Patients in hospitals, hospices and other health care facilities are entitled to pastoral care. Especially when their health is deteriorating or situations where their life is threatened, hospitals are obliged to allow patients to contact a priest of their religious confession, and the medical institution must cover the costs of this service. This is inscribed in Polish law, among the highest-ranking acts of the country’s laws and regulations.
The provision for religious services and pastoral care in relation to health care is contained in several normative laws – reaching from the country’s Constitution and the Concordat to the decrees promulgated by the Minister of Public Health – that regulate the rapport between the State and the Churches and religious communities in Poland.
The Constitution (art. 53, par. 2) ensures each person’s freedom of conscience and religion, including the right to receive religious support from the inhabitants of the places where they find themselves.
Art. 17, par. 1 of the Concordat indicates that the Republic of Poland ensures the conditions for religious worship and benefiting from religious services to persons who are, among others, in health and social services. Moreover, par. 2, adds that these people will be given the opportunity to assist at Mass, on Sundays and holidays, as well as receiving individual religious support.
The legislation concerning the relationship between the State and the Catholic Church, stipulates, in art. 31, that, among other things, for people in clinics „the right to practice religious acts and to benefit from religious support is ensured”.
In addition, directors of competent state-owned institutions should employ chaplains under the authority of the diocesan Bishop (par. 2) and enable the interested patients participated in the Mass and in other collective religious practices, while the health care centers should provide adequate room for chapels.
Likewise, „the right to exercise religious practices, to benefit from of religious support and catechesis, while maintaining mutual tolerance” is also guaranteed to children and adolescents residing, among other places, in sanatoriums, preventoria, and hospitals (art. 30 of the Act).
„If your health deteriorates or your life is endangered, the static therapeutic unit (e.g., hospital, treatment and care center, nursing care facility, rehabilitation center, sanatorium) is required to help you to contact a minister of your religion. Costs related to the implementation of this law shall be borne by the therapeutic institution,” says the Ministry of Health on its website, in the section „Patient’s Rights”.
The patient’s right to pastoral care is also dealt with by the entire chapter 10 of the Act of 6 November 2008 on Patients’ Rights and the Commissioner for Patients’ Rights. Art. 36 states: „Patients staying in a therapeutic facility of a stationary type, where medical activities are carried out around-the-clock for the benefit of their physical health, have, under the provisions concerning medical activity, the right to pastoral care”.
Art. 37 says that, if the patient’s health deteriorates or his life is in danger, the hospital is obliged to allow him to contact a minister of his religion and that, unless otherwise provided by law, the cost for this right will be paid by the institution in which the person is staying (art. 38).
The Law on the Patient’s Rights does not, however, indicate how a hospital’s director ensures the patients’ right to pastoral care (whether and in what form he should sign an agreement with the chaplain to allow him entrance to the hospital, etc.), but it simply imposes the obligation to bear the costs of this action. In this regard, especially in the case of private institutions, the director of the medical center is left free to choose.
If a hospital is a budget unit and the director decides to hire a hospital chaplain, the latter’s salary is established in accordance with the directives on the conditions of remuneration for work of employees of budgetary medical units, promulgated by the Minister of Health on 28 June 2013.
On the other hand, the decision concerning the existence of the chapel in the therapeutic center is left to the institution’s director.