Centura Health Corporation maintains 17 hospitals throughout Colorado and Kansas. The organization runs its hopsitals guided by the Catholic and Seventh Day Adventist mission to “extend the healing ministry of Christ.”
Along with his doctor, Golden resident Cornelius Mahoney sued the hospital in August, challenging its refusal to provide aid-in-dying to terminal patients.
“We believe the case brought by Mr. Mahoney and Dr. Morris is a challenge to our freedom of religion, which is at the heart of the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment,” said attorney Kris Ordelheide, Centura Health general counsel in a statement.
Until his diagnosis of adenocarcinoma earlier this year, Mahoney was a healthy 64-year-old happily employed at a local nursery.
Now he has between 4 and 14 months to live, depending on the success of his chemotherapy. Adenocarcinoma forms in the glands lining organs, and Mahoney suffers from tumors in his liver, chest and the place where his stomach meets his esophagus, making it difficult to eat.
His doctor at CHPG Golden Primary Care, Barbara Morris, specializes in geriatric medicine and supports Mahoney’s decision, but is barred by the hospital’s policy against prescribing aid-in-dying medication to any patient.
The hospital fired Morris Aug. 26, shortly after the lawsuit was filed, for violating the hospital’s “ethical and religious directives” which “as a matter of religious doctrine, the religious directives declare that suicide and euthanasia are never morally acceptable options.”
According to the hospital’s religious directives, “Catholic institutions may never condone or participate in euthanasia or assisted suicide in any way. Dying patients who request euthanasia should receive loving care, psychological and spiritual support, and appropriate remedies for pain and other symptoms so that they can live with dignity until the time of natural death.”
The Colorado End-of-Life Options Act was passed by 65% of voters in 2016 but allows medical facilities to opt out if they do not wish to allow patients to end their life on the premises. But Centura Health’s religious directives ban any staff from assisting in euthanasia, which it deems immoral.
“Since the time of Christ’s life on earth, the healing ministry has been as central to Christian faith as is preaching of the gospel. That religious healing ministry has continued in the Catholic Church,” the hospital explained in its 13-page motion to dismiss.
Centura Health had the case removed from Arapahoe County to federal court, where it has been assigned to Senior U.S. District Judge Lewis T. Babcock, appointed by Ronald Reagan in 1988. Mahoney, however, has requested the case be returned to the state court since his complaint is based on a violation of state law.
For its part, the hospital wants the state law tested against federal protections of religious freedom.
Centura Health is represented by attorney Melvin Sabey of the Denver firm Hall, Render, Killian, Heath & Lyman.
Mahoney and Morris are represented by Steven Wienczowski with the Denver firm Foster Graham Milstein & Calisher. End of Life Liberty Project executive director Kathryn Tucker is also advising the plaintiffs.