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CRETE -- A husband and wife medical team in Crete say they were forced to resign their positions when the Catholic hospital that owns their clinic discovered they were prescribing birth control pills to patients.

Physicians Gary and Christine Marcotte of South Holland have worked as contractual doctors for a clinic owned by St. Margaret Mercy Healthcare Centers at 1395 Main St. in Crete since 1997. Christine said that without warning, hospital administrators asked her to resign or be terminated after learning she prescribed birth control pills to her patients, thereby violating the Catholic church's stance on contraception use.

"We signed a contract with them and the contract said we would follow the ethical and religious directives of the Catholic church," Gary said. "The bishops say you should not practice contraception. We prescribe birth control pills for many other problems. In modern practice, birth control pills for younger and even middle-aged women are certainly prescribed to prevent pregnancy. I'm not going to say we never prescribed them for that purpose, but it certainly wasn't the sole purpose."

St. Margaret Mercy Healthcare Centers issued a statement on the issue Monday, saying, "the issue in dispute was an essential element clearly understood in the contract which doctors Gary and Christine Marcotte didn't accept, so the employment relationship ended."

The dispute began on Aug. 14, when a hospital administrator called Christine in for a meeting.

"I think with Dr. Christine, they singled her out because she does a lot more work with women than I do," Gary said. "They brought her there without telling her what it was about."

Christine was told she would have to resign or be terminated as a result of prescribing birth control pills and that she would have to make her decision immediately.

She chose to sign a letter of resignation.

A few minutes after his wife's meeting, hospital administrators called Gary in for a meeting as well.

"They said they didn't think I was involved in the process and said I'm not fired, I'm warned," he said. "They said if I wanted to resign, also, that would be fine. I said I didn't want to resign."

The next day, the hospital told Gary he was suspended until further notice. He turned in his letter of resignation Aug. 19.

Three employees of the clinic lost their jobs as well, allegedly for not telling hospital administrators the doctors were dispensing birth control pills. The discipline against the three employees was particularly upsetting for the doctors.

"It would be another thing if we were dealing drugs from the office or offering bad care or committing fraud," Gary said, adding that if that were the case and employees did not report the improprieties, "I'd say yes, terminate them immediately."

Marcotte started his practice in Crete in 1981, with his wife joining him there ten years later. In 1997, the Marcottes sold their practice to St. Margaret Mercy Healthcare Centers, with the doctors remaining on staff as contractual employees.

The Marcottes are trying to find another location for practicing medicine, but their contract with St. Margaret's is getting in the way. The agreement includes a non-compete clause barring the doctors from opening another practice within 12 miles of a St. Margaret's facility within two years of voiding the contract.

An attorney for the Marcottes is looking into the legality of the clause.

"I'm finding it to be very restrictive," Gary said. "Whether it will stand up legally, we're not sure."

On a moral level, Christine said she has no problems with the use of birth control pills for contraception. Christine told the story of a married mother of three she encountered who was unhappy when she discovered she was pregnant for the fourth time. When the woman was pregnant a fifth time, she chose to terminate the pregnancy.

"That hurts me," Christine said. "Perhaps we could have prevented that scenario for her. This is where birth control pills have a unique function. When used as a contraceptive device, it is really the only one I would recommend."

Her husband agrees.

"I think personally, birth control pills don't cause a fertilized egg to become aborted or cause abortions," Gary said. "Personally, I don't like the thought of those things. What they do is prevent ovulation and provide hormonal stability, which helps control menstrual flows, acne, just a host of other things."

Currently, the Marcottes are assisting a Tinley Park physician who has fallen ill by caring for his patients three days a week in exchange for the use of his office space another three days a week to care for their own patients.

"We really do have loyal patients and want, most of all, to be able to serve them," Christine said.

As far as working for another healthcare group, Christine said she, "would be a little gun shy about getting involved with anyone else in the future."

Lauri Harvey can be reached at harvey@nwitimes.com or (219) 933-4169.

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