Cardinal calls for tighter ethical governance of Catholic hospital

A revised Code of Ethics and a new "ethical governance framework" are the key demands contained in a letter to a London hospital from the Archbishop of Westminster.

Independent Catholic News reports that the letter on 6 March to Lord Robin Bridgeman, Chairman of the St John and St Elizabeth hospital, follows a confidential report submitted to the Archbishop of Westminster Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor by a committee of inquiry.

The Cardinal ordered the inquiry last year after the hospital - popularly known as "John and Lizzie's" - decided to build an extension at its premises in St John's Wood, north London, where doctors would operate medical services under Britain's state health system.

The Cardinal fears that the doctors would be obliged under their contracts to refer women for abortions and prescribe contraceptives, which would breach Catholic moral teachings.

In the letter the Cardinal said: "It is clear that everyone involved with St John and St Elizabeth wishes it to continue successfully with a Catholic ethos, that is, in accordance with the spiritual and ethical principles of Catholic teaching and tradition."

But he adds: "What is less clear however is that all involved accept the implications of the tensions and conflicts between Catholic moral teaching and contemporary secular medical practice."

The Cardinal has legal responsibilities in relation to the Hospital both as its Patron and as Adjudicator on differences of opinion regarding ethics and their implementation.

"In fairness to healthcare professionals, patients, and benefactors," the Cardinal continues, "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."

The Cardinal goes on to call for "a revision and clarification of the Code of Ethics" in specific ways in order to make clear that "the kinds of referral and prescription mentioned above are inconsistent with the Code because they are inconsistent with Catholic ethical teaching and therefore with adherence to the governing objects of the Hospital."

The second part of the Cardinal's letter calls for a tightening of the mechanisms for implementing the revised Code.

"A hospital which is Catholic in name and ethos must invest time and energy in its ethical as well as in its clinical governance," he tells Viscount Bridgeman.

"It is therefore particularly important that the Hospital institute effective structures and procedures of ethical governance so that the application of the revised Code is audited in ways analogous to modern best practice in relation to financial and medical governance."

He then spells out a series of mechanisms for ensuring more effective compliance, emphasising the need to make both consultants and patients aware of the Code, and calling for a "periodic review" and "regular monitoring" of its application.

The hospital chairman Lord Bridgeman said: "We accept the recommendation that we review our Code of Ethics and any revision of the Code will take into account the Cardinal's views in addition to the hospital's existing legal, medical and charitable obligations."

The Hospital of St John and St Elizabeth was founded in 1856 in Great Ormond Street. In 1901 the new Hospital of St John and St Elizabeth was opened by the Lord Mayor of London in its current location in St John's Wood. It is the third largest independent hospital in the United Kingdom.

Cardinal calls for tighter ethical governance of Catholic hospital (Independent Catholic News 21/3/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Roman Catholic Diocese of Westminster

UK Catholic hospital must tighten ethics: Cardinal (Reuters 20/3/06)
UK Catholic hospital must tighten ethics: Cardinal (Reuters 20/3/06)
Abortion row at Catholic hospital (BBC 20/3/06)
Pope will not visit UK next year (Ekklesia 21/3/06)
Cardinal Demands Tighter Ethical Code at Hospital (Zenit 20/3/06)

22 Mar 2006