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Nurse Sues Hospital After Allegedly Being Forced to Assist in Abortion

Keri Mucci, for HealthLeaders Media, August 6, 2009

A New York City nurse slapped a lawsuit on her hospital after allegedly being forced to assist in a late-term abortion that defied her religious beliefs.

Catherina Cenzon-DeCarlo, a devout Catholic operating room nurse employed at Mount Sinai Hospital, claims she had to compromise her faith and perform the procedure on a 22-week pregnant patient or risk losing her job and her license. The hospital has known of the nurse's objections to participating in abortions since she interviewed for her position in 2004. But Cenzon-DeCarlo accuses supervisors of refusing to assign the procedure to another nurse when she begged out of the procedure.

Cenzon-DeCarlo says her involvement in the May 24 abortion has left her with nightmares that prevent her from sleeping, reports the New York Post.

The incident is alarming to some of the most seasoned nurses in the field.

"Ms. Cenzon-DeCarlo has experienced employer bullying at its finest," says Deanna Miller, RN, MSN, Ed, HCE, manager of critical care and staff development at University Hospitals Geneva (OH) Medical Center. "During my 22 years in healthcare, I have never witnessed or experienced this type of infringement on a clinician's rights. If Mount Sinai was aware of [her] beliefs, she should never have been put into such an emotionally taxing position."

The abortion was performed on a patient with preeclampsia—a condition characterized by high blood pressure that can result in seizures or death if left untreated. However, the suit filed last week alleges Mount Sinai supervisors embellished the patient's condition and told Cenzon-DeCarlo that the mother may die if she did not assist with the abortion. The nurse claims she later found out hospital records stated the abortion was a "Category II" procedure, which is not immediately life threatening.

While late-term abortion is permissible in cases where the mother's life is at risk, the clinician's cultural and spiritual beliefs must also be taken into consideration, says Miller. "We emphasize cultural competency and diversity with those that we care for, but who is looking out for the provider?"

Still, religion, rights, and emotions aside, Cenzon-DeCarlo asserts the hospital had time—six hours—to find a replacement nurse for the abortion. Supervisors allegedly chose not to, and threatened she would be brought up on charges of insubordination and patient abandonment if she did not participate in the procedure, according Cenzon-DeCarlo.

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