Questions abound; islanders deserve answers | As I See It

Monica Harrington - Contributed photo/John Stimpson
Monica Harrington
— image credit: Contributed photo/John Stimpson

By Monica Harrington

To the editor:

Thank you for helping to promote a productive conversation about the new PeaceHealth hospital and the concerns so many of us have with the subsidy contract now in place. (As of this writing more than 300 people have signed on to the letter asking the hospital board commissioners to respond in writing to specific questions.)

Beyond the very specific contract issues, there’s a higher level issue at stake: Is a subsidy agreement for a faith-based institution constitutional if it requires taxpayers to subsidize religious-based beliefs and practices with which they do not agree?

These types of questions are not new. The Founding Fathers had strong views about religious freedom. In 1776, Thomas Jefferson wrote:  “All persons shall have full and free liberty of religious opinion; nor shall any be compelled to frequent or maintain any religious institution.”

Benjamin Franklin, another Founding Father, wrote, "When religion is good, it will take care of itself. When it is not able to take care of itself, and God does not see fit to take care of it, so that it has to appeal to the civil power for support, it is evidence to my mind that its cause is a bad one."

More than a hundred years later, these sentiments were echoed by James A. Garfield in 1880, in his letter of acceptance of nomination for the presidency: “The separation of Church and State in everything relating to taxation should be absolute."

In working through these important issues, people might want to consider:

Islanders are patients and taxpayers, with a vested interest in how our only hospital and major medical facility operates.

Our federal (Medicare/Medicaid) and local property tax dollars will be a major funding source for the new hospital.

The current agreement provides for a guaranteed subsidy to PeaceHealth for 50 years of 95-97 percent of taxes allowed under the levy powers of the hospital district’s taxing authority.

All revenues for services provided at the new hospital facility will go to PeaceHealth.

According to the contract, PeaceHealth, which describes itself as a Catholic Health Ministry, is obligated to provide healthcare services “in a manner that is consistent with its mission, values, and ethical policies, as they may be amended.”

PeaceHealth has announced its intent to merge with a division of Catholic Health Initiatives, which requires all of its employees to adhere to the Catholic Bishops’ Ethical and Religious Directives as a condition of employment.

Among other things, the bishops’ directives forbid contraception, sterilization, and abortion in all cases, including in cases of rape, incest, and extrauterine (ectopic) pregnancies. They also require artificial hydration (a feeding tube) for situations in which a patient is in a persistent, vegetative state, regardless of what that patient’s advance directive might say.

Healthcare is different: It’s important to safeguard the rights of patients because people need care when they need it, often when they are at their most vulnerable, and often in situations where they're not capable of making informed, free decisions. The growing power imbalance between the individual patient and ever larger, consolidated health care institutions makes the need for safeguarding patient rights even more acute.

From a taxpayer perspective, none of us should be required to directly subsidize religious-based institutions, but those subsidies become even more egregious in a healthcare setting, when institutions require their own employees to violate standards of care advocated by leading medical practitioners.

In this context, a recent quote is important to consider: "The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists believes that access to family-planning counseling and to the full array of contraceptives is a basic and essential component of preventive health care for women." - James T. Breeden, President, American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists - May 22, 2012

Thank you again for providing a forum for discussion of these important issues and ideas.

— Editor's note: San Juan Island's Monica Harrington, a former technology executive, has worked for several well-known regional companies and nonprofits over the past 30-plus years.


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