A dispute between a Colorado cardiologist and the hospital he works for has highlighted a growing area of concern among patient advocates and civil libertarians: gag rules imposed on doctors and nurses by Catholic health-care providers.
In a complaint filed Wednesday, ACLU of Colorado accused Mercy Regional Medical Center in Durango, in the remote southwest corner of the state, of illegally telling doctors and other employees that they cannot discuss abortion with patients, even if a pregnancy threatens a woman’s life. The complaint was filed with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, which oversees the state’s hospitals.
“Mercy Regional’s moral objection to abortion does not exempt the hospital from complying with [state and federal] laws,” the ACLU’s Sara Rich wrote to the health department, “and the hospital cannot invoke its religious status to jeopardize the health and lives of pregnant women seeking medical care.”
In a statement, hospital spokesman David Bruzzese said the complaint was “based on inaccurate information.” He said Mercy takes “very seriously the care we provide to our patients.”
The hospital chose not to respond to specific allegations in the complaint.
The case involves Dr. Michael Demos, a cardiologist for 36 years, and a female patient with a family history of Marfan syndrome, an inherited disorder of the connective tissues that has been called “one of the most feared cardiovascular complications associated with pregnancy.”
In women with the condition, the strains on the body brought on by pregnancy can cause the aorta to rupture, almost always killing the mother. Thus the American College of Cardiology and American Heart Association recommend that if a patient’s aorta becomes enlarged beyond a certain point, her pregnancy should be terminated.
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