The board of regents at the University of California (UC) has voted to cut the school system's affiliation with Catholic hospitals if they continue to stand for their religious beliefs against abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, and transgender procedures.
The board is essentially giving them two years to deny their beliefs, or else, accusing those medical centers of "discriminating" against certain patients.
The UC took the step as Sen. Scott Wiener, a Democrat from San Francisco, is trying to pass legislation that would require it to end contracts with religious health facilities unless the hospitals changed their policies or did not apply them to UC physicians and students working there.
The vote by the UC board moved in that direction but did not require termination of any of the contracts the university says it has with 77 hospitals and other health facilities in California, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. UC officials say the contracts with large chains like Dignity Health, formerly Catholic Healthcare West, allow its medical staff to provide care for 35,000 patients, many of them low-income Californians with little access to hospitals.
"We should have greater ability to serve more patients, but in a way that is in compliance with the policy, we adopt today. We're against discrimination," said Regents Chair John Pérez, author of the resolution the board approved by a 22-0 vote.
The Los Angeles Times reported the regents' new policy states UC physicians practicing at a sectarian hospital must be permitted to provide any treatment at that location to a patient who can't be safely transferred to another facility — even if the treatment would violate religious restrictions. Affiliated hospitals will have until Dec. 31, 2023, to comply with the policy, or the affiliation agreement must be canceled.
The Times reported the policy would apply especially to Catholic hospitals, which adhere to the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services.
The "ERDs" currently prohibit "intrinsically evil" procedures, including abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, and gender-transition procedures, such as hysterectomies for transgender patients.
In a statement, The Alliance of Catholic Healthcare responded: "Dissolving these partnerships would disenfranchise health care access for millions of health inequity-impacted Californians, doing an enormous disservice to our state's goal of expanding health care access for the underserved."
The Catholic "health systems operate 51 acute care hospitals in California, which represent nearly 15% of all hospitals and over 16% of the hospital beds in the state," the statement also said. "In many cases, these partnerships represent the only locally available care of its kind."
Catholic hospitals are especially important in rural areas, the statement pointed out. UC's disengagement would leave these communities without quality healthcare.
"These partnerships arose out of the shared values of the UC System and our faith-based providers to ensure care – particularly to vulnerable patients in underserved communities – that no one else can, or is willing to, provide," said the statement.
The issue of agreements with religious hospitals came to a head two years ago, when UC San Francisco tried to expand its affiliation with Dignity Health, which owns four hospitals. After university officials received backlash from UCSF faculty and staff, talks with Dignity Health came to an end.
At the end of a two-month period, the UC board will continue to discuss, review and refine the language of the amendment before releasing the final amendment, according to the Daily Bruin.