Americans United for Separation of Church and State today asked Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear to block a proposed hospital merger that will subject patients to the medical directives of the Roman Catholic hierarchy.
The letter takes aim at a merger between University Medical Center and Catholic Healthcare Initiatives. If the plan goes through, University Medical Center, a public institution affiliated with the University of Louisville that serves many indigent residents, will be required to adopt Catholic directives.
Certain services, such as birth control, sterilization and other forms of reproductive health care, will have to be dropped or curtailed.
“The medical care of Kentucky’s most vulnerable citizens should not be held hostage by religious dogma,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “We call on Gov. Beshear to put a stop to this ill-conceived scheme.”
The letter asserts that the proposed merger would violate both the U.S. and Kentucky constitutions.
“Because of the Catholic Church’s opposition to sterilization, for example, University Hospital will no longer offer certain medical procedures, like tubal ligations, and certain medications, like birth control, that it currently provides,” reads the letter. “Revising a public hospital’s policies to adhere to a specific religious doctrine most certainly violates the [separation of church and state].”
The letter notes that University Hospital provides care for the indigent on behalf of the state government under an arrangement called the Quality and Charity Care Trust Agreement. Kentucky government, AU argues, cannot tailor this care to theological mandates.
Observes the AU letter, “University Hospital, when it administers no-cost care to indigents under the Quality and Charity Care Trust Agreement, is providing a government-funded public service. That service should not be infused with or limited by religious considerations. If University Hospital stops offering certain services because of religious strictures, indigent and low-income patients may not have other safe and reliable options for receiving those services.
“We urge you not to approve the merger,” the letter continues, “both because it is unconstitutional and because it will make it difficult or impossible for the neediest patients to receive complete medical care.”
The letter, a copy of which was also sent to Attorney General Jack Conway, requests a response within 30 days. It was drafted by Alex J. Luchenitser, AU associate legal director, and Brooke R. Hardy, litigation fellow (admitted in Georgia only, supervised by Luchenitser, a member of the D.C. Bar).