians are experiencing."

The study didn't look at which policies caused the most conflict, but Dr. Stulberg says that from personal and anecdotal experience, reproductive health and end-of-life issues are the most contentious. For instance, she says, if a rape victim visits an emergency room, standard hospital procedure calls for providing the victim with emergency contraception. However, "according to some Catholic hospitals, that treatment is considered abortion and is not allowed," say Dr. Stulberg. In such time-sensitive situations, she adds, sending that patient to another hospital would delay care and reduce the effectiveness of treatment. It's these emergency situations that tend to be the most problematic. "Sometimes a situation arises that a doctor doesn’t expect, and the doctor discovers only at that moment that the hospital doesn’t allow the treatment."


Published on: April 15, 2010

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I have premenstrual dysphoric

I have premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), and the only thing that has ever worked to treat it is hormone pills to prevent me from having a menstrual cycle at all. But ever since ALL the hospitals in my area have been absorbed by a Catholic hospital, I have not been able to see a doctor about the condition, much less get a prescription for the hormone pills. I'm not even sexually active, but the docs just tell me that they aren't going to 'give me a prescription so I can go around being immoral.' Apparently, wanting not to have violent mood swings every month is immoral now... I'm supposed to deal with my health issue by having lots of babies - THAT will get rid of the PMDD, I've been told.

Somehow, I cannot help but think that if the hospitals weren't controled by the beliefs of the Catholic Church, I would be able to get treatment instead of sermons.

So let me see if I understand

So let me see if I understand what you talk about here: if I'm in need for eating disorder treatments, one hospital will treat me one way and another hospital in a different way... Isn't medicine the same? Last time I checked religion doesn't have to do anything with treating people but taking care the soul will be saved... So how come religion affects the type of care you get? It seems like discrimination to me and that is not allowed by the Constitution last time I checked...

Myth or reality ?

I think the real problem is related to the latest books which pretends that Jesus was not real or different hypothesis without real support. In this way the trust in divinity will be lower.Best regards, implant dentar And another thing. I believe the real trust will not disappear.


The only "myth" here is the "myth" that the Freedom of Religion clause guarantees us a Freedom FROM Religion. The only ones who will suffer here will be the patients at these hospitals and the doctors who practice there and want to abide by their personal beliefs.

Oh, and...

A.A. you comment regarding the supposed "dumbness" of those "not wasting ER resources is both despicable and reprehensible.

You're a CRETIN and an IDIOT.

Really, C. Roberts? Seriously?

I understand that there's a certain amount of paranoia that comes with being a person of faith as well as certain amount of defensiveness, but your comment takes the prize!

First of all, your argument, or lack thereof, is not only dangerous but completely idiotic and knee-jerk to the point of say the least. You call this a ploy (as in a plot or a scheme or tactic) employed by those who wish to "interfere with freedom of religion," yet you have no idea as to the specific religious affiliations of the doctors who were polled for this rather unscientific study.

What if those who responsded were all Christians? And what if they had no reason to lie (given that they are anonymous) and were just speaking the truth of their own experiences? You have no evidence as to whether or not this is some sort half-baked scheme to interfere with anything. Not only are you paranoid, but I would also ask you to question your own religious credentials (if such a thing actually existed) by thinking about what Jesus or Muhammed or Moses (etc and so on, whatever/whomever it is that you chose to follow) might do in the same situation. Acording to folklore, these were greatly compassionate individuals who (again, according to the mythology) would NEVER put their religious views or politics ahead of saving the life of another human being. And that's the whole point. Jesus saved many of whom he deemed to be morally reprehensible, but did that stop HIM from saving them? Did Jesus turn a blind eye away and say, "I can't cure you because we don't have the same belief?" Um, NO.

How typically hysterical and hypocritical and ridiculous of you to put your "faith" over that of a person who might be suffering simply because you believe (IE DISTORT) the tenents of your religion? Shame on you for politicizing this. Really. SHAME ON YOU.

The Hippocratic Oath is the foundation of any physicians ethical/moral obligation to their patients, NOT their religious beliefs. A doctor is a doctor FIRST. Period.

Here's an example...

If a woman is dying due to complications from a pregnancy and the only way for her to survive is to have the pregnancy terminated, do you think that a doctor should have a right to deny a LIFE-SAVING procedure based on their religious convictions? Obviously, YOU believe that. And that's not only sad, but it is WHOLLY un-Christlike.

