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What Does It Mean to be a Catholic Hospital?

There is one fundamental commandment for a Catholic hospital: All life, from conception to the moment of natural death, is profoundly sacred. All life must therefore be treated with awe, respect, and dignity. This fundamental commandment comes without a “but,” “if,” or “however.” There is no qualification, no exception.

To put that into practice, a Catholic hospital operates according to the directives established by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Those directives for Catholic Heath Care Services are contained in a 12-page document that interested readers can find at http://www.usccb.org/.

The Catholic understanding of health care is rooted in the basic scriptural understanding, outlined in the bishops’ document, that the healing mission of Jesus “touched people at the deepest level of their existence: He sought their physical, mental, and spiritual healing.” Throughout its history, the church has dedicated herself in service to the sick and all those in need.

The social responsibility of Catholic health care services is guided by five essential principles outlined in the bishops’ document:

  • To promote and defend human dignity: The right to life of every human being means the right as well to adequate health care and must be basic to every Catholic institution involved in medical service and science.
  • To care for the poor: No one can ever be turned away from a Catholic hospital because of an inability to pay. This attention to the poor, the underinsured, and the uninsured must be paramount at a Catholic hospital.
  • To contribute to the common good: Catholic health care services are meant for the entire community. These services should be instigators of social change that lead to a greater respect for fundamental human rights and for the economic, social, political, and spiritual health of the entire community.
  • To exercise responsible stewardship: As the bishops state, “Catholic health care ministry exercises responsible stewardship of available health care resources. A just health care system will be concerned both with promoting equity of care – to assure the right of each person to basic health care is respected – and with promoting the good health of all within the community.”
  • Adherence to the moral teachings of the Church: In our society today, any Catholic health care service will be approached, or even pressured, to provide medical procedures that are contrary to Catholic teaching. But by refusing to provide or permit such medical procedures, Catholic health care affirms what defines it: a commitment to the sacredness and dignity of human life from conception until death.

Reprinted with permission by Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, 2008

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