In November 1991, celebrations were held to mark the opening of the new St. Joseph’s Hospital in Estevan, Saskatchewan, a town of about 10,000 close to the U.S. border.  There was a great of praise for the person largely responsible for the building of the new facility, hospital administrator Sister Therese Roddy, a member of the sisters of St. Joseph of Peterborough, Ontario.  Other larger hospitals elsewhere have closed because of economy measures.   This one is not likely to close, because it is well run.

Yet only a couple of months later, Sister Therese was being vilified as high-handed, dictatorial and unresponsive to the needs of the community.

Whose ethics?

On January 21 of this year, Pastor Wayne Berg of Trinity Lutheran Church in Estevan sent a letter to Liouse Simard, Minister of Health in the Saskatchewan government, complimenting the Sisters of St. Joseph for their fine new hospital but stating:
“The Sisters are still refusing to allow the doctors to supply adequate medical services required from time to time for the total community.”

Many people had had to go to Weyburn, Moose Jaw, or Regina, he explained, for what would be considered generally acceptable operations, “because our local Catholic hospital would not even bring them before the local medical-moral committee.”  In fact, he said, a few years after Sister Therese became the administrator,  this committee was no longer called on to make decisions.  She had made them all herself.

“It would seem to us, for instance,” Berg wrote, “that a woman giving birth by caesarian section and desiring a tubal ligation, should, with the consent of a medical-moral committee be able to have that ligation performed here.”

Thus Rev. Berg implicitly made clear what the point of contention is all about: will the natural law principles of the owners prevail or should the hospital accommodate itself to the current demand for sterilizations, vasectomies, (and abortions).

Pastor Berg also claimed that the doctors were finding it frustrating to have to send their patients out of town for such “procedures.”  He did not mention that doctors much prefer surgical operations over seeing people in waiting rooms because the former brings in a lot more money.

With the new hospital costing the taxpayers of Saskatchewan $36.4 million, of which the local area contributed $13 million and the Sisters claimed to have invested $1 million, Rev. Berg went on to say he and his supporters did not feel that they should be subject to the moral ethics of the sisters of St. Joseph.  Furthermore, he maintained, the iron hand of Sister Therese has contributed to a low morale among hospital workers.

“This is not a lobby or a request for ‘Open Abortion’ in any way,” he concluded, but simply that the medical-moral committee be able to make the decisions and the doctors in turn to perform them.”

Appended to his letter were the signatures of clergymen from the area supporting him – Anglican, United Church and other Protestant ministers, together with that of one Catholic priest, from the nearby community of Lampman.

Sterilization at issue

In a published rebuttal, Sister Therese points out that her hospital is continuing to provide more and more services for the community.  She lists a number of specialist clinics, new equipment for cardiac services, and other new facilities.

What is being talked about here, she says, is one procedure – tubal ligation, or sterilization of females.

As everyone knows, Catholic teaching rejects the validity of sterilization as contrary to natural law and therefore to the moral good of the person and society.

Emphasizing the medical point of view, Sister Therese states that sterilization means a needless mutilation of the body which can cause a whole list of serious physical and psychological problems.  A hospital should allow operations only for valid medical reasons, not for personal social reasons, especially not if these go counter to good health care.

As for the moral aspect, she says, it is impossible to find a moral outlook acceptable to all citizens in a community; surely it is reasonable for a Catholic hospital to have the right to follow Catholic ethics, rather than trying to have a double standard.

Sister Therese also points out that she has consulted moral theologians and experts in the field and is following their advice.

“Finally,” she states, “we had something that married up the medical with the theological…We went to great effort to explain to our staff voth the medical and theological justification for our position as well as research that supported it.”

The last request made to her by Dr. Cheah, chief of the Medical Staff, before his sudden and untimely death, was that each doctor receive a copy of this policy statement.  Dr. Cheah fully supported Sr. Thesese’s administration.

Imposing other views

Only two doctors on staff at the hospital are causing the trouble (their names are common knowledge in Estevan).  As for Pastor Berg’s financial statistics: the Sisters of St. Joseph have contributed about $3 million (not $1 million), and the Estevan area, when it has finished its payments in 2001, will have put in a little over $5 million, not the $13 million figure used by the Lutheran pastor.

Many people realize that sister Therese is coming under heavy fire because she is a good administrator; she runs a tight ship.  The campaign against her seems very malicious.

If Pastor Berg is not directly campaigning to have abortions performed at St. Joseph’s, the subject must be on everybody’s mind: why shouldn’t the “extension of health services” include this too?

The essential point is that those behind Pastor Berg’s petition are seeking to take control away from the Sisters and the Catholic community so that they can impose their won anti-life standards.