One in six hospital patients in the United States is now treated in a Catholic facility, according to the Catholic Health Association, a membership organization that includes 90 percent of the Catholic hospitals in the United States. In a 2016 report, MergerWatch, a nonprofit group in New York that tracks hospital consolidation, found that in 10 states, 30 percent or more of the acute-care hospital beds were under Catholic ownership, or in a hospital affiliated with a Catholic health care system. In a growing number of rural areas, a Catholic hospital is the sole provider of acute care.
Most facilities provide little or no information up front about procedures they won’t perform. The New York Times analyzed 652 websites of Catholic hospitals in the United States, using a list maintained by the Catholic Health Association. On nearly two-thirds of them, it took more than three clicks from the home page to determine that the hospital was Catholic.
Only 17 individual Catholic hospital websites, fewer than 3 percent, contained an easily found list of services not offered for religious reasons, and all of them were in Washington State, which requires that such information be published on a hospital’s site. In the rest of the country, such lists, if available, were posted only on the corporate parent’s site, and they were often difficult to find.
“I think that any business is not going to lead off with what they don’t do,” Charles Bouchard, senior director of theology and ethics at The Catholic Health Association, said in response to the Times analysis. “They are always going to talk about what they do do. And that goes for contractors and car salesmen. They are not going to start off by saying, ‘We don’t sell this model,’ or ‘We don’t do this kind of work.’”
Responding to a growing number of mergers and affiliations with secular institutions, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops updated its instructions to Catholic hospitals in June, ordering them to continue to provide care consistent with church teaching when entering into such business arrangements, including prohibiting procedures that are “intrinsically immoral, such as abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, and direct sterilization.”