Would we tolerate a hospital that treated women based on Sharia Law?

Abandoned Muslim tomb stone

Imagine that a woman in the midst of a miscarriage, bleeding heavily, arrived at her local emergency room for treatment. The pregnancy could not be saved. Indeed, while waiting for medical attention the mother passed the products of conception in their entirety and the bleeding stopped. The tissue would ordinarily be treated as medical waste, incinerated and sent to a sanitary landfill. Of course, if she chose, the mother could arrange for a private burial.

However, this local hospital is an Islamic hospital, and operates on the principles of Sharia Law. The mother is informed that the tissue will be buried in an Islamic cemetery with a burial service conducted by an imam. If she did not want an Islamic burial, she could pay for a private burial at her expense.

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Why is it acceptable to allow Catholic hospitals to impose Catholic doctrine on non-Catholics?[/pullquote]

The outrage of political conservatives would know no bounds. Despite zero evidence, many already fear that Muslim Americans wish to impose Sharia Law on non-Muslims. A hospital operating under Sharia Law would confirm their fears. It hasn’t happened yet simply because there are no Muslim hospitals in the US. But conservatives would be absolutely correct in opposing a hospital’s imposition of Muslim Law on non-Muslims as a violation of religious freedom.

So why do they find it completely acceptable to allow Catholic hospitals to impose Catholic doctrine on non-Catholics?

According to Sophie Novack of The Texas Observer:

A Catholic hospital in Austin forces patients who miscarry to consent to fetal burials. For one woman, that made a painful loss even worse …

Quietly, for more than 10 years, Seton has required the burial of all fetal remains after miscarriages. It’s widely known that Seton, which follows the ethical and religious directives of the Catholic Church, doesn’t perform abortions or offer contraceptives. But its policy on miscarriages is a secret even to some nurses and doctors who work at the hospital. Seton declined to give the Observer a copy of the policy, but a doctor who practices at the hospital provided one. “As a catholic institution, the Seton Healthcare Family policy is for all loss of life to be given a proper burial,” it reads.

Novack tells the story of Blake Norton who was scheduled to have a “missed miscarriage” (a pregnancy that has died) removed at Seton Hospital.

She calls what followed a “hazy nightmare.” Overwhelmed with grief, Norton waited in the lobby for hours and filled out paperwork. Finally, a nurse guided her into an exam room to change, and put an IV in her arm. She was about to be wheeled into surgery when she was handed one last form to sign. Confused, Norton scanned the document, quickly realizing that she was being asked to consent to the burial of the fetal remains. She could choose between two options: Seton would bury the remains in a shared grave, or Norton could arrange for a “private burial” at her own expense.

But she didn’t want the tissue to be buried in a Catholic religious ceremony.

Could she opt out of having a burial? Norton asked. The nurse shook her head, and sent a social worker to speak with her. “I don’t understand, why do I not have a choice?” Norton asked, increasingly upset. What had been a medical procedure suddenly felt like a religious rite, compounding the grief she was only beginning to process. The social worker reiterated that she could choose between the two burial options. Norton elected to leave it to Seton and opted not to be notified when the burial occurred. Where the form required her to specify her relationship to the remains, Norton said she had no choice but to write “mother.”

What does that burial look like? The reporter sought to find out:

A man, an employee of the cemetery, guides me on a golf cart to a row of flat headstones and points to one marking the group grave where the remains of Norton’s pregnancy are buried. “You are our sunshine, our only sunshine,” the headstone reads, below a date — August 12, 2015, nearly two months after Norton’s miscarriage. An image of the Virgin Mary is etched into the stone.

Surely this should be a violation of Texas law since it infringes on Blake Norton’s religious freedom, but it’s not.

In 2017, Republican state lawmakers passed a controversial law mandating the burial or cremation of all fetal remains of less than 20 weeks gestation after abortions and miscarriages that occur at medical facilities. (The state already required burial or cremation of fetal remains over 20 weeks.)

The Texas legislators almost certainly assume that the hospital will conduct the burials under Judeo-Christian principles. Would they be so eager to mandate burials if they were being done according to Sharia Law? I doubt it. They would almost certainly consider being subjected to Sharia Law as a violation of their religious freedom and they would be right.

And that suggests that laws mandating burial of tissue from miscarriages have nothing to do with freedom of religion of hospitals and everything to do with imposing approved religion on non-believers. That may be consistent with Christian doctrine of proselytization but it’s incompatible with the American principle of religious freedom.

44 Responses to “Would we tolerate a hospital that treated women based on Sharia Law?”

  1. Platos_Redhaired_Stepchild
    April 21, 2018 at 12:47 am #

    Isn’t if funny how Catholics consider all those fetuses to be people right up until the Catholic Hospital is sued for malpractice. Then suddenly they’re not anymore.


