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Davis, California

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Guest: Religious initiatives have no place in the UC health care system

UC partnerships with faith-based health systems such as Dignity Health, Catholic Health Initiatives undermines the quality of patient care in our hospitals. 

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by individual columnists belong to the columnists alone and do not necessarily indicate the views and opinions held by The California Aggie.

It is not news to anyone that our current healthcare system struggles to meet the needs of millions of patients in California and across the country. This care gap is especially wide for brown, black, poor and queer communities that have been consistently excluded from accessing the same resources that others are given freely. 

It is because of these inequities that I find it especially alarming that the UC currently has existing contracts with Dignity Health, despite the massive outpouring of opposition to affiliations with Dignity by students, physicians and Californians across the state earlier this year. UC contracts with faith-based health systems represent a blatant disregard for the UC’s own stated mission of public service and undermines patient autonomy in healthcare decision making. 

UC affiliation with faith-based health systems such as Dignity and CHI will severely restrict the scope and quality of health care that providers can offer, even when a patient’s life is threatened. According to the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services (ERDs), physicians in Catholic hospitals are barred from providing basic reproductive health care services such as contraception, abortion and in vitro fertilization. It also prohibits the provision of gender-affirming services such as hormone therapy, hysterectomies and mastectomies. These types of sweeping and biased care restrictions are immoral in any scenario and unacceptable in the setting of a publicly-funded institution. 

In particular, limiting access to reproductive and gender-affirming health care can be life-threatening. Research consistently indicates that nearly every restriction on abortion access yields a corresponding rise in injury and death as a result of people attempting to self-abort. When folks are not allowed to access gender-affirming care, it undermines their right to self-determination, exacerbates mental health conditions and increases their risk of experiencing violence.

As a life-long resident of California and a future physician, I am ashamed that the UC system, an institution intended to represent the strength and future of our state, is taking a step back from its progressive vision by allowing religious institutions to restrict the quality of medical care that patients receive in our hospitals. As a student, I am outraged that the UC would detract from the quality of my medical training by agreeing to offer fewer services when it has the resources to provide more. 

Patients deserve nothing less than wholly inclusive, evidence-based care that addresses every aspect of their health. I urge UC leadership to reject the influence of religious institutions on our healthcare system and instead consider the many opportunities available to increase patient access to high-quality, comprehensive health care services.

Written by: Caitlin Esparza

Caitlin Esparza is a second-year medical student and co-president of Medical Students for Choice at UC Davis.

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