The UT-Austin Medical School situation has turned controversial once again. First, it was the issue of property tax increases. Now, it’s the fact that the hospital will be part of the Seton hospital system and will become a Catholic-owned teaching hospital. This situation has, of course, re-sparked debated over public health care services and Catholic Church teaching regarding birth control, abortion, voluntary sterilization and more.
An Austin American Statesman article titled “Critics wary of Catholic teaching hospital for new UT medical school,” on Saturday, December 8, 2012 details the critics concerns of this school. And, as usual when the teachings of the Catholic Church are involved, there are very firm opinions on what is right and wrong.
And though the City of Austin and the Diocese of Austin have a history of working together to accommodate the needs and wants of Austin citizens and Catholic Church teachings, there are still some very vocal critics of the UT-Austin Medical School being a Seton hospital.
Since 1995, there has been on-and-off controversy regarding women’s reproductive services within the Catholic run hospitals in Central Texas. It was at that time that the Seton hospital system (named for St. Elizabeth Ann Seton) took over managing Brakenridge Hospital, the Austin-area highest-level trauma center, and location for serving the health needs of the indigent people in Central Texas.
Initially, when the controversy began in 1995, Seton contracted a private company to perform the procedures at the hospital without using Seton employees. However, this did not follow the teachings of the Catholic Church, and Vatican personnel (actually, Pope Benedict XVI who was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger at the time), contacted the Austin Diocese about the necessity of changing how these procedures were taking place in a Catholic hospital. And so the Austin Diocese and the City of Austin agreed to create a “hospital-within-a-hospital” situation called the Austin Women’s Hospital. This allowed for voluntary sterilization (tubal ligation) to take place on the premises of Brakenridge Hospital, but via a special hospital designed specifically for maternity and contraceptive services, including sterilizations. This specialized hospital, which opened in 2004, had its own its own elevator entrance, procedure rooms, computer network and staff within the Brackenridge Hospital building. This hospital-within-a-hospital situation functioned until February of this year, when it closed due to financial losses, and moved to St. David’s Medical Center (an Episcopal Church hospital system).
So why the tension and concern despite the history of the City of Austin and the Austin Diocese being able to work together to find solutions that prevent the Catholic Church from compromising on their teachings and allow Austin residents to receive the health care they want?
Some are concerned that doctor’s won’t be taught everything they “need to know” to become an effective and well-rounded doctor. However, some of the things that society considers “need to know” procedures and information are contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church. And currently at Brakenridge, which is a medical teaching hospital for UT-Galveston, medical students are given the opportunity to learn sterilization procedures through the Austin Women’s Hospital. Additionally, training on abortions is currently arranged and available through Planned Parenthood. This Planned Parenthood arrangement that is expected to be available to UT-Austin Medical School students after it is built.
Others say they are concerned about living will situations that end up being contrary to Catholic teaching. While requests for euthanasia or assisted suicide will not be honored, there is a general misunderstood belief that the Catholic Church requires people to be kept alive through excessive intervention. To clarify: the Catholic Church does believe that certain things such as food and water should not be withheld from patients, the Catholic Church also believes it is a person’s (or family) right to decide to withdraw excessive medical assistance for things such as breathing, and more.
Some are concerned because tax payer money is going to pay for the medical school and say the money should be used how they want it to be used. Yet it is important to note that in the 1970s, federal law allowed medical providers to implement what is known as “conscience rights,” which meant medical providers weren’t required to provide procedures that were contrary to their moral or religious beliefs. Additionally, in 1989, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled public hospitals were not required to perform abortions. Keep in mind that medical students would still be learn procedures such as sterilization but through other entities, just not through this particular hospital. (And I do also want to point out that there are some tax payers will be happy the UT-Austin Medical School will be following the teachings of the Catholic Church.)
As Catholics, we’re blessed have the opportunity to do something many non-Catholics and non-Christians wouldn’t do in this controversial situation: pray. We can pray for others to open their hearts and minds to understand that it is wrong to ask the Catholic Church to bend on teachings we regard as morally wrong. And in addition to prayer, it is important for us as Catholic to stand up for the teachings of our Catholic faith, even in the face of opposition and criticism such as this. It is important for us to not only learn the teachings of the Catholic Church, but the whys behind these teachings.
And so my Advent Challenge for you today is simple: Pray. Pray for us all (yourself included), to not only seek to learn the teachings of the Catholic Church, but to seek the whys behind the teachings of the Catholic Church, and that our hearts and minds are open to it all.