A Catholic Hospital Refuses To Give Patients Vital Information June 7, 2011

A Catholic Hospital Refuses To Give Patients Vital Information

There’s a drug called lenalidomide that’s being used in a trial with cancer patients. The drug may be able to treat the cancer (yay!), but it has a nasty side effect: if you have children while on the drug, they may be born with birth defects like heart and limb deformities.

So if you’re giving patients the drug (or a placebo), you would want to warn them about the side effect, right? In addition, you’d want to inform the patients about their options regarding contraception, right?

Not in this case..

This study will take place at Calvary Mater Hospital in Australia… which is a Catholic hospital. And you know how Catholics hate their birth control…

Under a clampdown at Newcastle’s Calvary Mater Hospital, doctors recruiting patients into clinical trials may no longer distribute information about contraception. Instead they are allowed to offer a ”statement of reproductive risks”, which advises participants to avoid pregnancy but gives no information on how to achieve this.

So the hospital’s Catholic administrators would rather see a baby born with birth defects than have someone use a condom or take a birth control pill. It’s irresponsible, unethical, woefully ignorant, and absolutely sickening.

At least some of the doctors recognize this:

Michael Seldon, a staff specialist haematologist at the hospital, which operates as part of NSW Health and is the city’s only cancer treatment centre, said he was considering defying his bosses and providing the information anyway when the first Newcastle patients suffering myelodysplastic syndrome, multiple myeloma or chronic lymphocytic leukaemia join national trials of the drug lenalidomide within weeks.

”It puts me in an invidious position [but] ethically I don’t believe I have any option,” he said. He saw no religious reason to withhold information on contraception, which people were free to reject. ”When you start imposing your views on someone it starts to become non-Christian.”

What’s the Catholic response?

… Martin Laverty, chief executive of Catholic Health Australia, defended the hospital: ”Scientists, ethicists, academics should feel very free to criticise it, but appreciate a Catholic hospital is built on those [ethical] foundations.” The Newcastle situation had been ”a legitimate testing of the boundaries of that ethical decision-making process”.

In other words, “The people who are experts in science and ethics says our plan is crazy… but we don’t care because we’re Catholics and we think we know better.”

“Appreciate” it? Fuck. No. If this is the “ethical foundation” of the hospital, let’s hope a collapse is imminent.

(Thanks to Matt for the link)

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  • Claudia

    What little I have read about clinical trials (my field is entirely pre-clinical) indicates that there are extremely strict requirements about informed consent for volunteers.

    I specifically remember that patients can never be denied neccesary treatment for the sake of the experiment (results can get muddled when you have several treatments at once) and that patients need to be informed of their treatment options and known effects and side-effects. My impression is that requirements for information become more strict, not more lax, in the case of clinical trials.

    Given this I wonder how a hospital could get the green light for clinical trials when they are announcing that they will give less than full information to their patients, particularly when the consequences could be so dire. That the Catholic heirarchy could be so callous and cruel is hardly a surprise anymoe (I mean, what’s several million African lives between friends?) but I would like to know why Australian authorities aren’t taking action.

  • Why don’t they just inform the patients of the risks and options available to them and let them decide for themselves?

    Oh. Wait. Catholic hospital. My bad.

  • Nico

    Outrageous! There isn’t much more to say.

  • JimG

    It’s a recruiting tactic. If the drug produces a hydrocephalic baby, they’ll have a prime candidate for the next pope.

  • From what I gather, the odious behavior consists solely of not telling people that they can use birth control. But they are not hiding the fact that this drug presents a risk in regards to birth defects, correct?
    If I am correct, this stupid behavior in and of itself isn’t in any way preventing the use of birth control by patients. They simply aren’t advertising the different kinds of birth control available. Irritating and silly, yes, but hardly as evil as telling Catholics in 3rd world nations that condom use to prevent the spread of HIV is to be discouraged.

