Should UW Medicine Students Learn “Catholic Medical Care?”

One of the most disturbing aspects of the proposed UW/PeaceHealth “affiliation,” “partnership,” or “alliance,”  (all of these terms have been used in communications by PeaceHealth) is the training of future doctors in the NorthWest.

According to the UW Daily “….both UW Medicine and PeaceHealth said their strengthened relationship would expand training for the next generation of doctors working with either organization. The official press release stated that they will work to “develop and expand community-based training sites for UW School of Medicine students and trainees in the communities PeaceHealth serves.”’

And according to PeaceHealth CEO Nancy Steiger, “The proposed affiliation brings together two organizations with similar missions to better serve its communities through greater coordination, improved access, enhanced services and increased ability to train the next generation of health care professionals.

So what’s the problem?  PeaceHealth says that it follows the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care, and as frequently discussed on this site, those Directives forbid treatments and procedures, such as contraception, sterilization, abortion (even in the case of an ectopic pregnancy) that conflict with Catholic doctrine.  The Directives also forbid treatments derived from embryonic stem cells.

Perhaps it’s helpful/useful to look to a Catholic medical school to understand how medical students are taught in Catholic institutions and then consider what adherence to Church doctrine means not just for reproductive or end of life care but for the development of new treatments and the delivery of new and existing vaccines.

Creighton University School of Medicine is a Jesuit university, founded in the late 1800s.  At Creighton, officials strenuously object to birth control or sterilization coverage, and all students are required to follow the ERDs, as discussed on page 58 of the student handbook.

Creighton educators and ethicists have also sharply criticized pharmaceutical research requirements that women be on birth control to participate in drug trials and research.  (The major reason drug testing protocol often requires women to be on birth control is because some drugs, including thadiomide and Accutane, which have hugely beneficial effects under certain circumstances, have also been shown to cause severe birth defects.  With a new drug, it’s often impossible to know with certainty whether the drug will be safe for a developing fetus.)

It’s scary to think that the UW might some day participate in research with PeaceHealth in drug trials where the effects to fetuses are unknown and birth control use is not required.  What would the legal liability for UW Medicine be?  What would the ethical liability be for participating in research where patients are not fully protected against an unplanned pregnancy?

Another major area of concern as the UW looks to expand its training programs with PeaceHealth in the area of “Family Medicine” is vaccine development and delivery.  The Catholic Church is expanding its efforts to enlist the faithful in objecting to vaccines that the Church considers immoral and unethical because of how they were developed.  Included among the list of vaccines that are “incriminated” include ones for rubella, measles, hepatitis A, chicken pox, polio, rabies, and smallpox.

Recently, on Catholic radio, when a mother called in to ask whether her child should be vaccinated, the hosts encouraged her to follow her “Catholic conscience.”  Oregon bishop Robert Vasa, who is also a Spiritual Advisor to the Catholic Medical Association, sets the example by making the point that although shingles would be an awful disease for him, “the choice between accepting the risk of getting shingles and using a vaccine derived from a cell line of illicit origin is easy. I would rather accept shingles and its consequences than send the message that I would knowingly use a vaccine derived from a cell line of illicit origin.”

It’s scary to think that UW Medicine is getting into bed with a religious partner that increasingly encourages parents to object to vaccines that have saved countless lives.

UW Medicine has a reputation for providing access to evidence-based treatments.  Medical care under the “spiritual” supervision of the Catholic bishops is about adherence to doctrine, not about what will result in the best health outcomes in the real world for real people.

The conflict is clear.  The real question is whether the UW Regents and state authorities will allow state-sponsored physician training to expand and flourish in religious institutions that put doctrine above patient health.

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4 thoughts on “Should UW Medicine Students Learn “Catholic Medical Care?”

  1. Howard Pellett

    Where are the Secretary of State, the Governor, the US Regents and the ACLU while all of this is going on?

    I’m ready to make a hefty donation to for a lawsuit to stop this undercutting of Church and State separation.

    1. catholicwatcher Post author

      I believe the Constitutional issue will ultimately be settled through litigation and I know the ACLU is doing research into this now. As a nonlawyer, it’s easy for me to look to the actual wording of the Constitution and know that “No public money or property shall be appropriated for or applied to any religious worship, exercise or instruction, or the support of any religious establishment…” means that it’s unlawful for the state to be providing funding to religious health care ministries that make advancing a religious purpose an integral part of everything they do.
      A few days ago, I was talking with a very savvy United States Senator and shared an update on what’s going on here in Washington with respect to religious control of our health care. After I cited the language in our Constitution, the reaction I got was “How is it possible that this is happening in WA State of all places?”
      Indeed. It shouldn’t be possible.

  2. Keith Comess

    Most unfortunately, there is likely very little short of a major lawsuit filed by an experienced, high-profile and resourceful group that will retard or derail this action. There are simply too many elements in both organizations that will derive direct and indirect benefit from the “affiliation” (or whatever euphemism you prefer to characterize it). Leaving aside the sanctimonious and self-righteous posturing accompanying this enterprise, it’s really about money and power; like most things. Only money and power can potentially prevent it from proceeding.


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