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DUBLIN, Ireland, March 1, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) — A report prepared by the Irish government calls for Catholic hospitals to remove religious symbols such as crucifixes from their wards where non-Catholics receive treatment.

Released Thursday, the report was issued from a review group led by former European Union official Catherine Day. The group was charged to examine the relationship between the Irish state and voluntary organization, including hospitals operated by the Catholic Church. Currently, there are 12 Catholic hospitals in the Republic of Ireland and all of them receive state funding.

Seven of the hospitals are owned by faith-based organizations, such as religious orders, and five have varying degrees of Church affiliation. Together, the 12 hospitals receive €1.34 billion (approx. $1.5 billion) in government funding, and provide 26 percent of publicly funded inpatient beds.

The report said, “A number of people who responded to the consultation felt that the religious ethos of an organization was apparent in its décor, through the presence of chapels, religious icons, logos and posters. While not directly related to the range or delivery of services, we recommend that organizations should be cognizant of the impact of décor on patients/service users and strive to ensure that their personal preferences in this regard are met to the greatest extent possible.”

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar told NewsTalk FM that the government does not plan to force Catholic hospitals to remove religious symbols from public areas at their facilities. “It’s not a campaign from the government or anyone around removing cribs or crucifixes or statues of Our Lady. That’s not what’s going to happen. But it is a message to charities and voluntary bodies that do run hospitals and schools just to have regard to these things,” he said. “It is the 21st century, things have changed, a lot of patients, a lot of kids aren’t religious, maybe aren’t Roman Catholic, and the ethos of an institution that’s publicly funded should reflect the public, not just any one section of the public,” Varadkar said. He added, “We should have regard to the fact that in modern Ireland there's now a diversity of views on religion and so on.”

In addition, the report raised questions over whether the Irish government should continue funding hospitals affiliated with churches that refuse to allow abortions and sterilizations or prescribe contraceptives. The report also calls on all organizations that refuse such services to refer patients where they can receive those services, even if it violates their reigning ethos. The independent review of government-funded health services calls for restructuring of charities providing the health services.

The review group, chaired by former secretary-general of the European Commission Catherine Day, was asked to examine the relationship between the state and Church-run hospitals. The report found no difference in the quality of care provided by hospitals with religious ethos and those with none. It did not find discrimination on the basis of faith in any of the Catholic hospitals.

In emergency situations, the report says the life and well-being of patients must always take precedence over the ethos of the religious organization. With the legalization of abortion in Ireland, the question arises over whether the government should fund hospitals that refuse to provide “full range of lawful services by reference to their religious ethos.” Whether or not independently owned faith-based healthcare organizations are constitutionally within their rights to manage their own affairs has not yet been determined by the Supreme Court of Ireland, the report contends.

While the report said the government has the right to defund religiously-affiliated health organizations, it admitted that doing so would cause a “serious and prolonged disruption” to health services. It is a “political rather than a legal” decision, the report said, whether to stop government funding, because of the extent of health services provided by Catholic hospitals in Cork, Dublin, and Limerick.

Therefore, the report recommended that the government should draft a list of essential health services to be provided by the voluntary or private sector or directly through the public healthcare system. This would permit the Irish government to move from a provider-focused service to a system where the government commissions or buys health services it requires from organizations based on regional needs. “This would of course not preclude any organization, whether voluntary, public or private, from providing additional services but these would not automatically be funded by the state,” the report said.