  • Steve

    The Catholic Church acting in an immoral and unethical way? I’m shocked! Shocked

  • Parse

    And the next time, when a promising new drug’s clinical studies pass over this hospital because of actions like this stunt, I’m sure that Martin Laverty will be the first in line to cry religious persecution.

  • littlejohn

    Although they really ought to suggest birth control, I assume the average Aussie is intelligent enough to understand what she should do if told the drug causes birth defects and that she ought not get pregnant. Is any adult in the developed world unaware of their birth control options?

  • Steve

    Is any adult in the developed world unaware of their birth control options?

    Apparently in the US, a lot of sex-ed is abstinence only “education”. It’s the reason for the very high teen pregnancy rate, which is demonstrably higher in more religious states

    I don’t think there are many people who don’t about condoms, but beyond that it becomes more problematic. Many know about the pill, but that’s as far it goes for a significant amount of people.

  • If this is a study and the protocols of the study say that participants need to be told about birth control options and this hospital is refusing to stick to the protocols…then I think they forfeit their right to host the study, and any income from it.

  • MV

    I will never understand why doctors and other medical professionals are willing to risk their livelihood over religious based policy set by the hospital. When something bad happens the policy makers won’t have their back. It’s easier to overcome a loss of a doctor due to a loss of a license than for a doctor to overcome the loss of a license to practice (or a lawsuit for that matter).

  • PCE

    If you’re an atheist, go to a non-Catholic hospital.

  • Suz

    I work in clinical trials in the US. If the study drug has the potential to cause birth defects, the protocol would require the female participants to be on birth control to be eligible to participate in the study. It’s not enough to just inform the patient of the potential to cause birth defects.

    I don’t know the regulations in Australia but in the US, this hospital wouldn’t be allowed to participate in the trial. The pharma company sponsoring the trial wouldn’t risk the potential lawsuits before their drug ever made it to market.

  • ephymeris

    These kinds of stories are disturbing. If you have religious beliefs that do not allow you to fully perform the duties of your job to the best of your ability, then you shouldn’t be allowed to work in that profession. As medical professionals, we have a duty to deliver the best care we can to every patient, regardless. To do otherwise is to utterly fail your patient.

  • qwertyuiop

    First schools, and now hospitals are becoming more and more like churches.

  • Brett

    As a American Atheist, I have long wondered why there are so few non-religious hospitals. If I were interested in god fixing my medical condition, I would go to a church. I trust science and reason and that’s why I go to a hospital.

    If you’re an atheist, go to a non-Catholic hospital.

    Tell that to somebody living in a small town in rural Texas. Hell, I live in San Antonio and have few non-religious hospital choices.

  • orgostrich

    So I used to work for Celgene, the company that produces lenalidomide (Revlimid). At least in America, the rules for prescribing or being prescribed Revlimid are incredibly strict. Every doctor that wants to prescribe it and every pharmacy that wants to dispense it must by approved by Celgene. For patients, men must promise to always use a condom, no matter how old they are or if they’ve had a vasectomy. Women (before or near menopause) must use at least 2 forms of birth control, where NFP does not even qualify as one. And she must still take regular pregnancy tests. If a test comes up positive, the pharmacy must stop dispensing the drug. Even the patients in clinical trials had to follow these rules. http://www.revlimid.com/hcp/hcp-revassist-pre.aspx

    The massive birth defects caused by thalidomide (which is what lenalidomide is derived from) is one of the reasons the FDA has the regulatory power it does today. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Food_and_Drug_Administration_%28United_States%29#Expansion_of_premarket_approval_process:_1959-1985

    I don’t know if a different company is marketing lenalidomide in Australia, but I highly highly doubt Celgene would allow this to happen.

  • ckitching

    So, all the people who spring up to defend pharmacists who refuse to dispense birth control are going to defend these doctors, too, right? Right?


    I figured as much.

  • Ah…good ole’ Catholics…caring for the unborn but telling people that are alive “you’re fucked” as always -_-

    And for Laverty to say the hospital is built on ethics…that’s a nice breach of ethics right there the liar!

