Six-month inquiry concludes that NHS practices conflict with Catholic hospital's code of ethics and must be stopped, but campaigners say it isn't that simple
BY MARK GREAVES
THE SPIRITUAL leader of Catholics in England and Wales has warned a north London Catholic hospital to stop doctors referring patients for abortions and prescribing the morningafter pill.
Cardinal Cormac MurphyO'Connor, the Archbishop of Westminster, has called on the Hospital of St John and St Elizabeth to revise its code of ethics after complaints that NHS doctors working on its premises were in breach of Catholic teaching.
"A hospital which is Catholic in name and ethos must invest time and energy in its ethical as well as in its clinical governance," the Cardinal said in a letter to the hospital chairman, Lord Bridgeman.
The Cardinal's intervention follows an inquiry led by Labour peer Lord Brennan, a Catholic, that found the hospital to be in violation of the Catholic principles on which it was founded. Although no abortions are performed on the site, consultants have been referring patients for abortions elsewhere.
The hospital, which was founded in 1856 and was formerly run by the Sisters of Mercy, has issued a
guarded response to the statement. "We accept Cardinal Cormac MurphyO'Connor's recommenda tion," said Lord Bridgeman. "Any revision of the code will take into account the Cardinal's views in addition to the hospital's existing legal, medical and charitable obligations." , But Catholic campaign groups say the hospital cannot conform to Church principles if it continues to allow NHS practices to operate on its premises.
But a spokeswoman for the hospital maintained that plans to house an NHS surgery at the new Brampton House site would not be shelved.
The Cardinal said that everyone who worked on the premises must "accept the implications of the tensions and conflicts between Catholic moral teaching and contemporary secular medical practice.
"In fairness to healthcare professionals, patients, and benefactors," he continued, "there must be clarity that the hospital, being a Catholic hospital with a distinct vision of what is truly in the interests of human persons, cannot offer its patients, non-Catholic or Catholic, the whole range of services routinely accepted by many in modern secular
society as being in a patient's best interest."
The Cardinal added that tests for foetal deformities must not be carried out at the hospital if positive results would lead the mother to seek an abortion.
A spokesman for the Cardinal explained that the hospital's code of ethics had to be clarified so that doctors who were not Catholic knew what their obligations were at the institution.
"A Catholic hospital cannot refer people for abortions. They can't say: 'You can't have it here but there's a place just round the corner'," the spokesman said.
The hospital, known as "John and Lizzie's", is the place where Cardinal Basil Hume died of cancer in June 1999. Its maternity unit has become fashionable among celebrities. Heather MillsMcCartney and supermodel Kate Moss have both given birth to children there.
The Linacre Centre of Health Care Ethics, a Catholic bioethical institute that was among those to complain about the activities of NHS consultants, has already expressed concern over the hospital's response.
Professor Luke Gonnally, a senior research fellow at the centre, said: "Lord Bridgeman misunderstands the import of the Cardinal's letter when he refers to its contents as the Cardinal's 'views', as though what the Cardinal requires might be overridden by other considerations."
Prof Gormally argued that, if the Cardinal's warning was accepted, the hospital would be unable to continue with plans to accommodate an NHS surgery at Brampton House. The GPs who would work at the site are legally bound to provide contraceptives and to refer patients for abortions.
Although Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor has the power to prevent GPs from taking up their surgeries on the hospital premises, this move would jeopardise the financial viability of the £11
million Brampton House redevelopment. In his statement, the Cardinal accepted that establishing the hospital as a Catholic institution would involve difficulty and "commercial risk".
Nicolas Bellord, secretary of the Restituta Group, an organisation campaigning to retain the hospital's Catholic identity, called the hospital's reaction to the statement
He said: "The management does not seem to recognise the primacy of the Church's ethical doctrines in the government of the hospital. They seem determined to do their own thing and not be hampered by the Catholic ethic."
Cardinal MurphyO'Connor, as patron of the hospital and a trustee of Brampton House, ordered an inquiry in August after the Linacre Centre raised concerns about the activities of GPs. He discussed the issue in January last year with the future Pope Benedict XVI, who at the time was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
In his first endyclical, Deus Caritas Est (God is Love), Pope Benedict warned the Church of the hazards of Catholic institutions compromising their religious identities.