March 20, 2006

UK Catholic hospital must tighten ethics: Cardinal

By Paul Majendie

LONDON (Reuters) - The leader of England's Roman Catholics
called on Monday for tighter ethical controls in a fashionable
Catholic hospital embroiled in a complex morality debate.

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor ordered an inquiry after
the Hospital of St John and St Elizabeth in London decided to
build an extension where doctors would operate medical services
under Britain's state health system.

Senior Catholics feared that the doctors would be obliged
under their contracts to refer women for abortions and
prescribe contraceptives, which would breach Catholic doctrine.

They are also concerned that amniocentesis, a common
screening process to check for abnormalities, could be used to
terminate pregnancies.

The Cardinal, who is the patron of the hospital as well as
Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, called for "a
revision and clarification of the code of ethics."

He said differences of opinion had arisen about how the
code's provisions applied to referrals for abortion,
contraception and "amniocentesis for purposes other than safe

"Achieving clarity inevitably involves some discomfort and
commercial risk but these are challenges which, if accepted,
will secure the Hospital of St John and Elizabeth as a Catholic
Institution in the tradition in which it was founded."

The cardinal acknowledged the tensions and conflicts
between Catholic teaching and contemporary medical practice but
stressed "a hospital which is Catholic in name and ethos must
invest in its ethical as well as in its clinical governance."

The hospital, often known simply as John and Lizzie's, is
popular with celebrity mothers like model Kate Moss, actress
Cate Blanchett and Paul McCartney's wife Heather who have all
had babies there. It is the third largest independent hospital
in Britain.

Hospital chairman Lord Bridgeman, reacting to the patron's
concerns, said "We accept Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor's
recommendation that we review our code of ethics."

Catholic bishops in the United States have long had
guidelines for Catholic health services that bar abortion and
abortion referrals and warn Catholic hospitals about "the
danger of scandal in any association with abortion providers."

They also rule out amniocentesis if it is meant to
determine a defect that could be used as a reason for an

They may not promote or condone contraceptive use. Although
the guidelines do not mention the use of the "morning after
pill" for rape victims, a survey has shown that about a third
of Catholic hospitals in states that have laws requiring them
to provide this to rape victims do not provide it.

(Additional reporting by Religion Editor Tom Heneghan)