DENVER — A Christian-run health system in Colorado has fired a veteran doctor who went to court to fight for the right of her patient to use the state's medical aid-in-dying law, citing religious doctrine that describes "assisted suicide" as "intrinsically evil."
Centura Health Corp. this week abruptly terminated Dr. Barbara Morris, 65, a geriatrician with 40 years of experience, who had planned to help her patient, Cornelius "Neil" Mahoney, 64, end his life at his home. Mahoney, who has terminal cancer, is eligible to use the state's law, overwhelmingly approved by Colorado voters in 2016.
The growing number of state aid-in-dying provisions are increasingly coming into conflict with the precepts of faith-based hospitals, which oppose the practice on religious grounds.
Morris' dismissal presents an early test of state laws. The Trump administration has moved to broaden the latitude of providers to refuse to participate in medical interventions they object to on religious grounds, though that has previously applied primarily to abortion and contraception.
As hospitals across the country have consolidated, five of the top 10 hospital systems by net patient revenue are associated with the Roman Catholic Church, according to Definitive Health. That includes hospitals that did not previously have any religious affiliation. Meanwhile, there are 10 U.S. jurisdictions where aid-in-dying has been approved and public support for the option is increasing.
The Aug. 26 firing came days after Morris joined with Mahoney in filing a state lawsuit that alleges that Centura's faith-based policy violates the law that allows doctors to prescribe lethal drugs to dying patients who want to end their own lives.
Officials at Centura, a system jointly run by Catholic and Seventh-day Adventist churches, told Morris on Monday that she had defied church doctrines that govern her employment.
"I was shellshocked," Morris said in an exclusive interview with Kaiser Health News. "Because of all the things I expected them to do, that was not in the playbook. Because it seemed so obvious that they can't do it."
But in legal documents filed Friday that ask to elevate the case to federal court and invoke the First Amendment in defense of their actions, Centura officials said Morris had violated terms of her physician's employment agreement and "encouraged an option that she knew was morally unacceptable to her employer."