Doctors at a hospital popular with celebrity mothers will this week rebel against a proposed ban on providing contraceptives and abortion referrals and demand that Britain's most senior Catholic cleric step down as its patron.Staff at the Hospital of St John & St Elizabeth in north London, where actresses including Cate Blanchett and Emma Thompson and models such as Kate Moss and Heather Mills have given birth, are unhappy at a suggested new code of ethics which will prevent them offering any service that conflicts with Catholic teaching on the value of human rights.
The code will require doctors to refer any woman who inquires about contraception, the morning-after pill and abortion to another hospital and prevent the use of amniocentesis to detect Down's syndrome in unborn children and in vitro fertilisation for couples unable to conceive naturally.On Wednesday, the hospital's medical advisory committee will tell the hospital board that opposition to the proposed rules from staff and resident GPs is overwhelming. It will suggest that a "secular" code of ethics be adopted instead and call for Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor to resign as patron.
Dr Martin Scurr, the chairman of the hospital's ethics committee, has already informed board members of the advisory committee's position. In a letter, he told them: "It is to be anticipated that the Cardinal will withdraw his patronage from the hospital.
"The hospital will continue as a non-Catholic hospital, with a Catholic heritage, and a new ethics committee will subsequently be formed which must evolve a code of ethics which is acceptable to the secular cadre of clinicians of the hospital, in alignment with the jurisdiction of the General Medical Council."
Now, it's curious that the report seems to be saying that they hospital board will be asking the Cardinal to stand down, whereas Dr Scurr is anticipating that the Cardinal will stand down. It seems far more logical that the Cardinal will resign of his own accord rather than the hospital asking him to step down. I'm sure they'd love to keep him as a patron and have their 'secular ethics'.
Nicknamed "the poshest place to push" as a result of its popularity with celebrity mothers, the hospital was founded by the Catholic Church in 1856. Although it is a Roman Catholic charity, as a private hospital which charges fees for its services it also accepts referrals from the National Health Service and patients of all religious faiths.I'm curious as to what the hospital's charter has to say in terms of its relationship with the Church.
Two years ago, Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor ordered an inquiry after the Linacre Centre of Health Care Ethics, a Catholic bioethical institute which at the time shared the site with the hospital, claimed that some doctors, most of whom were not Catholic, were flouting the existing code.
Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor later wrote to Lord Bridgeman, the chairman of the hospital, to say that a revised code would be produced and that the hospital had to abide by it. "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," he wrote.
Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor was, however, warned by some hospital executives that the code could lead to some GPs leaving the hospital and that GPs are obliged by their NHS contracts to refer patients whom they cannot assist to practitioners elsewhere.
Yesterday, a spokesman for Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor said: "The Cardinal is expecting that the board takes the decision to maintain the status quo under which the hospital operates as a Catholic institution."
However, he admitted that the Cardinal was likely to resign if he did not win the support of the board. "It is rightfully the board that decides," he said. "If they reject the new code of ethics then the Cardinal will have to consider his position."
Nicholas Bellord, the chairman of Restituta, a group set up to campaign for the hospital to keep its Catholic identity, said that his organisation would take "immediate legal action" if the code were not accepted in its entirety.