  2. MI Dawn
    April 18, 2018 at 8:43 am #

    Catholic hospitals (my employer at the time) nearly killed me because they wouldn’t treat my known ectopic until there was no heartbeat on u/s. I still thank the head of OB who over-rode the u/s tech’s “that a heartbeat” with “no, it’s just MI Dawn’s blood rushing through vessels”. I was treated, but still nearly died. (Didn’t have a choice of hospital to go to because my insurance was from them and they wouldn’t cover treatment in another hospital because OMG ABORTION). Yes, nearly 30 years later, I’m STILL angry.

    • kilda
      April 18, 2018 at 9:31 am #

      as you should be. Thank God you’re still here to be angry. The refusal to treat ectopic pregnancy never made sense to me even back before I was prochoice. It just defies logic. Even if you think it’s a human life, that “baby” is not making it out of the situation alive no matter what. There is zero chance. It’s not like you’re risking the woman’s life to have a chance of saving the “baby.” You’re risking her life for absolutely nothing.

      • LaMont
        April 18, 2018 at 10:13 am #

        Bible-believers literally believe that post-menopausal women (i.e. Sarah) can have children, so an ectopic pregnancy turning out fine is no big mental strain for them. If you can’t carry an ectopic pregnancy to term, you’re a sinner who god has not blessed with his trademark impossibilities, and deserve what’s coming to you.

        • kilda
          April 18, 2018 at 10:25 am #

          yes, it would literally take a biblical-style miracle. By the same logic you shouldn’t bury anyone who dies, just in case God is about to resurrect them.

      • Empress of the Iguana People
        April 18, 2018 at 3:11 pm #

        I’ve heard of -one- live child (one of those tv programs about weird births) but then I’ve heard of -one- Rabies survivor.

    • PeggySue
      April 18, 2018 at 5:50 pm #

      I am so sorry. Yep, makes no sense. Glad you survived.

    • Casper
      May 3, 2018 at 4:33 pm #

      Now why is it that people go to a Catholic hospital to begin with? Oh yeah, because they were trying to help people, often where no for-profits or not-for-profits will operate.

      • Nick Sanders
        May 3, 2018 at 5:24 pm #

        She CLEARLY STATED why she went to a Catholic hospital. Maybe pay attention instead of rushing straight to the “But have you considered…”

        • Who?
          May 3, 2018 at 5:33 pm #

          I think Casper’s point is that if someone is unlucky enough to land in a hospital where services are limited not by resources but by ideology, they should be grateful for what they get, which might end up being nothing more than a monitored death between clean sheets the family won’t have to wash afterwards.

          Bit tough if you weren’t aware of the ideological limitations when you went in, but hey, the unlucky need to look to themselves, right?

          Those of us who think a hospital might offer services based on some other criteria than ideology will find Casper’s perspective unattractive.

          • Casper
            May 4, 2018 at 2:18 pm #

            By all means, those of other faiths/ belief systems, etc. start your own hospitals. Go ahead!

          • momofone
            May 8, 2018 at 10:30 am #

            I find that suggestion interesting on many levels. I don’t know about anyone else, but I don’t go to a hospital based on faith or belief systems, but based on where I believe I can get appropriate care. I’m not interested in the religious part; I can do that on my own. (I live in a rural area, and there is only one hospital here. When I have to have tests/procedures done, I travel 100 miles or so where there are multiple options.)

          • Casper
            May 8, 2018 at 1:53 pm #

            Okay – – my comment was more in the spirit of “hey, all you agnostics / non-Catholics, Muslims, non-religious folk, etc” – – you don’t like Catholic hospitals? Then step up and offer alternatives.

          • MaineJen
            May 8, 2018 at 3:22 pm #

            It’s called a regular, non-religiously affiliated hospital. That’s the alternative. It already exists. Some people don’t have another hospital available to them, or don’t think about the religious implications of the health care provider until said provider suddenly refuses to perform a lifesaving procedure because the embryo that happens to have a heartbeat at 6 weeks gestation is incompletely detached from the uterine wall, or is growing in the fallopian tube, but is STILL somehow worth more consideration than a living, breathing woman.

      • May 3, 2018 at 7:23 pm #

        They go often because they don’t know the hospital is Catholic, or they have no choice because the RCC bought up all the hospitals in the area. The RCC isn’t building new ones out in rural areas or poor urban areas- they’re buying existing hospitals and hospital systems, consolidating them (closing down desperately needed ones), and generally comporting themselves as a for-profit organization who also feels compelled to offer subpar and deadly ‘medical care’ because Godsaidso. It’s truly disgusting.