  • Dan W

    This makes me hope I never end up in a religious hospital. Also, from this quote: ”When you start imposing your views on someone it starts to become non-Christian”, I get the feeling someone doesn’t know their church’s history. Christians have been imposing their views on others for millenia.

  • Atom Jack

    It’s a “Catholic” hospital, in name only, and the “ethicists” who take their sick cues from Rome, will decry birth control. The Catholic church, among others, affiliates themselves with hospitals, even if the parishioners make no direct contribution.

  • Fraser H

    Unfortunately the Mater private hospitals are widespread in Australia, and are the principle option if the public hospital is overstretched. In a more general sense, religion, particularly Catholicism and other forms of Christianity, seems to be particularly insidious here. It may not be as open or as extreme as in the US, but there generally is an undercurrent in the country that religion is “a good thing” and can’t possibly be doing something wrong. See school chaplains (an extra $222 million was budgeted for their program last month, apparently the program is popular, as if that should matter), the Liberal-Nats coalition in general, Victoria’s recent decision to allow religious exemptions to the non-discrimination legislation, abortion still being illegal in Queensland, and the general spinelessness of the atheist prime-minister when it comes to faith.

  • Fraser H

    Off topic, but continuing my rant about religious influence in Australia. On the Australian government website FAQ for school chaplaincy. A secular alternative is only possible when all other avenues to get a chaplain have failed.

    What do I need to know about Secular Pastoral Care Workers?
    Around 2700 schools were granted funding under the program in 2007. These schools were able to submit applications for funding without having yet identified a chaplain. They would then have an appropriate period to locate and employ a chaplain who met their school’s needs. Due to shortages of suitable candidates available, many of these schools have reported difficulties in employing a chaplain. For this reason, the Government made the decision to allow the funding already approved for these schools to be used for alternative support workers, if they could not find a chaplain by July 2008. These alternative providers may include counsellors, youth workers or other secular support staff.

    The offer only applied to those schools that had exhausted all reasonable avenues to find a suitable chaplain. It does not affect any other school that has successfully identified a chaplain that meets the school community’s needs.

  • J Cole

    The fact that the hospital is refusing to give information on contraception is retarded (hmm that may be a poor choice of words given the birth defect subject matter) but really as long as they are clearly warning people about the risk of birth defects then it’s not that big a deal. I mean if you don’t know how to prevent pregnancy, then you are probably already Catholic anyway.

  • Rikaishi

    Based on my memories of the NSW system in the 90’s, Australian public schools have a pretty good sex education curriculum. If you’ve been through school then you know: where babies come from, what all the reproductive organs do, most of the common forms of STD’s (symptoms, risks and your duty to see a doctor if you think you are infected) some very basic psychology of sex, most of the available contraceptives (condom, vasectomy, diaphram+gel, pill, morning-after pill, implant, IUD and dental dams) along with the fact that all of them have a small failure rate and there are some methods which plain do not work. (withdrawal, douching)

    Having said that, there are any number of ways that people can fall through the cracks. Not everyone finishes their education, meaning they only learn what is in the earlier, less detailed lessons. Religious/charter schools are rife and not always obliged to stick to the same rules as everyone else.

    The biggest problem I see is that even though most Aussies know to use birth control and know that they are not 100% reliable, not everyone will make the connection that they need to use multiple contraceptives. That means an increased, and unacceptable, risk that someone will bear a deformed baby.

    The second biggest issue is that this hospital is corrupting the trial data. They’re doing something different then all the other participants and adding an extra variable. This is bad science. In real terms they are telling people to make a choice between their medication and sex and you just know that there will be a few who would choose to stop taking their medication.

    Seriously though, telling people to not have sex never works. This is a well know fact. So it should be a requirement of the trial itself that participants have no moral or religious objections to contraception.

  • Ahh, what the hell, Newcastle? I was born in that hospital!

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