Monday 10 November 2008

Cardinal’s approval of ethical code which fails to ban abortion referrals a “grave scandal”

I wrote recently about the approval by Cardinal Murphy O’Connor, Archbishop of Westminster, of a new ethical code at St John and St Elizabeth’s Hospital, London, which fails to ban abortion referrals, unlike the previous code approved by the hospital board in 2007.

I link again today to the new 2008 statement of ethics and to the 2007 code which, as readers can see for themselves, clearly fails to prohibit referrals for abortions and other procedures, which were so firmly prohibited by the 2007 Code.

In the light of this, I was surprised to hear from a reader of my first post on this matter that the Cardinal’s office had sent him the following message: “The Cardinal has asked me to write concerning your email about the new Code of Ethics at the Hospital of St. John & St. Elizabeth. It should be understood that there will not be any formal referrals of abortion at the hospital.”

Luke Gormally, honorary fellow of the Linacre Centre for Healthcare Ethics, tells me: “The Cardinal is in no position to offer such a reassurance. Practitioners at the Hospital have been asked to sign up to a Code from which the prohibition of referrals for abortion has been deliberately omitted. Those practitioners therefore have made no commitment to refrain from referring for abortion. I know from having met the Medical Advisory Committee that they were vehemently opposed to any attempt to prevent them from referring for procedures which they deemed to be in the interests of their patients. The new Code was designed precisely to accommodate their wishes.

“The Cardinal may wish – as he surely does – that doctors practising at the Hospital do not refer for abortions, but the Code that he has approved clearly does not prohibit them from doing so. It also clearly omits the prohibition in the 2007 Code of the prescribing of contraceptives.”

Luke Gormally explained the history of what he rightly called a “grave scandal” in a comment published in full on Fr Finigan’s blog last month.

Professor Gormally takes up the issue again in the letters pages of last Friday's Catholic Herald in which he dismisses as “a PR smokescreen”, a letter to the Herald from Mark Thomas, PR consultant to St. John and St. Elizabeth, who stated that absence of any mention of referrals for abortion in the hospital’s 2008 code of ethics should not be taken to imply that they are permitted at the hospital.

Luke Gormally writes: “Comparison of the 2008 with the 2007 code makes clear that the former has deliberately deleted from the latter the prohibition of referrals for abortion and other immoral procedures, as well as the prohibition of the prescribing of contraceptives.

“The deleted prohibitions are precisely what the wholly non-Catholic Medical Advisory Committee of the hospital had objected to in the 2007 code. They have had their way.

“Physicians and surgeons at the hospital who are now invited to sign the 2008 code know that it leaves it open to them to refer for immoral procedures, including abortion, and to prescribe contraceptives.”

Luke Gormally’s letter to the Catholic Herald concludes: “A statement has been issued that the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster has approved the 2008 code, presumably exercising the role he has in the constitution of the hospital of determining the conformity of the hospital’s code with Catholic moral teaching. The Cardinal has not repudiated this claim about his approval of the code.”