Mercy Health Partners in Michigan was recently named in a lawsuit for placing religious beliefs over patient safety. The plaintiff was 27-years-old when she was admitted to the hospital, the only medical center in her county, after her water broke prematurely. She was 18 weeks pregnant at the time, and was sent home twice before eventually miscarrying. Medical malpractice attorneys at Pintas & Mullins highlight this case to emphasize how and why some doctors and medical institutions may compromise patient safety.
The case was filed on behalf of the mother by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), against the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which actively bans abortion. The ACLU argues that certain stipulations of the Conferences' directives compromise women's health, safety, and access to information.
The woman at the center of this suit visited Mercy Health Partners in 2010 after her water prematurely broke. Upon the first visit, she was given pain medication and sent home. She returned a second time, was given the same medication, and again sent home. During her third visit, she miscarried, delivering her four-and-a-half-month-old child in a breech delivery.
As stated, Mercy's religiously-guided medical directives explicitly prohibit abortions, so physicians may not terminate pregnancies even if such measures are necessary to protect the health of the mother. In this case, it was the safest and wisest treatment option to terminate the pregnancy and induce labor, however, the mother was never informed of this. Nor was she informed that her child had virtually no chance of surviving in a breech delivery, which she was forced to undergo anyway.
As a result, the mother suffered extreme trauma along with severe physical, mental and emotional harm. Her situation is not dissimilar from many other women admitted to Catholic-sponsored hospitals throughout the country. According to NBC News, Catholic systems operate about 630 hospitals in the U.S., all of which are governed chiefly by religious - over medical - directives. This causes immense conflict among OB/GYNs in particular.
Proving Medical Negligence
One survey notes that more than 52% of all OB/GYNs employed by Catholic hospitals have experienced conflicts with religious policies and patient care. One case outlined by the American Journal of Bioethics Primary Research further explains the nature of these conflicts, conducting interviews with hundreds of OB/GYNs in Catholic settings. Physicians interviewed in this study relayed instances when they were shocked by the way the Catholic directives impacted their ability to treat women in obstetric emergencies.
Three cases were explained in detail, the first of which involved a pregnant woman who was diagnosed with cancer and who needed emergency chemotherapy, which required her to terminate her pregnancy. She did not initially want to abort the child, but ultimately agreed due to the extent of her cancer. Her physicians petitioned the ethics committee to approve the termination, however, the request was denied. The ethics committee recommended the pregnant cancer patient terminate her pregnancy elsewhere, despite the medically complex and life-threatening situation. Her doctor told the committee that forcing her to do so would threaten her safety and cause immense emotional distress, however, they refused to allow him to terminate her pregnancy.
In order to prove negligent medical malpractice, patients like the above-mentioned expectant mothers must demonstrate four elements:
1. That the physician owed a duty of care to the patient
2. That the physician violated the standard level of care in their treatment
3. That the patient suffered a compensable injury
4. That the injury was caused by the substandard care of the physician