        • MI Dawn
          May 8, 2018 at 8:06 am #

          That’s a BIG issue in some areas – the RCC is buying them up and creating HUGE hospital systems. The people in those areas are screwed because they have no choice as to where to go, and, even if it’s not their religious belief, they are being forced to RCC beliefs for their health care.

      • MI Dawn
        May 8, 2018 at 8:05 am #

        And hey! I had the “choice” of many hospitals in my area, since I live in a fairly affluent place. However, as you clearly skipped, my EMPLOYER was a Catholic hospital, my health insurance was through them and they WOULD NOT PAY for a medically necessary termination of pregnancy. So FOAD, since that’s what you wished on ME.

  3. Dabbledash
    April 17, 2018 at 8:01 pm #

    They would have a problem with a hospital operating under Sharia law because they’re hypocrites, but that has nothing do with whether it would actually be wrong to operate a private hospital in accordance with sharia or Jewish or Catholic law.

  4. April 17, 2018 at 4:09 pm #

    Wow. That’s messed up.

    I went digging around online to try and figure out where this clusterf*ck came from.

    Turns out that Catholic ethicists had pretty much ignored this whole issue besides making the statements prior to the 1960’s that fetal remains shouldn’t be cremated because the Catholic Church felt cremation denied the resurrection of the body and that fetal remains deserve the same amount of respect as a dead body.

    Cremation has been allowed since sometime in the 1960’s for dead Catholics so that is also allowed for fetal remains.

    In 2008, the Catholic Health Association wrote a short white paper on dealing with fetal remains. The second to last paragraph states: “Of course, the actual disposition of fetal remains is only
    one dimension of the issue. Also of great importance is the
    pastoral care of the parents who have experienced a tragic
    loss. As part of this care, parents should normally be the
    ones to arrange for the disposition of the remains of their
    fetus. If, for some reason, the parents are not able to do
    this, the hospital should then arrange for disposition, carefully
    informing the family of the hospital’s procedures and
    ensuring that the family is comfortable with them.”

    IOW: The preferences of the parents take precedence and the hospital should have a back-up procedure in place that conforms to Catholic teachings for use if and only if the parents have no stated preferences for the fetal remains.

    The next two pages are SAMPLE procedures – but if hospitals run like schools, someone decided that the SAMPLE procedure was actually a WRITTEN IN STONE procedure.

    At which point the religious freedom of a grieving woman was obliterated because a dipshit administrator was too lazy to read the damn 2 pages before the sample procedures.


    • April 17, 2018 at 4:32 pm #

      The Catholic Church hates negative press – so sending an email to the Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of the Diocese of Austin may well ratchet the pressure on the hospital to reform their procedures.

      Contact info available on the Diocese’s homepage: https://austindiocese.org/bishop-joe-s-vasquez

    • mabelcruet
      April 17, 2018 at 5:13 pm #

      We got into trouble with this-following the organ retention problems in 2000, we had quite a few women contact us about their babies; some of these were fairly elderly and delivered in the 1960s. At the time, stillborn babies or miscarried babies couldn’t be buried in a churchyard. Some of them were buried adjacent to a local Catholic church yard in common ground, but there was no formal burial paperwork and no indication of what babies had been buried where. Once the baby has been handed over to the family’s funeral director, the hospital obviously had no control over the burial so when these women came back to find out what had happened to their baby’s remains, there were a few cases where we couldn’t tell them, and somehow the hospital got the blame, not the Catholic church.

    • Dabbledash
      April 18, 2018 at 6:54 am #

      Thank you for sharing this.

  5. fiftyfifty1
    April 17, 2018 at 3:42 pm #

    “A hospital operating under Sharia Law would confirm their fears. It hasn’t happened yet simply because there are no Muslim hospitals in the US.”

    This makes it sound as if you are saying that if there WERE a Muslim hospital in the US it would operate under Sharia Law and confirm their fears. As if a Muslim-sponsered hospital would very likely decide to follow Sharia Law. Is this really what you mean to say?

    • sdsures
      April 17, 2018 at 7:38 pm #

      They would not be able operate under Sharia law if they wanted to actually practice in the US.

  6. mabelcruet
    April 17, 2018 at 3:32 pm #

    In Northern Ireland, another part of the world where religious beliefs are very deeply embedded, we do it almost entirely the other way round.

