By Nadia N. Sawicki
The New York Times reported today that the ACLU has filed a lawsuit against the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops on behalf of Tamesha Means, a patient at Mercy Health Partners in Michigan. The suit alleges that Means suffered physical and emotional harm as a result of the Conference of Bishops’ ethical directives relating to pregnancy termination, which Mercy, as a Catholic health institution, is required to follow.
According to the ACLU press release and the Times article, when Means’ water broke 18 weeks into her pregnancy, she rushed to Mercy Health, the only hospital in her county. According to medical experts, the fetus had “virtually no chance of surviving” and posed a significant risk to Means’ health. Mercy physicians did not share this information with Means, and discharged her without informing her that terminating the pregnancy and extracting the fetus was the safest course of action from a medical perspective. Means returned to the hospital twice in the next two days, suffering from infection and extreme pain, but it wasn’t until she miscarried that the staff at Mercy attended to her medical needs. An obstetrician at the University of Wisconsin Medical School quoted in the Times described Mercy’s treatment of Means’ condition as “basic neglect.”
Rather than suing Mercy Health Partners, Means and the ACLU are suing the Conference of Bishops. They argue that by directing Catholic hospitals to avoid terminating pregnancies or providing referrals (even when a woman’s health is at risk), the Conference of Bishops is ultimately responsible for the harms suffered by Means and other women in her position. According to Louise Melling, deputy director of the ACLU, “This isn’t about religious freedom, it’s about medical care.”
There are a host of legal, ethical, and religious issues associated with the Tamesha Means case. But in this post, I’d like to focus on only one - the division of legal responsibility between health care providers and third parties when it comes to patient advocacy and quality of care. Continue reading