DEFENDING THE FUNDAMENTAL DIGNITY AND HEALTH CARE CIVIL RIGHTS OF ALL

DEFENDING THE FUNDAMENTAL DIGNITY AND HEALTH CARE CIVIL RIGHTS OF ALL

For Immediate Release
Washington, D.C., 

November 19, 2020

            The member organizations of the Health Care Civil Rights Task Force are publishing this statement to protect the health, dignity, civil rights, and religious freedoms of patients and families during this COVID-19 public health crisis and beyond. Our cherished human and civil rights must be protected to save lives and protect human dignity during this serious public health crisis. 

The Natural and Civil Right to Religious Freedom Must Be Preserved

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides that Congress shall make no law prohibiting the free exercise of religion.  The U.S. Department of Justice has affirmed that there is no public health exception to the First Amendment, and the vital obligation to balance public safety with the preservation of civil rights: “… the First Amendment and federal statutory law prohibit discrimination against religious institutions and religious believers.” Furthermore, under the natural law, the right to the free exercise of religion, which has never been and should never be limited to the right of worship alone, is a gift from God.  The natural and constitutional rights of the faithful to access spiritual care, including the Sacraments and spiritual counseling, and of churches to provide such access, must always be preserved.[1]  

The Pastoral Responsibility of Church Leaders to Provide Spiritual Care

We strongly encourage all church leaders to courageously provide their faithful with spiritual care, seeing that the needs of the soul are primary.  The right to religious freedom is fatally undermined if those responsible for spiritual care do not conscientiously discharge their duty of making the means of salvation available to the faithful. 

Faith-based health care is vital to the capacity of the American health care system to combat the ongoing public health crisis. The whole health of each person – spirit, mind, and body – are inseparably intertwined and Church leaders must never forget their solemn duty to provide spiritual care.

Lockdowns Cannot Unjustly Abrogate Fundamental Rights[2]

In determining the morality of lockdowns, it is important to have a proper view of the human person. Such a proper view must recognize the limitations and negative consequences of lockdowns which even recent statements from the World Health Organization (WHO), an organization opposed to the culture of life on key issues, acknowledge.  A secular view sees saving the physical life of a person as the only goal that matters. Additionally, this radical secular perspective frequently is paired with a utilitarian or consequentialist philosophy that inevitably leads to injustices like sacrificing the disabled, vulnerable, or “less productive” members of society. Faith and reason recognize that both care for spiritual health and care for emotional health are essential parts of health care. Faith and reason obligate us to strongly reject any form of “the end justifies the means” reasoning. We may not do evil or injustice to achieve a good goal. 

Morally we are called to use ordinary means and reasonable precautions to preserve our lives without ceasing to fulfill our daily responsibilities. It is vitally important to reiterate this almost self-evident point because a desire to reduce the risk of disease transmission to almost zero has led to fundamental rights being violated.[3] As Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court Samuel Alito recently said, “[a]ll sorts of things can be called an emergency or disaster of major proportions. Simply slapping on that label cannot provide the ground for abrogating our most fundamental rights.”

The Civil Rights of Patients and Families Must Be Preserved

The liberty of visiting loved ones in the hospital or other health care settings is among the unalienable rights with which all people have been endowed by their Creator (The Declaration of Independence).  The First Amendment of the US Constitution expressly says that Congress shall make no law abridging the right of the people peaceably to assemble.  However much government and courts want to keep people safe, the rights of the family are preeminent above the rights of the state. There is no reason that PPE cannot be used to allow reasonable visitation from loved ones in health care settings during this pandemic.

Draconian COVID-19 restrictions on hospital and nursing home visitation do not only deprive patients of time spent with loved ones; they also deprive patients of essential advocacy. Family members and friends often serve as zealous patient advocates for their loved ones.  In-person visits are especially critical for patients who are incapacitated or otherwise not able to speak. It is difficult for advocates to discern a patient’s condition and comfort level without spending time with them. Moreover, patient advocates serve to facilitate communication between patients and health care providers to ensure that patients’ needs are addressed. For this reason, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) have issued guidance urging health care facilities to allow in-person visits for particularly vulnerable patients, including those with chronic or prolonged illnesses, patients with cognitive or developmental disabilities, and patients who are receiving end-of-life care. 

The health care civil rights of all Americans, particularly the vulnerable, must be protected. The American Bar Association reports that many health care providers hold negative views of disabled patients that compromise those patients’ care and treatment. Hospital visitation and patient advocacy are essential to protect patients from being denied medical care because of this pervasive bias.  Prohibiting visitation for vulnerable patients is tantamount to denying access to medical care and services. Federal laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act prohibit discrimination in federally funded health care settings, yet many hospitals have refused to accommodate the need for disabled and other vulnerable patients to have a patient advocate who can communicate their health care needs and ensure that they receive the same quality of care as other patients. These laws remain in full effect during COVID-19.  

No patient should be denied suitable medical care due to disability or because their life is deemed less valuable.  Triage and rationing of health care, where necessary, should use objective clinical criteria to determine who is in greatest need and who can still benefit from rationed medical resources.  Using age, disability, or perceived quality of life as considerations for access to care is immoral.

The Right of Clergy to Administer Spiritual Care in Health Care Settings Must be Preserved

The right to religious freedom and the right to visitation intersect in health care when clergy visit patients to provide spiritual care.  Denial of visitation from clergy is a violation of both the right to religious freedom and the right of visitation.  To prohibit a patient from receiving spiritual healing from clergy and from receiving the sacraments of eternal life during their last moments on this earth is a cruelty completely unjustified by the pandemic and is symptomatic of the radical secularization of modern society.

The Health Care Civil Rights Task Force

  • Michael A. Vacca, J.D., Task Force Chairman, The Christ Medicus Foundation
  • Father James Bromwich, R.N., M.A., S.T.L.
  • Jordan Buzza, J.D., The Christ Medicus Foundation
  • Julie Grimstad, Healthcare Advocacy and Leadership Organization (HALO)
  • Terry McKeegan, J.D., Law Office of Terrence McKeegan
  • Joseph Meaney, Ph.D., The National Catholic Bioethics Center
  • Anne O’Meara, Healthcare Advocacy and Leadership Organization (HALO)
  • Alexandra Snyder, J.D., Life Legal Defense Foundation
  • Bobby Schindler, The Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network
  • Deb O’Hara-Rusckowski, R.N., M.B.A., M.T.S.
  • Louis Brown, J.D. The Christ Medicus Foundation

[1] Both powers originate in God. Therefore the secular power is subordinate to the spiritual power in matters that concern the salvation of souls.” St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Sent. II, Dist. 44. Q. 2, 5, ad 3, 4.

[2] This section adopted from Joseph Meaney, “The Right Not to Be Forced to Die Alone,” (https://www.ncbcenter.org/messages-from-presidents/forcedtodiealone .

[3] Id.

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