    There is a specific consent form that the woman has to sign in order for us to examine the tissue (histopathological examination +/- genetics), and on the consent form there are disposal options. All miscarriages, regardless of gestation, are disposed of in a respectful manner-nothing is sent for incineration and hasn’t been for many years (I think we started in 1993 or so arranging proper cremations). Some of our hospitals use a communal grave, some opt for cremation. For miscarriages less than 12 weeks, the tissues are buried or cremated together (collectively). For any miscarriage over 12 weeks gestation, they get individual cremation or burial. Anyone over 24 weeks gestation is stillborn and different regulations apply.

    The hospitals do this in an ecumenical way-there is no religious service, the ashes are scattered on behalf of the hospital by the crematorium staff or the burial is attended by the trust funeral director. Each hospital has a service of remembrance once a year for all the families-this is multi faith, ecumenical, with non-religious readings and music as well. If families want a religious service then they have to organise this themselves. The hospital chaplains will come and do naming ceremonies or blessings, or families can bring in their own religious person, but if they decide to go for hospital disposal then we don’t impose any form of religious ceremony on them. Given the long history of Northern Ireland with the clashes between the various communities, this is a middle way that seems to be acceptable to most people. It took a long time to hammer out an agreed protocol that applied across the region, but it works well.

    In 20 years, I’ve once had a case where the woman didn’t want to have her miscarried tissues cremated-she complained about the consent form because it said ‘signature of mother’ and she said she didn’t consider herself a mother, and she asked that the tissue was treated in exactly the same way as other surgical tissues (like colons and breasts, that tissue gets incinerated after examination).

    Occasionally we’ve had problems where the woman originally requested hospital cremation but then changed her mind and wanted to have the tissues returned for family burial/cremation, but if the mortuary isn’t told quickly enough, the tissue ends up going routinely for cremation-we don’t hold them for long (maximum a month). We’ve also had it the other way round-most commonly where the mother has requested that the tissues are returned to her following examination, but when she finds out that we didn’t see fetal remains (which we rarely see less than 10 weeks gestation) then she requests hospital disposal instead-that’s far more common.

  7. MaineJen
    April 17, 2018 at 3:00 pm #


    I’m assuming none of these POCs from miscarriages are sent for genetic testing…you know, to find the actual problem that may have caused the miscarriage, especially multiple miscarriages? I’m an “information is good” kind of person, and it would help me to know that the cause of a tragic event is at least being investigated. Sometimes there is no good reason, but man, don’t you at least want to know?? That would be infinitely more comforting to me than burial in a macabre mass “grave.”

    • mabelcruet
      April 17, 2018 at 3:40 pm #

      In my hospital, all miscarriages are sent for histopathological examination (there is a consent form that the woman signs to say she agrees with this). Most genetics departments have a protocol that tissue from a first miscarriage isn’t submitted for genetic testing, but for second and subsequent miscarriages it should be. This is usually done by the clinical staff-its best sent fresh (not put into formalin), so they send it from theatres if the woman needed a surgical procedure to remove the tissue. We can do some genetic tests even if the tissue has been processed into formalin.

      But the whole examination process depends on the woman-if she miscarries at home and doesn’t bring the tissue in, obviously we can’t do anything. It’s not uncommon for a woman to miscarry, pass the tissue in the loo, and then when she comes to the ward, all that is left is decidua (maternal tissue) which is pointless testing as its fetal tissue or placental tissue we need. We have some women who don’t want examination of any sort, even looking at the placental tissues, so if she says no, even if the clinical staff think its a good idea, we can’t do anything. Most women are keen for examination though.

  8. EmbraceYourInnerCrone
    April 17, 2018 at 2:56 pm #

    I had 2 pregnancy losses, one a “classic” miscarriage, one a missed abortion, basically a miscarriage where the dead fetus is not expelled. If someone had made me sign this in the hospital during either of them I probably would have punched them. We really are sliding into Republic of Gilead territory in some ways…

  9. Sheven
    April 17, 2018 at 1:36 pm #

    Morally indefensible. And yes, Americans would be up in arms if any other faith was imposed on people as much as Christian faith is.

  10. sdsures
    April 17, 2018 at 12:58 pm #

    The story of how Savita Halappanavar died NEEDLESSLY at University Galway Hospital in Ireland, still enrages me. Catholic law was imposed on a patient who was not Catholic herself, and caused a completely preventable death.

    • mabelcruet
      April 17, 2018 at 3:44 pm #

      That was appalling-her death has triggered change though, but so awful that someone had to die. Shortly after her admission, she argued it for herself that as she wasn’t a Catholic, the rules didn’t apply to her-that was before she became comatose with septic shock.

      • sdsures
        April 17, 2018 at 7:33 pm #

        NOBODY should have to die before the rules change. Ever.

    • Dr Kitty
      April 17, 2018 at 5:40 pm #

      Would you like to channel your rage into something productive?

