The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit on behalf of a young Michigan woman against the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and certain individuals associated with a Catholic hospital in Muskegon, Michigan. The lawsuit seeks damages and a declaration that the USCCB’s Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services violate the duties that doctors and hospitals owe to patients.
A full reading of the allegations shows that the ACLU is trying to blame the USCCB for the emotional and physical toll of a tragic health problem suffered by a young woman approximately 18 weeks into her pregnancy. Her water broke one day, and the lawsuit claims that the Catholic hospital that treated her did not tell her that the child had almost no chance to live after birth, that she could become infected, and that terminating the pregnancy immediately would be the best treatment.
The lawsuit further claims that the USCCB is responsible for two days of pain and emotional distress because its Health Care Directives would not allow for the baby to be killed before he or she died spontaneously.
The plaintiff further alleges that this is a pattern of events that other women have undergone, and she wants a declaration that the relevant portions of the Health Care Directives represent negligence, apparently not only as to her but also as to all such women. The basis of a class action lawsuit is being laid here.
It is important to note that all we know about the plaintiff’s claims at this time is what the ACLU wrote in the opening pleading of the lawsuit, the complaint. We cannot tell which allegations have credible evidence to support them and which do not. What is asserted in the complaint may not necessarily be proved when all the evidence finally comes out at trial.
The young mother, it is alleged, would have terminated the pregnancy if she had been presented with that as an option, avoiding most of the physical and emotional pain that she suffered. The complaint alleges that the USCCB should be held liable for damages because number 27 of its Health Care Directives do not require medical personnel to give advice about immoral procedures and number 45 forbids “the directly intended termination of pregnancy before viability”. (At 18 weeks of pregnancy, it was almost impossible for the baby to have been viable.)
Thus, in essence, the ACLU says that when a woman’s health is at issue, the USCCB’s Health Care Directives require medical staff to commit medical malpractice because the Directives do not allow for the killing of the unborn baby. The ACLU web site proclaims that it “works to extend rights to segments of our population that have traditionally been denied their rights.” Well, it appears not to care when it comes to the unborn. Their rights can be denied with the ACLU’s blessing.
The ACLU is infamous for its advocacy of abortion. In that regard, it is pursuing a faith or philosophy that exalts so-called “reproductive rights” (although reproduction is the last thing that the ACLU really wants) over scientific facts. There is no question that scientifically, the life of a human being begins at conception and stretches in a continuum from then to death. “The development of a human begins with fertilization, a process by which the spermatozoon from the male and the oocyte from the female unite to give rise to a new organism, the zygote.” (T. Sadley, Langman’s Medical Embryology 3, 1995). “The time of fertilization represents the starting point in the life history, or ontogeny, of the individual.” (B. Carlson, Patten’s Foundations of Embryology 3, 1996). To deny the human status of the unborn is to make self-serving philosophical or religious theories about which biological humans actually qualify as “persons” more important than rational science. Its faith should not be imposed on others, especially helpless unborn children.
The Catholic Church’s position on abortion is based on the scientific evidence that a unique human being comes into existence upon conception. Half the time the child is not the same sex as the mother, so it is not just an appendage of her body. Anyone who looks into the development of unborn children readily perceives that there is no such thing as a passive “blob of cells” that suddenly becomes human at birth. In a pregnancy at 18 weeks, we are dealing with a baby with all its organs and other body parts in operation, needing only more time to bring all its systems into readiness for taking nutrition and oxygen from the outside world instead of from its mother.
The ACLU thus ignores the fact that there were two patients involved in the tragic situation of the plaintiff–the mother and the child. And if the child was almost certainly going to die soon after premature birth, by what system of ethics was it therefore all right to kill it ahead of time? The law of the jungle? There is no right to kill another person just because that person is going to die anyway. Yet the ACLU is arguing for just such a right if one follows the ACLU’s pleadings in this case to their logical conclusion.
Many of the other averments of the complaint are subject to reasonable doubt at this stage of the proceedings. Was it reasonably certain when the mother first presented herself at the hospital that the baby would not live long enough to become viable outside the womb? Babies have been saved when born as young as 21 weeks. If the child could be brought along for another three or four weeks, perhaps there was hope for both mother and child–maybe not much in percentage terms, but at least a fighting chance for the youngster. Did the doctors perhaps believe that there was enough remaining amniotic fluid to give hope for that to happen?
Also, what did the hospital actually tell the woman? What is pleaded is what they failed to tell her. To judge the adequacy of the information, we need to know what the hospital personnel actually said. In other words, we need to know the rest of the story.
It is significant that the plaintiff has not sued the hospital, the treating physicians, or any other medical staff, but only the USCCB and three individuals who are alleged to have been responsible for enforcing the USCCB’s Directives at the hospital. If there was inadequate treatment, why were the hospital and treating physician(s) not sued for malpractice? It would seem that any failure to provide to the mother the information required for informed consent about her condition and the possible outcomes of that condition would be the fault of the local medical personnel. The same would apply to or any failure to provide adequate treatment to avert infections.
None of the USCCB Health Care Directives require silence in diagnosis and prognosis, and none prohibit medications to avoid or alleviate infections. Only silence in respect to the possibility of killing the unborn child is required.
The ACLU says that this lawsuit is brought by “one of many patients whose health has been unnecessarily placed at risk” by the USCCB’s Health Care Directives. If the ACLU were actually motivated to end health risks to women caused by official actions, then a far better use of its resources would be to obtain redress for governmental incentives to take medications that increase women’s risk of cancer.
The medications involved will shock most people–they consist of common contraceptives. The World Health Organization has identified them as dangerous carcinogens, classified not just as possible carcinogens (Group 2B), and not just as probable carcinogens (Group 2A), but as carcinogens, period (Group 1).* It would seem that even a small increase in risk among the tens of millions of women who have ingested contraceptives at the Government’s behest will result in hundreds of thousands of unnecessary deaths, each of them involving much more intense and long-lasting pain than is described in the tragic miscarriage suffered by the plaintiff in the case against the USCCB.
If the ACLU is consistent in its expressions of interest in women’s health, it will seek redress from the courts for the governmental policies that have inflicted great suffering of death and pain upon women and their families by promoting carcinogenetic contraceptives. Otherwise, the ACLU proves that it is merely a tool for those whose aversion to the Catholic Church is based on mere prejudice and discrimination.
James S. Cole is a graduate of Harvard Law School who practices law in St Louis, Missouri.
*(See WHO, IARC Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans, Preamble , pp. 22-23, and IARC Monograph, Pharmaceuticals: A Review of Human Carcinogens, Vol. 100A , pp. 286-300.)