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Arizona bishops praise new hospital clergy visitation law

Hospital ICU muss/Shutterstock

Arizona’s five bishops expressed their gratitude at a new law forbidding hospitals from unduly restricting clergy visitations during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“During the pandemic, too many people have died without the spiritual assistance or sacraments desired at the end of their lives,” said the May 5 letter, which was signed by Bishop Edward Weisenburger of Tucson; Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix; Bishop Eduardo Nevares, auxiliary bishop of Phoenix; Bishop James Wall of Gallup; and Bishop John Pazak, of the Holy Protection of Mary Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Phoenix. 

“Even now, there remain places where clergy are not able to have in-person visits that are requested by dying patients,” said the bishops. 

The legislation, HB 2575, was introduced by state Rep. Quang Nguyen (R-Prescott Valley). It amends Arizona law to say that if a hospital is allowing in-person visits of any kind, “the hospital must facilitate the ability of clergy to visit the patient in person for religious purposes.” 

The law states that clergy must follow “reasonable health and safety precautions,” and that if in-person visits are suspended, “the hospital must facilitate a virtual clergy visit using communication technology.” 

HB 2575 was passed on May 5 and signed into law by Gov. Doug Ducey (R) the same day.

Arizona’s law comes after many hospital systems enacted strict visitation policies in response to the coronavirus pandemic. In December 2020, the Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Health and Human Services resolved an allegation of religious discrimination in New York after a Jewish man was denied access to a rabbi and kosher food.

Access to clergy resulted in the office resolving several complaints during the pandemic. Earlier in 2020, the office resolved complaints in Virginia and Maryland that resulted in hospital systems changing their visitation policies to allow for clerical visits. 

In one of those cases, the Diocese of Arlington intervened on behalf of a dying Catholic COVID patient who was denied access to a priest because of hospital visitation policies. The OCR worked with the hospital to allow a priest inside to visit the patient before death.

The bishops said they were “extremely grateful” for the work of healthcare providers during the course of the pandemic, as “patients typically need both great care for their bodies as well as for their souls.” 

“This new law is simple legislation that will allow clergy of all faiths to have in-person visitation in hospitals when requested by a patient and it is safe for any other visitor,” they said. “By providing this spiritual care, it will give great benefit and comfort to both dying patients and their families.”

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