A widely supported bill to let Washington State University open a medical school in Spokane hit a snag when a Seattle lawmaker asked the school to promise that it would not limit teaching on reproductive health or end-of-life care because of its partnerships with religious hospitals.
House Bill 1559 was scheduled to be voted out of the House Higher Education Committee on Friday, but the vote was delayed after Rep. Gerry Pollet, D-Seattle, pushed that amendment, the Seattle Times reported. WSU supporters say they have no intention of restricting medical education. But they say Pollet's amendment has no place in the bill.
"It's way out on the front end of the process," said Ken Roberts, acting dean of the WSU College of Medical Sciences. Pollet is the only legislator he's heard raise such a concern, Roberts said.
Rep. Marcus Riccelli, D-Spokane, the prime sponsor of the bill, said he's confident the proposal will pass out of the committee next week, without Pollet's amendment.
The bill has broad bipartisan support, with 65 co-sponsors. It would end a 1916 restriction that allowed the University of Washington to operate the state's only medical school.
Pollet said the state should not authorize a medical school without an assurance that it will train students in all relevant medical practices, including reproductive health for women. Pollet's amendment reflects a larger concern over a recent surge in affiliations between Catholic healthcare systems and secular hospitals.
Critics have worried about access to abortion and other medical services getting barred by religious doctrine.
The UW has long trained its own medical students in Spokane, through its WWAMI program, which has been operated as a partnership with WSU. That program trains students at times in religiously affiliated hospitals, such as Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center.
But Pollet said the UW has worked on policies to ensure no gaps in its medical education occur because of those affiliations. He said he worries about the WSU medical school, which would place students entirely in local hospitals for two years.
The UW and WSU have clashed over the medical-school proposal, with the UW arguing a more cost-effective approach would be for lawmakers to expand its existing Spokane program, which trains 40 students a year. But more recently, UW lobbyists have said they don't oppose the WSU bill so long as the Legislature provides funding to keep the UW's Spokane program on track.