Freedom of religion is also freedom FROM religion. And religion has NO PLACE in any operating room.

Furthermore, have you considered the, um, EPIC IRONY in ANY hospital having ANY religious affliation?

If God intends for the sick to be sick and the nearly dead to die, then why does anyone of any religious affiliation seek to prevent what is, apparently, God's will, from happening?

What's the first line of the hippocratic oath, C. Roberts (and there's a reason it's the FIRST one)? Let me tell you, IT'S FIRST DO NO HARM.

If a doctor refuses to treat a patient for any reason related to their religious beliefs thereby putting the health or LIFE of that of a patient at risk, they should have their license to practice medicine permanently revoked.

And your weak-kneed analogy regarding the military and conscientious objector status doesn't hold ANY water. It'a straw man argument and you damn well know it.

Military personnel are trained to KILL. Doctors are trained to heal. It's apples and oranges, sweetie.

Put that in a piece of palm, then roll it it up and smoke it, you hypocrite.

Rape IS an emergency

AA, the person "dumb enough to seek the morning after pill at a Catholic hospital" and "waste ER resources" is explicitly described in the article as a rape victim. That SHOULD explain to you why such a person would not "just go see their doctor and get a prescription to fill at any pharmacy", but I suspect, given the disrespectful and demeaning tone of your post, that it will not.

Religious hospitals and doctors

Yea for c. roberts. You said it right

Limited access

Some small communities ONLY have a religiously based (mostly Catholic) hospital so women in particular in those communities have seriously compromised health care. When I was a kid, if a woman was giving birth in a Catholic hospital and there were complications, the baby's life came before hers and families were left motherless. In a small community, this could happen easily. It's not about freedom of religion, it's about freedom FROM religion!

Just another ploy to interfere with freedom of religion

This so called "study" is just another ploy to do away with the "Freedom of Conscience" clause for doctors. Why is it we're always hearing about "separation of church and state" until the government wants to interfere with the free exercise of religion as GUARANTEED by our Constitution?

Doctors and religion-affiliated hospitals should no more be expected to do procedures that conflict with their beliefs, than a soldier who is a "conscientious objector" should be expected to take up arms and kill other human beings in the name of "defense" or "duty." Using the case of rape as a reason for an "emergency" procedure is just ludicrous. Let's be honest here, these days a woman can pretty much get an abortion whenever she so chooses, so waiting a day or so to find a medical facility that doesn't have religious objections to it, is not going to cause any life-threatening issues (except for the baby, unfortunately).

Part of being a citizen of a FREE country like ours is being RESPONSIBLE. It is our obligation to be informed about the religious beliefs of the doctors and hospitals we choose. If their beliefs present a potential conflict with the health care we may need at some point, then we need to find a better match. Yes, it may be inconvenient, but sometimes freedom comes with a price.

Not one fits all!

My husband and I are Muslims and my husband is doing his residency at a Catholic hospital and his boss is Jewish. Since my husband works there, we always go to the hospital for any of our medical needs including dental. I have never had any issue with my medical needs being decided according to the religious policies of the hospital. When I lived in Miami, I went to a Jewish hospital and had a Jewish doctor. He even performed my live saving surgery on a Saturday even though I told him to wait until Sunday so he could respect his beliefs regarding the Sabbath. Again, religion did not play a part even though he was devout and the hospital's policies were according to Jewish laws.
I don't think this claim fits all. In fact, I seem to have an easier time with a Catholic or Jewish affliated hospital regarding my medical care than one that does not have any religious affilation. All are willing to respect my beliefs regarding my medical care and make sure I have rights to medicine without pork by products, my gallbladder that was removed was buried within 24 hours, etc. I prefer a religious affiliated hospital even though there are no Muslim affliated hospitals here.

Thsi so-called concern is overblown

My reproductive endocrinologist scheduled me for a D&C at a Roman Catholic hospital. they only made me take a pregnancy test before the procedure, to make sure i wasn't unknowingly pregnant (I wish - had I been I wouldn't have to see an infertility doctor). The hospital knew I was going to have IVF (also against the Catholic teachings) and wished me luck and a baby. Prior to my D&C they had me sign a medical directive setting forth my wishes on ventilation and feeding which they would follow.

Religious hospitals have their place. And, perhaps anyone dumb enough to seek the morning after pill at a Catholic hospital (why in the world would they not just go see their doctor and get a prescription to fill at any pharmacy and not waste ER resources is beyond me), is probably too dumb on all counts to be a mother anyway.

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