The University of Texas at Austin’s new Dell Medical School, which is slated to open in 2016, finally bringing a medical school to the Austin campus, is a subject of renewed controversy. UT Austin is contracting with the Catholic-based Seton Healthcare Family to train its new students. Since then, both institutions have been under scrutiny over issues that revolve around religion and, ultimately, abortion as well.
Seton is part of Ascension Health, a large Catholic healthcare group, which, like other Catholic institutions, forbids anti-life actions in its practice.
A Sunday story from Abilene Reporter-News:
“Medical students are not employees, so do not sign contracts. But the employment contracts for faculty and residents do not allow them to engage in abortions, in vitro fertilization or promote or condone contraception, for example.”
And that’s where the controversy arises. Calling it a “Merger Malady,” when it was first reported last year, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State (AU) insisted that a public medical school has no right partnering with a Catholic health care facility. AU reports its Staff Attorney Ian Smith said:
“You have the University of Texas sending public school students to a hospital where … they have to tell their students they are bound by Catholic religious doctrine. That’s very bad news for healthcare as a whole and the rights of both patients and doctors.”
Last month, Smith said the agreement was unconstitutional and that “a government entity like the university ‘cannot legally bind itself to those religious rules.’”
“If they are teaching in a medical school, they are a government actor. Restricting their behavior and their presentation under the Ethical and Religious Directives is problematic.”
Although the university already sends its students at other medical school campuses to train at the Seton-run University Medical Center Brackenridge, the new medical school has raised new issues for opponents who consider it a separation of church and state issue.
However, the University of Texas and Seton see differently. On its medical school website, UT Austin reports:
As part of a visionary partnership with Seton Healthcare Family, a regional health care system, and Central Health, a public health care district, a new teaching hospital will be constructed adjacent to the new Dell Medical School. By designing these facilities concurrently within an integrated complex, the effort represents an unprecedented opportunity to create the best possible environment to respond to community needs and provide patient care.
Indeed, Seton is the largest of all healthcare systems in the central Texas region, which would seem to actually provide more opportunity for future medical professionals, not less.
It is a curious bond, however, as UT Austin is also a leader in various medical research, and works with human embryonic stem cell research. This isn’t a part of its new medical school, of course, but the fact it clearly does not object to such research should be a check for the organizations crying religious foul. What UT Austin is doing is trying to open a top-notch medical school which will match its national reputation as an educational leader. That the university would choose to partner with the largest and most-known medical facility in its own region is not only logical, it’s beneficial to students who will receive medical training and very likely could be hired by the same facilities.
To argue against a legitimate partnership because it won’t allow things such as abortion really begs the question: Why does a medical student actually need to have abortion, IVF and other types of training like this to simply learn the practice? Is there not enough training out there through abortion facilities that places like AU needs to work to halt a productive partnership to demand an abortion partnership?
As the reports state, there is no contract that students will engage to be employees. No one is forcing a medical student to become a Catholic or to work for a Catholic organization. The bottom line is if the Catholics are doing good medicine, then they should be able to train others to do good medicine. Most Americans want to know that they have a competently trained doctor with a medical degree from a solid facility, not someone who was allowed to do abortion in medical school.
UT Austin is currently reviewing the agreement, but has made no indication of change.