By Hilary White

St. Elizabeth's Hospital - Humbolt SaskatchewanHUMBOLDT, Saskatchewan, September 13, 2006 ( – St. Elizabeth’s Catholic hospital in rural Saskatchewan was in meetings today with the bishop and the Saskatchewan Catholic Health Corporation after taking the step of permanently banning the sterilization of women by tubal ligation.

The hospital decided on the ban citing their intention to move the facility’s policies closer to Catholic health care ethics guidelines. Other hospitals in the area, such as Saskatoon’s City Hospital, an hours drive from St. Elizabeth’s, are still offering the procedure.

St. Elizabeth’s move has made the hospital the object of harsh criticism in circles accustomed to Catholic health care facilities following the secularist trends. A local news talk radio program quoted Dr. Daniel Kirchgesner, who had performed the procedure before the hospital cancelled it, thundering that it is an “inherent right for women” to have themselves sterilized.

The CBC interviewed Dr. Carrie Levick-Brown, a local family physician who is launching a petition to convince the hospital to overturn the ban. Levick-Brown said she was in a state of “shock and disbelief” that a Catholic hospital would be interested in following Catholic teaching on health care.

The CBC also quoted Saskatchewan’s NDP Health Minister, Len Taylor saying that he is awaiting further information about the situation. Taylor said that while the government wants to continue in a good relationship with St. Elizabeth’s, “we are responsible for providing equitable care to Saskatchewan people right across the province.”

In response, Monica Beavis, president of the Saskatchewan Catholic Health Corporation, (SCHC), speaking to, quoted Section 38 of the regional health services act, that says “nothing precludes” St. Elizabeth’s from providing health care according to the teaching of the Catholic Church.

Beavis explained that the SCHC has the mandate under the act to decide hospital policy while the funding continues to be public. “We have the mandate from the Sisters of St. Elizabeth, to provide health care according to the Catholic teaching,” she said.

Beavis said there are a number of ways that St. Elizabeth’s can provide needed health services to the area without violating their Catholic mandate.

“We are looking at this as a teaching opportunity,” to inform the Health Minister and the public about the reasons behind Catholic prohibitions against sterilization.

“We want to meet with the Health Minister to identify the principles we abide by, to clarify and educate the rationale behind our decisions as regards Catholic teaching,” Beavis said.

James Roche, spokesman for the Catholic Health Association of Canada (CHAC), told that his organization has some concerns that this case, the first of its kind in Canada, could be leading up to a legal clash.

“In some cases in the US, the conflict has posed a real difficulty for Catholic hospitals,” Roche said. “In such areas as obstetrics and gynecology, with sterilizations, some hospitals have been put into situations where serious challenges are raised. Can we continue to provide Catholic health services?”

St. Elizabeth’s is aware of the possible threat of legal action either through the courts or the Human Rights Commission. Monica Beavis told, “We consulted with a human rights lawyer before the board made the unanimous decision to go with the recommendation of a permanent ban on tubal ligations while maintaining other obstetrical services.”

“We anticipated this trouble, we didn’t think it would come to this degree. But again, we had the [bishop] involved, the legal opinion from a [human] rights lawyer and the CEO thoroughly explained it to the doctors.”

In fact, Beavis said, the hospital has always had a prohibition on the procedure, but doctors were “non-compliant.”

The doctors were flouting the hospital’s existing rules, said Beavis. “The problem is that the doctors feel that it is their right to provide services in a secular society to women. They feel we are infringing on their rights to practice, but there are a lot of places a woman can get this service. We are interested in providing as many services as we can within the guidelines of Catholic ethics.”

The hospital will be consulting with the various medical authorities to see what services it can provide to the community and will be issuing a public statement tomorrow.

“Small rural hopsitals can’t provide all possible services. A lot of services need to be addressed, other than the small number that this group of doctors are harping on.” Beavis said.

  See related story:
  Catholic Ethicists Decry Overblown “Rights Rhetoric” in Tubal Ligation Media Flap