Virginia Mason CEO discusses merger implications for reproductive services and Death with Dignity

During a State of Reform “Leadership Series” virtual conversation on Monday, Dr. Gary Kaplan, Chairman and CEO of Virginia Mason (VM) Health System in Seattle, confirmed that the health system will likely no longer offer abortions or Death with Dignity care under its potential merger with CHI Franciscan. 

Kaplan made the comments during a virtual discussion with CHI Franciscan CEO Ketul Patel and host DJ Wilson about VM and CHI Franciscan’s Memorandum Of Understanding to explore forming a joint operating company.



During the conversation, an audience member asked if VM would continue to offer female reproductive services and Death with Dignity care even though CHI Franciscan, a Catholic health system, operates under the Catholic Church’s Ethical & Religious Directives

In response, Kaplan says VM will remain a non-Catholic institution and will offer most of the services previously provided, but with several notable exceptions: 

“To be totally honest, I believe that we will not be doing pregnancy terminations and we will not be doing Death with Dignity, or physician-assisted death as some call it.”

Kaplan notes that while nothing is currently set in stone, he anticipates VM will continue to offer other reproductive services and LGBTQ health care. 

“It’s our hope and anticipation that we will continue to provide the full range of women’s reproductive services, family planning services, and contraception, to our patients. That we will continue to provide the full range of LGBTQ services including transgender services as Virginia Mason has emerged as a leader in this area, and the full range of palliative services which includes palliative sedation and other end-of-life approaches as well. That’s my hope; that’s our anticipation.”

Kaplan’s comments appear to confirm some of the concerns expressed by reproductive health, LGBTQ+, and end-of-life care advocates related to mergers of religious and secular health systems. 

The conversation has been particularly prominent in Washington State, where 41% of hospital beds are in Catholic facilities. Reporting from Kaiser Health News notes that if the merger goes through, a total of four cities in the state – Bellingham, Centralia, Walla Walla, and Yakima – will only have a Catholic hospital. 

Is it perfect? No, in many respects,” concluded Kaplan. “People who know me know my own personal values. We believe that we have enough in common and that this, as we’ve looked at all of the potential partnerships… We believe this gives the best opportunity for Virginia Mason and for our new joint operating company to really thrive in the future. And so, we’ve had to make some decisions around that and we’ll make more as we go forward.”

Kaplan and Patel’s full remarks are available in the video above.