I Could Lose My Wife Because Catholic Bishops Are Playing Doctor

Photo courtesy of James Mann.

My wife, Jessica, is the most important person in my life. Not only is she my partner and best friend, but she’s also the mother of our three beautiful children. We’re expecting our fourth baby next month, maybe sooner. But, instead of just feeling excited, we’re scared.

You see, my wife has benign brain tumors that threaten her life, and her pregnancy only exacerbates her condition. We have a doctor that we know and trust who has guided us through our pregnancy journey and the risks that Jessica faces. It’s recommended that she undergo a C-section to give birth because pushing during labor could cause seizures and risk her life. She will need to be put under fully, which is also a risk. This is why our doctor recommended that she undergo a tubal ligation, otherwise known as getting your tubes tied, at the time of C-section. This will ensure she doesn’t get pregnant again and removes the risk of undergoing anesthesia twice and having to endure two separate procedures.

Instead of just feeling excited, we’re scared.

We made this decision together with our doctor because we need to take every precaution to make sure Jessica doesn’t get pregnant again. (For me, that means getting a vasectomy.) This is our wish as a family. It’s the advice we received from medical professionals. It’s within the law.

Why, then, is our hospital telling us no?

Last winter, we submitted a request to allow Jessica to get her tubes tied at the time of her C-section this fall. Genesys Hospital, which is the facility where our doctor is affiliated, not only waited months to get back to us, it denied our request. The administrator claimed the procedure was against the hospital’s religious beliefs, as it’s a Catholic hospital and is governed by directives issued by bishops that say the procedure is “intrinsically evil.”

We were devastated to hear that our hospital, one that serves the public, would dismiss the very real life-and-death issues we were facing and refuse to help us with something that is incredibly common. Even more strange is that the hospital itself has granted exceptions before, including performing a tubal ligation for someone else last year. Rejecting us seemed arbitrary and cruel.

It’s a Catholic hospital and is governed by directives issued by bishops that say the procedure is ‘intrinsically evil.’



We partnered with the ACLU and sent a demand letter to the hospital, asking that it reconsider and grant an exception for my wife. Certainly, since the hospital had done so before, it wasn’t a burden on it to consider doing it again. And certainly, my wife’s case was extreme. Women get their tubes tied all the time for all different reasons. My wife was seeking the procedure because it could help save her life.

Despite the severity of our case, and with the ACLU behind us, the hospital yet again denied our request. The hospital staff didn’t even explain why they refused to grant Jessica an exception. They sent our lawyer a terse email saying, “As you are aware, as a Catholic facility, Genesys follows the ethical and religious directives for Catholic health care facilities and based on the information we have received, Genesys will not be able to perform the procedure requested.”

The last thing my wife should have to worry about at 35 weeks pregnant is finding a new doctor and hospital to handle her very critical and delicate case. There’s no good reason why we shouldn’t be able to keep our doctor, who we trust and who knows our situation, and the hospital she’s affiliated with. Hospitals should offer the best medical practices possible, and they should let their patients make decisions in the best interests of their health and well-being with their doctors. Religious directives made by nonmedical professionals have no place in that picture.

My children and I need Jessica. She’s the anchor in our family. Without her, we just wouldn’t be complete.

James Mann lives in central Michigan with his wife, Jessica, and their three kids. The couple contacted the ACLU, which sent a letter in September threatening legal action if the Genesys Regional Medical Center, their local hospital, refuses to perform this routine procedure.

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