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Manchester, Disunited

GUEST COLUMN

By Gail Besse | January-February 2010
Gail Besse is a Boston freelance writer. Her work has appeared in daily newspapers and national Catholic media.

As medical practices grow more hostile to the sanctity of life, Catholic-secular hospital affiliations can become ethical minefields. The Diocese of Manchester, New Hampshire, could be facing one now, with its proposed alliance between its Catholic Medical Center and Dart­mouth-Hitchcock Health, a secular conglomerate. Since February 2009, when plans for a “regional healthcare delivery system” were unveiled, prolifers have been waving red flags.

According to Kathleen Souza of New Hampshire Right to Life, “Dartmouth is involved in abortions throughout the state, heavily involved in fertility research, em­bryonic stem-cell research, selective-reduction abortion — almost everything the Church is against.” The diocese is in danger of surrendering the independence of its 330-bed hospital, she said, in a convoluted agreement that integrates it with Dartmouth-Hitchcock.

But John McCormack, the bishop of Manchester, counters that, although he gave preliminary approval to the affiliation in July so the review process could start, he won’t sign off on the deal if it violates Catholic ethics. “I am committed to preserve Catholic Medical Center to be a true Catholic healthcare institution, one that fulfills all the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic hospitals,” he said in a statement posted at www.AHealthierTomorrow.org, a website promoting the plan.

These directives were set forth in the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ 2001 document, “Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care.” A section of the document on “Forming Partnerships with Health Care Organizations and Providers” reads like an ethical roadmap for such ventures. It is careful to note, “The risk of scandal cannot be underestimated when partnerships are not built upon common values and moral principles.”

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