By Hilary White

LONDON, December 11, 2007 ( – Two members of the board of directors of a London Catholic hospital have resigned in the face of the hospital’s decision to adopt a Catholic code of ethics. After an investigation, instigated at the request of the Vatican, it was revealed that the hospital violated Catholic moral principles by referring for abortions, dispensing contraceptives and performing sterilizations. The hospital was also suspected of carrying out the surgical and chemical mutilations known popularly as “sex-change” operations.

Dr. Martin Scurr and Lord Fitzalan-Howard, members of the board of St. John and St. Elizabeth hospital in north London, had voted against adopting the revised code of ethics approved and presented by the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster. Lord Bridgeman, the board’s chairman who had pressed for secularization of the hospital, is expected to follow suit in the coming weeks.

Cormac Cardinal Murphy O’Connor, head of the Catholic church in England and Wales, insisted that the hospital adopt and enforce the pro-life and Catholic code of ethics. The Rt. Rev George Stack, an auxiliary bishop of Westminster, was appointed to the board to ensure the hospital implemented a process of ethical reform.

Last month, Dr. Scurr reiterated his stand that, because of its dedication to classical medical ethics and refusal to adopt the utilitarian pro-abortion mentality, the Church should abandon its centuries-long dedication to health care in Britain.

“As I have said repeatedly,” he said, “we are now in an era where the Catholic Church must withdraw from involvement in frontline healthcare here in the UK, as it appears to be unable to reach the degree of tolerance that has been reached elsewhere in the world.”

Saying the adoption of the Catholic ethics code placed “Catholic values” above patient care, Scurr said, “In the matter of modern medical care the cardinal has chosen to listen to individuals who have no specific expertise in that arena. The damage to the church will be worse if the hospital closes, unless he chooses to withdraw his patronage.”

In November, after 18 months deliberation, the hospital had agreed to adopt the code. The Restituta Group, a lay organisation campaigning for the hospital to retain its Catholic character, told that the new code made only “cosmetic” or minor adjustments to the previous code. The hospital, however, had not enforced its own code of ethics and it was revealed that some employees were unaware even of its existence.

The revised code bars any employee from any act that conflicts with Catholic teaching on the sanctity of human life and on sexuality. In addition to abortion referrals and contraceptives, the hospital may not carry out “sex-change” operations or artificial procreation treatments such as in vitro fertilisation.

The Restituta Group has catalogued the efforts of the hospital management and some members of the board, including Lord Bridgeman, to impose a secular and pro-abortion ethic on the hospital. The group has made a formal complaint to the Papal Nuncio, the Vatican’s representative in England, and has written to the Holy See’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.

The hospital board agreed to a scheme in which it would lease premises to a group of NHS doctors, without knowing that the lease agreement contained a clause exempting these physicians from the Catholic ethics code. Also based on this misinformation, the government’s Charity Commission approved the hospital borrowing £11 million to fund the leasing project. Once the Restituta group had exposed the omission, the Charity Commission ordered the hospital to address the situation.

Lord Bridgeman told the board that financial losses incurred by refusing the NHS practice would force the hospital into bankruptcy. He presented the board with an effective ultimatum, saying the hospital would “face economic dissolution” if the ethics code were approved.

Read related coverage:

London Catholic Hospital Agreed to Lease That Would Overturn Cardinal’s Ethics Code