LONDON, March 31, 2014 (LifeSiteNews.com) – The Hospital of St John and St Elizabeth, which calls itself “the UK’s premier Catholic Hospital,” is attempting to remove from it’s Trustee Company several orthodox Catholics. The hospital, despite taking “great pride” in its “Catholic ethos,” hosts a National Health Service clinic that refers women for abortions.
LifeSiteNews called the hospital and was informed that Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, was still patron of the hospital despite this fact not being mentioned on their website at the time of writing.
At a meeting Monday, the Board of Trustees Company is expected to make proposals that will bring to an end the hospital’s one hundred and fifty year relationship with the Order of Malta. It is also reported that the Board of Trustees Company will be reduced from 22 to 15 members, with all five representatives of the Order of Malta, Dr. Peter Doherty of the Catholic Medical Association, and Dr. Helen Watt of the Anscombe Bioethics Centre losing their places on the board.
Both Doherty and Watt have been and continue to be critics of the hospital’s departure from its Catholic ethic. The Anscombe Centre is a Catholic academic institute that engages in research and educational work in the field of bioethics. Dr Watt is a highly regarded orthodox Catholic bioethicist.
Nicolas Bellord, secretary of lobby group Restituta, which campaigns to protect the Catholic identity of the hospital, has commented that the proposal by the board “looks like another major step in secularising the Hospital” through the removal of the orthodox Catholic presence at the hospital.
The hospital was founded in 1856 by the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, Nicholas Wiseman, and placed under the care of the Order of Malta. The Sisters of Mercy were also involved in caring for the sick at the hospital from its foundation until their departure in 1992. In the following years concerns began to be raised about whether the hospital was continuing to operate according to the ethical principles taught by the Catholic Church.
The matter was referred to the Holy See and an investigation was opened by Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, Archbishop of Westminster, at the request of Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The cardinal appointed a committee under a Catholic member of the House of Lords, Lord Brennan, to investigate practices within the hospital. The hospital was known to be regularly performing “gender reassignment” surgery and concerns had been raised that the hospital was also providing referrals for abortion and providing a range of contraceptives, including those with a potential abortifacient effect, such as the “morning after pill.”
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In early 2006 Lord Brennan delivered his confidential report to the cardinal, who wrote to the hospital's chairman, Lord Bridgeman. “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,” wrote the cardinal.
He called for a “revision and clarification of the Code of ethics” in order to make impossible “referrals for direct abortion, for amniocentesis, for purposes other than safe delivery, for contraception and prescribing for contraceptive intent, particularly when what is prescribed is or may be abortifacient.”
Lord Bridgeman suggested that the crisis could be resolved through the “secularisation of the Hospital’s constitution by removal of the Cardinal’s ‘ethics clause.’” The hospital would then become a secular institution “in the Catholic tradition,” which would mean that it was under no obligation to refrain from prescribing contraceptives, performing abortions, or carrying out “gender reassignments.”
In 2006 the hospital had agreed to expand its services to include a medical practice leased to the National Health Service that would be under contractual obligation to provide contraceptive services and abortion referrals. Despite attempts by campaigners to prevent this taking place the hospital went ahead and the NHS surgery opened in 2008. In the same year a new code of ethics was proposed and was accepted by Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor.
The new code of ethics was criticized because while it outlawed a variety of practices, including direct abortion, it was silent on the subject of abortion referrals and the prescription of contraceptives, including potentially abortifacient pills. Luke Gormally, at that time senior research honorary fellow of the Linacre Centre for Healthcare Ethics (now the Anscombe Bioethics Centre) wrote that the new code “effectively accommodates referrals for abortion.”
Despite hosting an NHS clinic that prescribes contraceptives and refers for abortions, the hospital of SS John and Elizabeth still retains its official status as a Catholic institution. Campaigners have long called for the Archdiocese of Westminster to take action to ensure that the hospital retains an authentic Catholic ethos, which is inseparable from full adhesion to the moral law.
LifeSiteNews sought comment on this story from Cardinal Nichols but did not hear back by press time.
Cardinal Vincent Nichols