Lord Brennan's confidential report presents Catholic leader with tough choices
BY SIMON CALDWELL
THE SPIRITUAL leader of the Catholics of England and Wales has been told by a senior adviser to stop doctors working out of a London Catholic hospital from referring women for abortions and prescribing the morningafter pill.
Cardinal Cormac MurphyO'Connor, the Archbishop of Westminster, has been advised in a confidential report by Lord Brennan, a Labour peer, that the Hospital of St John and St Elizabeth is infringing its code of ethics by allowing doctors' general practices to work out of its premises in St John's Wood.
The hospital, founded in 1856, was formerly run by the Sisters of Mercy, and was the place where Cardinal Basil Flume died of cancer in June 1999.
Its maternity unit has become popular with celebrities living in the fashionable areas of St John's Wood, Hampstead and Primrose Hill.
Heather Mi s-McCartney, the actresses Cate Blanchett and Emma Thompson. supemiodel Kate Moss, and Sarah Cox, the radio presenter, have all given birth to children there.
However, the hospital became the focus of a row after it was revealed that consultants had prescribed the morning-after pill and referred women for abortion, practices explicitly forbidden by Catholic teaching.
A number of sex-change operations, or gender reassignments, have also been carried out at the hospital.
The hospital is now planning to sublet part of its Brampton House premises this year to six general practices. It also intends to open another practice on the site in 2007.
But under their NHS contracts the GPs are obliged to prescribe contraceptives and the morning-alter pill.
Furthermore, even if they have a moral objection to abortion, they must refer women to doctors who do not share the same scruples.
The Cardinal, as patron of the hospital and a trustee of Brampton House, ordered an inquiry into the hospital last August after the Li nacre Centre of Health Care Ethics, a Catholic bioethical institute which at the time shared the site, raised concerns about the activities of the GPs.
The Cardinal asked Lord Brennan, a Catholic, to determine whether referrals for abortion contravened the hospital's code of ethics which states that "no person may use the hospital facilities for any consultation, operation, procedure. treatment and research which is clearly inconsistent with the ethical policy and accepted practices of the hospital".
According to sources close to the hospital, Lord Brennan will tell the Cardinal in his interim report that code has been transgressed and the practices must stop.
Austen lvereigh, spokesman for Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor, confirmed that the Cardinal had received the interim report from Lord Brennan's committee and was awaiting the full report.
"A Catholic hospital must have a clear code of ethics based on Catholic teaching, and have systems to implement and monitor that code," said Dr Ivereigh.
"The Cardinal will be reflecting on the final report, which he is confident will indicate the steps the hospital may need to take in order to safeguard its Catholic ethos."
The Cardinal could decide to dismiss the findings of the report or to change the hospital's code of ethics. He could also stop the GPs from taking up their surgeries on the hospital premises, but this would jeopardise the financial viability of the £11 mil
lion redevelopment ot Brampton House.
Alternatively, he could hand the hospital from control of the Church into that ot either the local health authority or any private London hospital which showed an interest in taking it over.
Lord Brennan's findings will also be sent to the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith which has taken a keen interest in the case.
The Cardinal discussed the issue in January last year with the future Pope Benedict XVI, who at the time was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the prefect of the Congregation. In his first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est (God is Love), Benedict last month warned the Church of the hazards of Catholic institutions compromising their religious identities.
Dr Helen Watt, director of the Linacre Centre, said that she hoped that the Brennan report "will help secure the serious changes needed to counter the current drift and keep the hospital to a Catholic ethos".
She said: "Britain is a highly secular society, and many take a consumerist view of healthcare as 'giving people what they want'. The Church takes a different view, as do those of other faiths who welcome the insistence on respect for every human being.
"Women should be referred for advice only to individuals and institutions that will genuinely respect them and their unborn children, They are legally free to seek other, pro-abortion advice, but should never be aided in doing this by anyone who cares about their welfare. They should certainly not be prescribed the abortifacient morning-after pill at ' the hospital: to allow this is, again. to be complicit in the destruction of new human beings.
"The willingness of thc hospital's spokesman to say — without contradiction — that this is permitted in the hospital suggests how far the hospital is drifting away from its own constitutional charter and its Catholic identity."
Nicolas Bellord, secretary of the Restituta Group, an organisation campaigning to retain the hospital's Catholic identity, said Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor would not be able to ignore Lord Brennan's findings. "We would expect the Cardinal to take decisive action," he added.