      Ireland is having a referendum on 25th May about whether or not to repeal the 8th amendment to the Irish Constitution. The one that gives “the unborn” the same right to life as the person in whose uterus it resides.

      Together For Yes can only accept donations from Irish citizens or people who who are resident in Ireland. They are campaigning to repeal this amendment.

      However, non residents and non citizens can buy “Together for Yes” and “Repeal” merchandise from their shop, the profits of which will help the campaign. Just Google “Together For Yes”.

      They managed to raise €500k in a week for posters and leaflets, but can always do with more.

      If you are on Facebook- read the “In Her Shoes: Women of the Eighth”. Women who have bravely chosen to tell their stories- of choosing abortion and motherhood, of being left without choices, of their country abandoning them.
      Share with your friends.
      The stories are often hard to read, visceral and affecting.

      If you Twitter- check out #repealthe8th.

      Savita’s death was devastating.
      The 25th of May might be the day that means it wasn’t in vain.

      I’m hoping for yes on 25th of May, and change North of the border following on from that.

      • sdsures
        April 17, 2018 at 7:33 pm #

        Thanks! I’ll take a look!

      • sdsures
        April 18, 2018 at 8:45 am #

        Is Ireland a theocracy?

        • Dr Kitty
          April 18, 2018 at 2:33 pm #

          Not any more.
          The 8th was added to the constitution 35years ago.
          This referendum is the first vote to repeal it.
          This is the first chance anyone under 50 has had to vote to truly liberalise abortion laws!

          In the past 35 years foetal diagnosis has moved on.
          Medical abortion with drugs ordered online has happened (800 packages of pills sent to Irish addresses by Women on Web in the last year alone).
          The Church has it’s stranglehold on the population- most Irish are CINO or “a la carte Catholics”- not regular mass goers.
          Divorce is legal.
          Contraception is legal.
          There is marriage equality.
          Women are able to share their stories widely on social media rather than being silenced by stigma and shame.
          The Citizen’s Assembly’s decision was groundbreaking- and based on weeks of evidence- legal, medical, ethical and religious.
          People aren’t happy with “an Irish solution to an Irish problem” any more.

          There may actually be a victory for Repeal.
          It’s close, but it looks like it may finally be possible.
          Like all of these things- voter turnout will be the deciding factor.

          • LaMont
            April 18, 2018 at 6:39 pm #

            I’d fear that even with legal abortion, hospitals could still have the right not to offer it, and to tell miscarrying women to literally f*ck off and die, or women with ectopic pregnancies to let a tube rupture. Does this repeal directly address that?

          • Dr Kitty
            April 19, 2018 at 4:46 am #

            Irish hospitals already treat ectopic pregnancies surgically, no problem.

            Irish hospitals are also State, not church, run.
            While individual doctors may be able to conscientiously object, it is highly unlikely institutions will. There was huge outcry recently when it was suggested that the Catholic church might be involved in running a hospital offering maternity service. Irish people *really* didn’t like that idea.

            There are amazing Pro-choice Irish OB-GYn like Prof Louise Kenny (@louiseckenny on Twitter- seriously, go read) who will be fighting for women, come what may.

          • sdsures
            April 20, 2018 at 12:30 pm #

            Treating ectopic pregnancies surgically is fine, but saving a miscarrying mother’s life from sepsis is a no-go? Bizarre.

          • April 20, 2018 at 2:04 pm #

            Maybe Dr. Kitty (or Beatrice) can expound, but I believe that it has to do with “double effect.” So, removing a fallopian tube that’s all messed up is okay because you’re treating a diseased body part, and it’s only an unintended effect that the embryo or fetus dies; but directly harming the embryo or fetus is a no-no, even if you’re doing it to save Mom’s life.

          • Merrie
            April 22, 2018 at 9:56 pm #

            Seems like rules lawyering to me. The idea that it’s terrible to use contraception but it’s okay to avoid having sex on days you know are fertile also seems like rules lawyering. I think that God could probably engineer an IUD failure if He really wanted to.

          • AnnaPDE
            April 23, 2018 at 10:04 am #

            Yep, that’s precisely how Catholic hypocrisy works. Except they pretend it’s not rules lawyering but sophisticated moral theology or something.
            It’s not a coincidence that people are running away from them.

          • swbarnes2
            April 23, 2018 at 2:18 pm #

            Well, it’s more like the rules are “Don’t look at how something affects another person, look only at the intention of the person doing it.” Doing harm is morally fine if you didn’t intend it. You know “I wasn’t harassing you, I was just joking”.

            It’s a useful moral stance for the powerful.

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