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St. Joseph's Hospital and the Diocese of Phoenix

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On December 21, 2010 Bishop Thomas Olmsted of the Diocese of Phoenix decreed that St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center could no longer be considered Catholic. This action followed months of dialogue between CHW, St. Joseph's, and the Diocese regarding the life-saving care delivered to a pregnant patient in November 2009.

The Facts of the Case:
A woman in her 20's with a history of moderate but well-controlled pulmonary hypertension discovered she was pregnant. There was concern for her health because pregnancy with pulmonary hypertension carries a serious risk of mortality. Due to the severity of her disease, the woman's risk of mortality at the time she discovered she was pregnant was close to 50 percent. Several weeks later, in November 2009, the woman, a mother of four, was admitted to St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center with worsening symptoms. Tests revealed life-threatening pulmonary hypertension. According to the medical record she had been informed that her risk of mortality was close to 100% if she continued the pregnancy.

In a December 21 press conference, Dr. Charles Alfano, St. Joseph's chief medical officer, described the mother's condition as "moribund" and noted that "her death was imminent." The care team had exhausted all medical treatments to save both patients before contacting the hospital's Ethics Consult Team for a review. The consultation team reviewed the patient's record and talked to several physicians and nurses. In collaboration with the mother, her family, and her caregivers, it was agreed that, if the mother wanted it, the pregnancy could be terminated, and that it was appropriate since the goal was not to end the pregnancy but to save the mother's life.

Moral Analysis
On August 5, 2010, Bishop Olmsted requested that CHW obtain an independent moral analysis of the case. He specified that the analysis be "based upon the objective and universally valid moral principles in play, and their application in this most grave situation, to the moral analysis provided by the NCBC [the National Catholic Bioethics Center from which the bishop also requested a moral analysis]. Understandably, such moral principles would be consistent with, in particular, the teaching of Veritatis Splendor and Evangelium Vitae." This moral analysis is available for download at the bottom of this page.

CHW's Response to Bishop Olmsted's Announcement:

CHW is disappointed by Bishop Olmsted's decree that St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center can no longer be recognized as Catholic. The care team at St. Joseph's Hospital made the most life-affirming decision they could under tragic circumstances. We are confident that they acted in accordance with the Ethical and Religious Directives when they saved the only life they could save.

Mercy Care Plan
Mercy Care Plan is a managed health care plan sponsored by Catholic Healthcare West and Carondelet Health Network, a member of Ascension Health. Mercy Care Plan has managed health care for people in Arizona for more than 20 years, including the poor and those with special needs. Separate funding from the state's Medicaid agency to a third party administrator for family planning benefits has been in place since the creation of the plan. None of these funds are received or handled by Mercy Care Plan, nor are any of the family planning services performed by St. Joseph's Hospital.

Additional resources:
Independent Moral Analysis by Therese Lysaught, PhD
St. Joseph's Media Statement
Frequently Asked Questions
Mercy Care Plan Fact Sheet

Background, media statements, frequently asked questions, and analysis regarding CHW's St. Joseph's Hospital and the Diocese of Phoenix.

Publish date: 

Friday, February 11, 2011