By Hilary White

LONDON, October 8, 2008 ( – In the latest installment of a long saga, the Catholic hospital of St. John and St. Elizabeth and Cormac Cardinal Murphy O’Connor are under fire for having reportedly agreed on a code of ethics that does not exclude abortion referrals or contraceptive prescriptions. 

The hospital, known popularly as “John and Lizzie’s,” is fashionable with celebrities and is situated in a posh leafy suburb of London. Over the last two years, the hospital and the Westminster archdiocese has been locked in a struggle over the former’s ethics code.

Last week, the hospital board approved a new code of ethics which specifies that euthanasia, sex-change operations, IVF, pre-natal testing by amniocentesis, sterilisations, the fitting of intra-uterine contraceptive devices, and direct abortion are forbidden. The new code, however, does not mention abortion referrals or the prescriptions for contraceptives or the abortifacient morning after pill, the very issues over which the hospital and the Church have been battling.

The Daily Mail reports that despite the omissions Cardinal Murphy O’Connor has authorised the new code. Nicolas Bellord, spokesman for the Restituta Group, a lay Catholic organization attempting to restore the hospital’s Catholic character, said, “Referrals for abortion are considered to be co-operation in abortion and such is absolutely forbidden by the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.”

Under this code, Bellord said, it may “be possible for a woman to attend this Catholic Hospital and be counselled to have an abortion and for her to believe, not unreasonably, that she has the blessing of the Roman Catholic Church in having such an abortion.”

“In view of the Church’s teaching and the Hospital’s legal obligation to follow that teaching it would be a fundamental betrayal of the Catholic character of the Hospital for those responsible for this code to accommodate complicity in the killing of the innocent.”

A spokesman for the Cardinal said it was “not his understanding” that the code allowed abortion referrals. The Mail reports that he said the hospital board would “not encourage” any practice that went against the teaching of the Catholic Church. The Cardinal is said to have welcomed the new code and “hopes the hospital will now move forward in its important healthcare mission, based on the teachings of the Catholic Church.”

In 2006, at the request of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a Catholic Labour party peer was asked to head a four member committee of enquiry. Lord Brennan informed the Cardinal that the hospital was in violation of its own ethics code in several areas. The hospital was found to be giving referrals for abortion and providing the full range of contraceptives, including the abortifacient morning after pill and other abortifacient pills. The hospital was also revealed regularly to have been performing “gender reassignment” surgery.

Cardinal O’Connor told the hospital board that it must revise its ethics code to conform to the standards of Catholic moral teaching.

The hospital responded with defiance saying it was “proud of its Catholic heritage” but “committed to an ecumenical philosophy” and that under the instructions of the General Medical Council, it was obliged to continue the referrals.

In April 2007, after months of struggle, the hospital appeared to have adopted the Cardinal’s recommended new ethics code after a number of board members resigned in protest.

It was then revealed that the hospital was in more than ethical hot water. The Restituta Group disclosed that funding for an expansion of the hospital’s services to include a group of NHS GPs, had been obtained under false premises.

In 2006, the hospital agreed to a lease to the NHS practice that was under contractual obligation to provide contraceptive services and abortion referrals. The expansion had been funded with a bank loan of £11 million, approved by the government’s Charity Commission.

But the Restituta Group launched a complaint with the Charity Commission, saying that Lord Bridgeman, the hospital’s chairman at the time, had failed to reveal a clause in the lease that allowed NHS contract obligations to supersede those of the hospital, effectively negating the Cardinal’s revised code of ethics. Having been informed of the omission, the Charity Commission wrote to the hospital demanding that the situation be remedied.

Lord Bridgeman suggested as a solution to the crisis the “secularisation of the Hospital’s constitution by removal of the Cardinal’s ‘ethics clause.’” This would result in the hospital becoming, effectively, a secular institution “in the Catholic tradition,” and under no obligations to refrain from committing abortions, dispensing abortifacient drugs or even performing “gender reassignments.”

To contact Cormac Cardinal Murphy O’Connor:

Archbishop’s House
  Ambrosden Avenue
  London SW1P 1QJ
  Phone: 020 7798 9033
[email protected]

  Previous articles:

Vatican Concerned over Abortion Drugs and Referrals at UK Catholic Hospital

London Catholic Hospital Referring for Abortions says Labour Peer

London Catholic Hospital Fighting Cardinal for Right to Continue Abortion Referrals

UK Cardinal Insists Catholic Hospital Halt Abortion Referrals, Contraception and IVF

UK Cardinal Insists Catholic Hospital Halt Abortion Referrals, Contraception and IVF

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

London Catholic Hospital Board Members Resign Over Cardinal’s Ethics Code

London Catholic Hospital Board Under Investigation from Charities Commission

Cardinal asks for Resignation of Entire London, England Hospital Board