Catholic group rallying support for St. Joseph's Hospital

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By Alicia Barron By Alicia Barron

PHOENIX -- Just days after Phoenix Bishop Thomas Olmstead stripped St. Joseph's Hospital of its Catholic status, a Catholic group is urging him to reconsider.

Catholics United is a non-profit, non-partisan organization specializing in online advocacy and educational activities. The group on Thursday threw its support behind St. Joe's by launching an online letter campaign.

On Tuesday, Olmstead declared that St. Joseph's Hospital is not Catholic. His decision was a response to a procedure doctors performed in November 2009. They terminated an 11-week pregnancy to save the mother's life. Olmstead called the procedure an abortion, saying the hospital violated a Catholic health care directive.

In a statement released after Olmstead's announcement, Linda Hunt, the president of St. Joseph's Hospital, reaffirmed the decision made by the medical staff and ethics committee last year.

“Consistent with our values of dignity and justice, if we are presented with a situation in which a pregnancy threatens a woman’s life, our first priority is to save both patients. If that is not possible we will always save the life we can save, and that is what we did in this case,” said Hunt. “We continue to stand by the decision, which was made in collaboration with the patient, her family, her caregivers, and our Ethics Committee. Morally, ethically, and legally we simply cannot stand by and let someone die whose life we might be able to save.”

Catholics United joins the Catholic Health Association in its support of the hospital. The organization's executive director called Olmstead's decision to set aside the advice of medical ethics professionals unfortunate.

"The big losers in this incident are the patients, who are now deprived of health care in the context of the sacramental life of the church," said a letter on the Catholics United website. "Let's send St. Joseph's a message that Phoenix-area Catholics support their work to heal the sick."

Olmstead's decision has reignited the debate over faith and medicine.

Since St. Joseph's was stripped of its Catholic affiliation Tuesday the hospital has received more than a dozen new donations.