Catholic hospital struggles to become secular

The north London hospital of St John and St Elizabeth which was established by the Catholic Church is now about to drop its religious links and become a secular institution.

Doctors and administrators at the hospital are at loggerheads with Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor, the leader of Catholics in England and Wales. The Cardinal wants to introduce a new code of ethics after it was revealed that the hospital was routinely ignoring its previous code that included prohibitions on contraceptive and abortion-related services.

The hospital’s medical advisory committee has said that opposition among physicians and staff to the new code “is overwhelming”. A secular code of ethics is now proposed that would ignore Catholic teaching.

The hospital’s practices, which included distributing morning after pills, referring for abortions and performing amniocentesis to test for Down’s Syndrome for purposes of abortion, first came to the attention of the Cardinal after complaints had reached the Vatican in 2005. It has since been revealed that the hospital also allowed a sex-change operation.

Dr Martin Scurr, the chairman of the hospital's ethics committee informed the hospital’s board in a letter, “It is to be anticipated that the Cardinal will withdraw his patronage from the hospital. The hospital will continue as a non-Catholic hospital, with a Catholic heritage, and a new ethics committee will subsequently be formed which must evolve a code of ethics which is acceptable to the secular cadre of clinicians of the hospital, in alignment with the jurisdiction of the General Medical Council."

The hospital is a registered Catholic charity, however, and while a spokesman for the Cardinal said he would probably resign, at least one Catholic organisation is not rolling over. The Telegraph quoted Nicholas Bellord, the chairman of the organisation Restituta that campaigns for the hospital to keep its Catholic identity, who said that his group would take “immediate legal action” if the Cardinal's code were not accepted in its entirety.